Could a Jumbo MacBook Replace the iMac?


jumbomacbookIn the lull between Christmas and New Years, Intel released its new Q9000 quad-core mobile processor, and PC maker Acer almost simultaneously its Q9000-powered Aspire 8930G-7665 “extreme gaming” and multimedia notebook computer with an 18″ 1920 x 1080 pixel 16:9 aspect ratio display.

Many Mac notebook fans and watchers had been hoping that Apple would roll out a quad-core powered MacBook Pro at Macworld Expo, which didn’t happen. The new 17″ unibody MBP comes with slightly faster 2.66 GHz and 2.93 GHz processors as opposed to the 2.4 GHz and 2.53 GHz chips offered in the 15″ unibody model.

I’m not much of a gamer, but I’ve long advocated that Apple build a real desktop substitute laptop, and that big new Acer machine got my imagination juices flowing. The new Apple 17-incher is a nice piece of work, but I still hope Apple will at some point use that Q9000 quad-core chip in a MacBook Pro.

Enhanced Connectivity And Expandability

A quad-core MacBook Pro would be cool, so long as they can keep the heat generated within reason, but aside from desktop-like processor power, what I would really like to see in a jumbo Apple notebook is restoration, and even enhancement, of the connectivity and expandability standards set by the 1978 WallStreet G3 Series PowerBook, with its two PC Card slots, two removable device expansion days (even one would be a quantum improvement on the current status quo), ease of opening the machine up to perform component upgrades and repairs, and a motherboard design allowing processor (and ideally video accelerator) upgrades. A larger laptop could also theoretically cool more efficiently.

Replace The iMac With A Jumbo Notebook?

Raw bulk and weight is of course not the point, nor is just larger screen size. I’ll even stick my neck out a little farther and suggest that Apple might consider replacing the iMac with this type of portable machine. From time to time I’ve been nearly convinced that an iMac would make the best sense, and certainly be the best value for the money power-wise for me as a workstation, but the biggest sticking point for me is the lack of battery power.

The biggest advantage of a portable computer is that it is portable — a completely self-contained computing unit when it needs to be — a single module that can be packed around easily and conveniently whether to the next room or to another continent. Personally it isn’t so much that I use my main production Mac laptop in portable mode very often (although it’s very convenient at times to be able to) but rather that I prefer to be able to keep computing through power interruptions, which are not uncommon where I live, and I really detest losing unsaved data because of even short power outages.

Duo Redivivus

Perhaps even cooler, since I’m letting my imagination off its leash, would be to replace the iMac with a portable machine loosely based on another erstwhile Apple great idea — the PowerBook Duo. The computer would be modular, with a docking CPU core unit that could serve as either the CPU module of a desktop iMac replacement that might also be offered at the entry-level without a battery and could be sold with a built-in (detachable) monitor, or “headless” to be used with an external display of the customer’s choice a la the Mac mini.

The same CPU unit would also form the basis of a portable/big laptop with a built-in keyboard and trackpad and a battery in one or both of its double expansion bays. It would be processor upgradable, ideally with PCI and AGP expansion slots, an ExpressCard 54 slot or two, multiple RAM expansion slots, and upgradable video support. Beauty.

A Notebook That Is Anything But Secondary

Maybe I’m not so far out with this line of speculation. BusinessWeek’s resident Apple-watcher Arik Hessendahl observes that notebooks are where the money is these days and “what used to be a secondary sibling to the desktop is now increasingly the only computer anyone wants or needs,” which has notebook makers adding top-shelf features designed to attract the attention of power users, serious gamers, and others who need a notebook that is anything but secondary — often called “desktop replacements.”

In a recent commentary, The Industry Standard’s Ian Lamont suggests that while Apple has been able to keep the iMac on the leading edge of design and consumer demand, the traditional desktop iMac can’t outrun trends developing in the marketplace, notably the ongoing shift to notebook computers. Lamont points out that Apple’s 2008 10-K illustrates this with the company’s overall notebook sales more than doubling from 2006 to 2008, compared to only a 70 percent rise in Apple desktop sales. Lamont thinks Apple may discontinue the iMac altogether, I’m doubtful about that, but I do think a jumbo notebook could very feasibly replace the iMac, which incorporates a lot of notebook engineering these days anyway. What do you think?



