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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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