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Apple Updates the iMac: Big Screen, Small Dollars


In marked contrast to the disappointing Mac mini update today, the iMac’s upgrades make great strides in keeping the value proposition for this excellent desktop system.

All the Basics

First, we get all the stuff we expected:

  • Newer Core 2 Duo processors w/ 6MB L2 cache
  • Front-side bus speed of 1066MHz
  • Fast DDR3 memory
  • NVIDIA 9400M graphics

Even the Mac mini updates included the above. These were obvious and well-known. Where Apple (s aapl) departed from the Mac mini updates, however, was in the rest of the package.

Value Added at Each Level

Where the base Mac mini must suffer with an inadequate 1GB of memory, the base iMac has 2GB, and the other three models have 4GB! Selling memory as an add-on is typically pretty profitable, in light of this the “RAM-stuffing” is particularly appreciated. Well done, Apple.

Hard drive space is another area where the base Mac mini suffered, but not so with the iMacs. The base model has 320GB (it’s nice to see Apple not even mess with 250GB here), the two middle models have a whopping 640GB, and the high-end model a full TB! Thank you, Apple, for acknowledging that if you’re going to provide great photo and movie software, I might actually need room to store my data.

Further, while the 9400M is faster than the base iMac graphics available yesterday, the two top models provide something even better, as well as upgrade options. With a GeForce GT 130 at the high-end, and GT 120 just below it, and both having the option for an ATI Radeon HD 4850, there’s some great graphics muscle in these machines.

In short, unlike the mini, Apple didn’t just modernize the innards, they increased value all along the line in terms of other performance and usability features. Keeping prices the same but adding, in addition to the new guts, double the memory, lots more drive space, and better graphics. They also allowed for upgrades to even better graphics, added a USB port, and upped the memory max to 8GB!

And I haven’t even gotten to the best part…

Yesterday’s high-end 20″ model, at $1,499, has been replaced by a 24″ model! Keep in mind that this doesn’t just provide a much bigger screen, but also a better screen. The 24″ display is gorgeous, with better color and more brightness than the 20″ (which is no slouch).

Key Bored?

fullkeyboard1Tired of all those keys on your keyboard? There’s a new twist with all the iMacs: The included keyboard has been modified to match the wireless model, meaning it has no dedicated navigation keys or keypad.

Before you panic or complain, you need only check a box when ordering to get the full keyboard (no additional price) if you want it. Personally, I have a wireless and I love it.

Yesterday vs. Today

Here’s what today’s money gets you compared to yesterday’s, and remember that they all have the newer C2D processors, faster bus speed, and fast DDR3 memory:

$1,199 Base Model

  • Processor speed bump from 2.4GHz to 2.66
  • Hard drive bump from 250GB to 320
  • Memory bump from 1GB to 2
  • Better graphics with the 9400M

That’s a great set of improvement for the same price.

$1,499 Model

  • Screen size increase from 20″ to 24 (and a superior screen as well)
  • Hard drive bump from 320GB to 640
  • Memory bump from 2GB to 4
  • Better graphics with the 9400M

Frankly, this is a fabulous machine. What really makes it so good is that you’re getting the “base” 24″ model, and yet you don’t feel like you have to add a few things to make it better. It’s already loaded with memory and drive space! If you have a chance, compare the 20″ and 24″ screens at an Apple store and you’ll see even more why this is a great machine.

$1,799 Model

  • Processor speed bump from 2.8GHz to 2.93
  • Hard drive bump from 320GB to 640
  • Memory bump from 2GB to 4
  • Better graphics with the GeForce GT 120

For $300 more than the above model you’re getting a 5 percent bump in processor speed and the improved graphics. The latter look to be roughly twice as fast as the 9400M, a significant improvement. Those graphics also utilize dedicated memory, so free up a little for the system to use. If you do 3-D work, or perhaps want to ensure you get the most out of Snow Leopard when it arrives, this may be the model to shoot for. This is especially true because this model has BTO options for even better video cards.

$2,199 Model

  • Processor speed bump from 2.93GHz to 3.06
  • Hard drive bump from 500GB to 1TB
  • Memory bump from 2GB to 4
  • Better graphics with the GeForce GT 130

For $400 more than the above model you get another 5 percent processor bump, an upgrade to a full TB of storage, and the GT 130, which betters the 120 not only with twice the video memory (512MB vs. 256), but also a large performance improvement. Further, you can upgrade the video to the ATI Radeon 4850 for maximum graphics performance.


A well-conceived set of upgrades from Apple on the iMac line.

As is typically the case, the sweet spot is in the middle, and here the $1,500 model shines brightly. This system would please almost anyone, providing great power and room to grow for years to come.

