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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Apple Refreshes iMac

Apple this morning announced an update to its iMac line. The latest version of the popular all-in-one system includes new Intel Core 2 Duo processors with 6MB L2 cache and 1066 MHz front-side bus, a standard 2GB of memory on most models, and the most power graphics yet available on the system. The top of the line units feature a 3.06 GHz Intel processor and NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GS graphics.

Starting at $1,199, the 24-inch system features a slew of other features, including built-in AirPort Extreme 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, Gigabit Ethernet, an iSight video camera, USB 2.0 ports, and a FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 port. On the software side of the equation, each new iMac ships with the iLife suite and OS 10.5 Leopard.

The iMac's "aluminum and glass all-in-one design has been an incredible hit with our customers and is just one of the reasons Mac sales are growing three and a half times faster than PC sales," Philip Schiller, the company's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, said in a statement. "With the latest Intel processors, a faster new graphics option and more memory, customers now have even more reasons to love the iMac."

Apple is also touting the new iMac's environmental friendliness. The system is composed of "highly recyclable and durable materials including scratch-resistant glass and professional grade aluminum," Apple said. Each entry into the line is rated EPEAT Silver and meets Energy Star's new 4.0 power consumption requirements. The company is also offering free recycling of old Macs and PCs, with their Apple Recycling program.

The new models are available now through Apple's retail and online stores. Prices start at $1,199 for the 20-inch 2.4 GHz iMac. The 20-inch 2.66 GHz iMac will go for $1,499, and the 24-inch 2.8 GHz iMac for $1,799

Yesterday’s refresh of the iMac line is interesting, not because of the bump in speed that the refresh itself offers but because of the direction that Apple is going in. Is Apple preparing the way for gaming on the Mac?

First, let’s look closer at that 3.06GHz processor option for the 24-inch iMac. Some of you might be wondering what that processor is. Well, I can tell you now that it’s not an early incarnation of the Centrino 2 technology as some have suggested. It’s a special run on an existing CPU overclocked to handle the 3.06GHz workload and 1,066MHz. It’s definitely hosted on a Santa Rosa motherboard (the Intel GM965 northbridge and ICH8 southbridge gives that away). Apple’s working the current technology hard to get 3.06GHz out of something designed to give 2.8GHz here. Why?

Then there’s the GPU. This seems to be a stock nVIDIA 8800M GTS (even though Apple calls it an 8800 GS, but then again, Apple called Mobility HD 2600 XT parts HD 2600 Pro). This is a high-end GPU and certainly offers far more power than most Mac users currently need from the iMac.

Putting the overclocked processor and a high-end nVIDIA GPU in a box makes this system look like a gaming system to me. Sure, Apple is constrained by its use of mobile parts in the iMac, but the company does seem intent on squeezing as much power as it can out of the components.

Whether Apple is starting to cater for gamers using Boot Camp, or Apple is preparing the way for Mac OS X-based gaming I’m not sure, but either way it looks to me like Apple is getting into gaming. And why not, it’s a lucrative market!

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