The iMac bulks up

In August, while reviewing the Mac Pro, I openly pondered whether some Power Mac users might be more satisfied with the iMac than the Mac Pro:

If you don’t run high-end professional applications and don’t truly need a huge amount of internal storage or access to PCI Express slots (for the impressive video-card options, among other things), you might find that the remarkably powerful 20-inch iMac Core Duo is a much better value.

I got even more food for thought Wednesday, as Apple announced an overhaul of the iMac product line —complete with a new $1,999 top-of-the-line iMac with a 24-inch display and 2.16GHz Core 2 Duo processor. Even more impressively, the 20- and 24-inch iMacs can be upgraded to a 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo processor as a $250 “build to order” option on Apple’s Web site.

Now, this iMac announcement does make the iMac product line a bit more complicated than it was before. By my reckoning, we’ve now got four standard iMac configurations out there, and that’s not counting the 2.33GHz processor option.

The big news that most people will focus on is that there’s a new, giant-sized iMac: the 24-inch model, which weighs in at 25 pounds (nine pounds heavier than the 17-inch model!). We’ve certainly joked about it around the office—it’s the Mac for Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, or maybe The Leader.

But a 24-inch iMac really isn’t ridiculous at all. I’m writing this article in front of a 23-inch Apple Cinema Display with a native resolution of 1,920-by-1,200 pixels. The display on the 24-inch iMac has exactly the same native resolution, but evidently is slightly larger in physical size. In any event, it’s a comfortable size. It might be the biggest iMac on record, but it’s on par with a decent-sized professional monitor.

More important, though, is the addition of a FireWire 800 port, which brings high-speed storage to the iMac for the first time. When I pondered the idea of switching from a Power Mac to an iMac last month, I felt that one of the major stumbling blocks was the lack of speedy external storage. My Power Mac G5 has two speedy internal SATA drives; I had a hard time picturing myself editing videos with a poky external drive, or copying reams of data to the external drive just so I could free up space on my fast internal drive.

Now look where we are today: You can buy an iMac with the equivalent of a built-in 23-inch Apple Cinema Display, with a 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo processor, up to 3GB of RAM, and a speedy FireWire 800 port for fast external storage. If you don’t need all 24 inches of iMac goodness, there’s always the 20-inch model—and since these iMacs still support screen spanning via their built-in mini-DVI connector, you can drive a second screen if you need more screen space.

(And if you’re someone who’s obsessed with wall-mounting your Mac, rejoice—Apple’s offering an optional wall-mount adapter for the 24-inch model, a feature not available on previous Intel-based iMac systems.)

All told, these new iMacs make a pretty compelling system for those of us who don’t need all the bells and whistles of the Mac Pro. And for me, the addition of FireWire 800 pushes it over the edge. Now when I replace my Power Mac G5 at home, I’m going to give these Core 2 Duo iMacs serious consideration.

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