The higher models are also significant. For those intending to do intense 3-D graphics or gaming, this is where you go. I could argue that the $1,799 model with the 130 (or 4850) graphics upgrade makes for a $2K system that’s a better value than the $2,199 model.

And the lone 20″ model remains an excellent system. My current MacBook doesn’t have this horsepower, and cost a lot more, yet it runs iPhoto (and Aperture), and iMovie without a hiccup. This may be the “low-end” iMac, but don’t kid yourself, it’s easily more than adequate for casual, family, hobby, or business use.

Finally, I would encourage anyone looking at a Mac mini as part of piecing together a complete system to seriously look at the base iMac. A Mac mini with acceptable hard drive and memory is $800. Add an inexpensive 20″ monitor, keyboard and mouse and you’re well over $1K. At $1,200 the iMac is a better performer with 20 percent more CPU horsepower, and includes an excellent monitor, keyboard, and mouse with the convenience and beauty of Apple’s all-in-one design.

Sometimes Apple watchers get disappointed when there’s no new design or other incredible knock-your-socks-off update. But I tend to think the day-to-day upgrades are where the real action is. Today’s iMac represents a machine with great value all along the line.

17 Responses to “Apple Updates the iMac: Big Screen, Small Dollars”

  1. Nancy, If you are into serious photography, you will want to calibrate your monitor. I have no personal experience with the imac, but I have been told that screen brightness is way to high and almost impossible to adjust. I cannot use the imac because the glossy screen has yoo many reflections.

  2. Is the 1499 imac good enough for editing avchd movies. Using either imovie or finalcut express.
    In other words…do I need a better grapichs card with dedicated video memory, for my editing needs stated above…

  3. @Nancy I would go with the 2.93. My MacBook Pro is a 2.4 and I do professional photography with CS4 and it works great. I think saving that extra cash between the 2.93 and 3.06 would be beneficial to invest in an external hard drive.

  4. Which iMac do I buy for professional photography, using Photoshop CS4, and also Dreamweaver. I am torn between the 2.93 & 3.06. Are there any benchmarks yet? With student discounts, I can get the 2.93 configured exactly like the 3.06 (other than the processsor) for $175 difference.

  5. thanks @ecchi. It sounds like that upgrade to the Rradeon would put it along the lines of the MacBook Pro.

    I’m not going to do any 3d rendering. I’m big on photoshop and professional photography… and hopefully have a good enough machine to play Diablo III and Starcraft 2.

  6. Probably the iMac – provided you upgrade the GPU to the Radeon HD 4850; The CPU speed alone is 300-400 mhz higher, with more flexible power and heat consumption than the MBP. Now if the 4850 is “desktop-class” (and not a Mobile-version), than the iMac would easily out-class the 9600M GT(though Apple has traditionally used the mobile GPU’s in the iMacs). The GT130 is basically the 9600GT with a few tweaks. Some debate that its just a re-badge.

  7. with portability aside, which is a stronger machine to get? The high end 24′ iMac or the high end 15′ MacBook Pro? I’m looking into getting either one of these.

  8. Kent,

    Lots of people wanted LED, but even with all the crazy rumors I didn’t here anyone with that much wishful thinking.

    Apple’s 24″ LED cinema display is $899, and everyone seems furious at the price, yet they think it could be added to the iMac affordably? LED screens of that size are simply not made on that kind of scale.

  9. Sigh, I just bought the $1499 model 2-3 months ago!!! Should’ve wait a little longer. I really like the better, faster memory and 20 -> 24 inches improvement…

    Oh well… sigh…

  10. I’m quite disappointed that they didn’t take the logical step of incorporating an LED screen. If cost is the issue, it should, at a minimum, have at least been an option on the highest end configuration. They obviously have the technology (i.e. standalone 24″ LED cinema display).

  11. Based on this Macworld article: the 9400m is basically at odds with what it’ll be replacing on the 20″ 2400 XT iMac(and in some cases loses to it). The new intro 24″ which also uses the 9400m, will definitely be “slower” than the 20″ 2600 Pro.

    There may be some minor improvement with the iMac, as apposed to the MBP – more thermal and power flexibility – for instance, some PC benches indicate anywhere from 5-30% bump in the 9400m’s favor – but a lot of the data to support that is synthetic benchmarks, so I’m hesitant to think that this refresh was anything BUT beneficial to the consumer. They screwed us over on the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro, I’m inclined to think they did so with the iMac as well.

  12. I agree that the new iMac’s are certainly better bargains then the machines they replace, but on the other hand, as I wrote on my little blog, they are exciting on one point, but other hand they are boring! This is mostly because so many rumor mills have given the impression that we would see i7 Intel quads and even a 28 inch model.

    Serves me right for listening to these rumors!