People seem to be forgetting that you can get an external monitor, keyboard and mouse. I currently have a MacBook and iMac. I use my iMac most of the time but I also use my MacBook frequently. Luckily, DropBox and MobileMe helps keep everything in sync although it would still be less hassle to have both and just have the one machine. The main thing putting me off is the price. The iMac is still cheaper but worth it. I would much prefer to have the one machine for on the go and then when I get to my desk just plug in the monitor, keyboard and mouse. A lot of displays act as a USB hub these days so you only usually have to plug in a couple of leads to the MacBook.


Price point lower per feature set on bigger old-tech iMac stuff…
Added costs for miniaturization and assembly keep the folding computers more complicated…
Heat dissipation issues [vertical iMac is more (uh) convective?]…

But this may all change with solid state drives, billet frames as heat sinks, robotic assembly…

But I like the height of the 24 inch iMac screen — it has its own pedestal — and my neck doesn’t crane down.

My wife can sit on the carpet with her MacBook Pro on the coffee table and enjoy. But I prefer my feet flat on the floor for extended periods of work.

And if I need to get mobile, I can tote an iPod Touch easily in cargo pants, but not three or four pounds.

Agree with #7.

mike sanders

I cannot agree that the end of the desktop particularly the imac which is a singularly brilliant machine is in sight. Like many people I have both a macbook and an imac, the difference in the two is mainly physical in that a couple of hours spent on the macbook requires major attention to a serious neck and shoulder ache which I do not get with the imac 24.
Sales figures for both models are exceptional only for Apple would you write that desktop sales are only up 70% in the same period, just what does Apple have to do to please people? I am a shareholder and they are underwater at the moment but I am a believer and I am confident that with or without the Jobster they will come back.
I enjoy the blog thank you very much.

Charles Moore

Thanks for the interesting commentary everyone.

Hello Steve; thing is,I already use an external keyboard and mouse with my workhorse laptop, and have been doing so for a decade, but the built-in input does come in hands when I go mobile. For instance today I plunked down in front of the TV with the laptop so I could watch the inaguration while not completely neglecting my work schedule.

Also,monitor spanning with a second, external monitor can be very convenient for folks who can make use of the extra real estate, although I usually just use mine on a laptop stand with the built-in screen.




As a happy iMac and MacBook owner, I am also a gadget hound, so for fun I’ll add my two cents to all the speculation and skuttlebutt.

I think that while they won’t eliminate the iMac line completely (and I certainly hope they don’t, since not everyone wants solely a notebook; choice is good), I think there’s possibility here. Let’s assume they release an 18, 19, or 20 inch MacBook Pro, utilizing some of all of the features you describe in terms of power, portability, and docking potential. The addition of this unit could replace the 20 inch iMac, leaving Apple with only the 24 inch model for those who want a truer desktop experience with a larger screen and no need for portability.

They would then have room for an expansion of the iMac line upwards. They could then add a 30 inch model, possibly with built-in Apple TV capabilities in a sort of instant-on configuration. They could even add a similar feature to a more feature-rich 24 incher. This new iMac/ATV hybrid could be used as a TV replacement that also has a fully functioning computer built into it. And of course that’s only the beginning. There’s plenty of possibility for Apple engineers to integrate the two experiences more fully. Personally, I’d love to buy a 30-inch iTV with Front Row-like interface, the ability to watch and record TV, and also a fully functioning computer in my living room.

Nicholas Joerger

I’d love to have the system you described. I dont do much gaming but the extra power in photoshop would be amazing + the huge screen. WOAHHH ITS 10lbs wopedee do i need a machine with power and i dont care about weight. thats my .02

Steve Mills

That’d be dumb. Most people who want a desktop Mac will want a desktop keyboard and mouse and a larger monitor, so the keyboard, trackpad, and monitor will go to waste. (Well, the monitor could be a 2nd monitor, although then the MacBook would have to take up large amounts of desk space.) No, dumb idea. Portables are portable and desktops are for desktops.

Ian Lamont

Hello Charles,

Thanks for responding to my article. Would it be possible to link to the original version in your article here and on Salon, where it has been republished?


Ian Lamont
Managing Editor
The Industry Standard

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