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New iMac Gains Thunderbolt, FaceTime HD, and Quad-Core CPUs

The integration of the new Thunderbolt I/O technology into the Mac line is continuing, with Apple releasing a new model of the iMac that features Thunderbolt, along with quad-core Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, faster AMD graphics processors, and the new FaceTime HD camera. The industrial design of both models remains unchanged.

Previously, the only way to get a quad-core processor in an iMac was in the 27-inch iMac, which could be ordered with either an Intel Core i5 or i7. Now the quad-core processors are standard across the line, with the 21.5-inch model offering options of 2.5 GHz and 2.7 GHz quad-core i5 processors, or a 2.8 GHz quad-core i7 (for $200 more). The new 27-inch model’s choices are either a 2.7 GHz or 3.1 GHz quad-core i5, or a 3.4 GHz quad-core i7 (for an extra $200).

Also supporting Apple’s claim that the new iMacs are up to 70 percent faster are the new AMD Radeon HD graphics processors. As with the CPUs, the details vary by model, with the 21.5-inch iMac offering either an AMD Radeon HD 6750M with 512 MB of GDDR5 memory or an AMD Radeon HD 6770M with the same memory configuration, depending on which CPU choice you make. The 27-inch iMac starts with the 6770M and 512 MB of GDDR5 memory, but the fastest CPU choice jumps to the AMD Radeon HD 6970M with 1 GB of GDDR5 memory, and as a build-to-order option, you can double that to 2 GB of GDDR5 memory for $100.

As on the most recent MacBook Pro models (see “Apple Updates MacBook Pro Line with Thunderbolt,” 24 February 2011), the Thunderbolt port on the new iMacs provides both compatibility with the few Thunderbolt peripherals available and Mini DisplayPort output for connecting external displays. The 21.5-inch iMac features a single Thunderbolt port; the 27-inch model offers two. Other ports are unchanged, with both models providing a single FireWire 800 port, four USB 2.0 ports, an SDXC card slot, audio line in and out, and a Gigabit Ethernet port. Also unchanged are the iMac’s support for 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR wireless connectivity.

Although Apple doesn’t mention the previous 27-inch model’s capability of accepting DisplayPort input and acting as an external monitor, MacRumors has written that the Target Display Mode feature is still available, and Dan Moren of Macworld says Apple confirmed that the feature remains, though only via a Thunderbolt cable, from a Thunderbolt Mac. Plus, GigaOM reports that the 27-inch iMac can run two external monitors, one through each of its Thunderbolt ports.

Also like the recent MacBook Pros, the new iMacs replace the old iSight camera with a new FaceTime camera that supports video calls at up to 720p. I haven’t had the opportunity to see a FaceTime call with one of these new cameras, but I do wonder how bandwidth limitations will degrade quality, as they do with iChat and Skype.

Both models ship with 4 GB of RAM and are expandable to 16 GB, but for the 21.5-inch model, the Apple Store offers only the option of upgrading to 8 GB for $200, about double what you would pay elsewhere. The Apple Store does offer the option of upgrading the 27-inch model to either 8 GB or 16 GB, the latter for a whopping $600; about four times more than other memory vendors.

The low-end 21.5-inch model ships with a 500 GB hard drive by default and can’t be upgraded as part of the order. But the more-expensive 21.5-inch model and both 27-inch models include a 1 TB drive and offer various storage alternatives, as outlined below. Both models include a slot-loading 8x SuperDrive with 4x double-layer burning.

  • 2 TB hard drive for $150
  • 256 GB solid-state drive for $500
  • 1 TB hard drive plus a 256 GB SSD boot drive for $600
  • 2 TB hard drive plus a 256 GB SSD boot drive for $750

Thanks to Apple’s emphasis on multi-touch gestures in the upcoming Mac OS X Lion, you can purchase the iMac with a wired Apple Mouse, a wireless Magic Mouse, or the wireless Magic Trackpad. For $69 more, you can get both the Magic Mouse and the Magic Trackpad, assuming you can handle that much magic in your life. Also standard is the Apple Wireless Keyboard, though you can opt for the wired Apple Keyboard instead, if you want a numeric keypad or don’t want to mess with batteries.

Prices start at $1,199 for the low-end 21.5-inch iMac and range up to $1,999 for the basic configuration of the high-end 27-inch iMac, although a fully tricked-out 27-inch iMac can exceed $3,700. Apple says that the new iMacs are available now.

As usual with Apple’s performance-related model updates, there’s little not to like about the new iMacs, since they’re faster and more capable for basically the same prices as before. It is a little too bad that the 27-inch model loses the capability of acting as a display via anything but Thunderbolt, and it’s also odd that the Apple Store offers only the 8 GB upgrade option for the 21.5-inch model, but neither is a significant issue.


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Comments about New iMac Gains Thunderbolt, FaceTime HD, and Quad-Core CPUs
(Comments are closed.)

The SSD option is adding 4-6 weeks to the stated ship time.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-03 15:35
Good to know - thanks!
Cameron Bales  2011-05-03 15:23
The Possibility of 1 HDD + 1 SDD should be the headline feature of this iMac. That is the thing that will make this computer actually feel faster than your last iMac.
David H Dennis  2011-05-03 17:57
I have that configuration in the old iMac. It didn't seem like it was much faster until I tried using a non-SSD iMac again.

