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Thunderbolt Makes New iMacs an Electrifying Possibility

Rumor has it that we’ll see refreshed Apple iMacs (s aapl) as soon as Tuesday, May 3, including new Intel Sandy Bridge (s intc) processors and the Thunderbolt ports that made their debut on the latest MacBook Pro revisions. Even if the iMac isn’t something you’re terribly interested in, this is a release all Apple-watchers should be excited about.

The refresh seems to be an evolutionary update, as reports only assert that second-gen Core i (aka Sandy Bridge) chips are on their way to the all-in-one, along with the high-speed Thunderbolt port that handles both DisplayPort duties and low-latency simultaneous dual-channel data transfer. Big changes to the looks or other components haven’t been mentioned, and AppleInsider couldn’t get any info regarding earlier rumors that iMac screen sizes would change, or that the 6000-series AMD Radeon HD (s amd) graphics chips would be making their way into the Macs.

But even if Apple’s next iMac isn’t a show-stopper, it should have all the ingredients it needs to spark another leap forward in desktop computing. That’s thanks mostly to Thunderbolt, which so far holds a lot of promise but hasn’t really yet begun to make its presence felt. But it’s a technology that makes the most sense when thought of in the context of stationary workspaces, and that’s why the introduction of Thunderbolt to the iMac line (Apple’s strongest desktop holdout in a market that’s moving further toward mobile and portable paradigms) should result in much wider uptake and use of the tech by third-party device and accessory makers.

Daisy-chained storage, display/storage/USB combo devices, and HD video and photo capture devices all make much more sense combined with a stationary desktop workflow than they do with a mobile workstation. And with iMacs populating creative agencies and development studios worldwide, Thunderbolt will have a much wider reach with an ideal target audience once it gets baked into the iMac. The MacBook Pro is a strong seller, but most accessory makers will be shy about using the spec until it has a wider potential audience. Thunderbolt on more machines should help bring the cost of accessories that use the spec down, too, as manufacturers can count on higher sales volume of those devices.

I may or may not actually end up purchasing a new iMac (my current desktop workhorse is about three years old and starting to show its age) but I’m still excited for them to arrive, if only because of it what it will mean for Apple’s biggest little tech introduction this year: Thunderbolt.

3 Responses to “Thunderbolt Makes New iMacs an Electrifying Possibility”

  1. craig

    We use FireWire ALL THE TIME for importing Video from cameras. And we use FireWire Hard Drives – because it is faster. FireWire is the Performance King. Its architecture, Peer-to-Peer, makes it superior to USB 2.0.
    Niche product – I would not agree with that. There are plenty of people who need it.

    • the term niche product refers to something that a select group of people use. firewire is indeed a niche product, shunned by the mainstream in favor of usb 2.0. while i agree that its far superior to usb, that doesnt change tge fact that the vast public doesnt use it. and like you, being a film and video student, i use firewire all the time to transfer video from decks and cameras, make backups, etc., but it still doesnt change its niche product label.

  2. Experience is a good teacher. The basic question is whether Thunderbolt will be like Firewire, which has become a niche product, or USB, which is very mainstream. Firewire was Apple-only and bombed as an industry standard. USB also had Intel behind it and did incredibly well.

    Thunderbolt has Intel involved, but whether that makes a difference this time is still to be decided. The market doesn’t like overlapping standards. USB 2.0 was good enough to render Firewire unnecessary. It may be a year or more before we know if USB 3.0 does the same for Thunderbolt or if it can stand on its on well enough to get on to PCs.

    That’s why the ‘play it safe’ part of me is more concerned with whether the chipsets are available in sufficient numbers to give these new iMacs USB 3.0. I also wonder whether the Sandy Bridge chip will be viable long-term (like the Core 2 Duo) or quickly rendered an orphan when Ivy Bridge comes out next year (like the Core Duo).