Programs load incredibly fast in the SSD iMac but there's very little difference in loading data. So you can keep your Photoshop files on the spinning drive; it literally won't make any difference at all in performance.

Once you've tried the SSD model it will be hard to go back to the old one. I'm surprised how much I hated waiting for apps to load once I had to on the other machine I was using.


Looks like 21.5" do allow upgrading to 16gb, just not from Apple.

Also, looks like you can use the imac as an external display.

an Apple sales representative has confirmed to us that the new 27-inch models do continue to support the feature through the new Thunderbolt ports.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-03 15:37
It's truly odd that Apple wouldn't allow upgrading RAM to the full extent possible on the 21.5-inch; then again, it's even weirder that they'd lower the RAM ceiling.

Thanks for the information about the Target Display Mode - I'll update the article.
Chief Negotiator  2011-05-04 20:27
"the new 27-inch models do continue to support the feature through the new Thunderbolt ports."

But supposedly only from the new Thunderbolt MacBook Pros... Will not work with the old display ports on the older MacBooks... Be careful!
SamuraiArtGuy  2011-05-03 16:20
From a casual look, it may very well be that these machines may have higher general performance than the base level Mac Pro, at least till the nest upgrade. We won't know till reviewers have machines in their hands to test.

But as a professional creative, I rather miss the days when the Mac Pro was on Apples radar.
If memory serves, with the previous generation one could only upgrade to have both an SSD and an HDD in the 27" model. Now, you can do so in the 21" model that starts at $1,499.
That's right, Sam. I remember because I was hoping for this customization option in the new models, simply because a 27" is too large for me.
Joshua Jabbour  2011-05-03 17:58
"It is a little too bad that the 27-inch model loses the capability of acting as a display for another computer."

Confused here, as earlier in the article you state Target Display Mode is undocumented, but still available.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-03 20:00
The whole situation is confused right now - I'm trying to run down the details with Apple PR.
Axel Rauschmayer  2011-05-03 21:07
The summary (no target display mode) is currently not in line with the rest of the article (does have TDM).
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-03 21:09
Yes, I just updated the summary - Macworld says they got confirmation from Apple that Target Display Mode is present, but only via Thunderbolt, which prevents the Mac from being used with other video output devices (at least without some sort of theoretical adapter).

I really wish Apple would be more clear about this stuff - they're the only source for the information, and it can be hard to get them to comment quickly.
Target Display Mode is available BUT only from another Thunderbolt port (so only new MBPs).
That's weird if it's true. I have a 2011 MBP and Target Disk Mode works great with either Thunderbolt OR Firewire.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-03 21:22
Target _Display_ Mode... Using the iMac as a display for another computer. :-)
I'd be interested to hear about thoughts on the differences between the two 21 inch models.

I have a fully loaded last generation 27 iMac in my office, but have been waiting for an update to the 17 inch 1.83 GHz Core Duo iMac at home and was wondering whether we really need anything more than the base 2.5 GHz i5. It will mostly get used for email, Web, iPhoto, a bit of video editing, bootcamp, and a bit of office/Acrobat activity.

The idea of the slightly faster processors, and extra drive space is nice, but I am not sure whether we really need it when the media is largely stored externally. This would be even more true with a Thunderbolt drive. So I was wondering if anyone had thoughts about the two base models.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-04 21:43
I almost wonder if the new 21.5-inch model will feel like a large upgrade from your existing one. With an SSD it would, for disk-intensive applications, but not sure the price is worth it there, if it's just a home Mac. In general, my feeling is that the fastest processors in a model line aren't really worth the extra cost - they're for what the economists call "price differentiation" or letting customers pay more because they can. :-)
I was wondering the same thing about the "extra" speed we would get from a 2.7 versus 2.5 and the faster video. This is particularly true when compared to what we already have.

The benchmarks show that last years i5 iMac was more than twice as fast as the one in our house, so this one should be at least that. I forget where I got them from, but the speed test for the 4 core 2.8 GHz i5 was 6725 while my 1.83 GHz Core 2 is supposed to be 2417. So, now things come down to the larger internal drive options.

For what this machine will be used, I am certainly thinking the base model will be fine. Once thunderbolt drives hit the market, external storage will be as fast as internal storage. Right now, the only problem we have streaming movies is the lag while our external drive spins up.
I'm sure benchmarks and reviews will be out soon, so we will see!
Worldboy  2011-05-05 03:02
In the past the 21" model had a poorer quality display than the 27" model. Viewing angles and colour fidelity were not as good due to the use of a different panel technology. Is that still the case?

Is there any information about the native resolution of these displays?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-05 18:23
No idea yet - we'll have to wait until people get them side-by-side or a site like iFixit tears them down. Apple's specs imply the panels are the same, short of the resolution.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-09 19:47
One minor note - you can add Aperture for $199 during the iMac order process... or you can buy it from the Mac App Store for only $79.99. As far as I know, there's no difference.