When the flat-panel iMac was introduced in January, its floating-flat-panel design made one fact abundantly clear: unlike the original iMac, encased within a rigid plastic shell that limited changes to the basic design, Apple could much more easily upgrade and modify this new model.
It only took half a year for that fact to bear fruit in the form of the new $1,999 model unveiled almost as an afterthought at the end of Wednesday's Macworld Expo keynote. The latest iMac swaps out the 15-inch, 1,024-by-768-pixel display at the end of the computer's stainless steel neck for a 17-inch display. Combining the popularity of the widescreen aspect ratio found in the PowerBook G4 and Apple Cinema Displays with the ever-increasing need for more screen real estate, this new iMac offers a striking 1,440-by-900-pixel flat-screen display--a resolution that Apple says is the equivalent of a 19-inch CRT monitor. It's dramatically more screen space than the 15-inch model iMac offers, and even improves on the gorgeous 1,280-by-854 screen of the latest-model Titanium PowerBook G4s. It's got slightly fewer pixels than Apple's 17-inch Apple Studio Display, which costs $999 all by itself.
Driving this high-resolution display is an upgraded graphics chipset. While the 15-inch iMacs are powered by Nvidia's GeForce2 MX, this new mega-iMac has the impressive force of Nvidia's GeForce4 MX and 32MB of double-data-rate SDRAM behind it.
In terms of dimensions, this new iMac is slightly bigger and heavier than the 15-inch model; it's 1.6 inches wider and at 22.8 pounds, it's a little more than half-a-pound heavier. Even still, it comes in at half the weight of Apple's other consumer desktop offering, the eMac.
Inside the iMac's white snow-dome base, the 17-inch model is largely the same as the top-of-the-line 15-inch model. That's not necessarily a bad thing--Apple says that 50 percent of its iMac sales have been for that most-expensive model, the one with the DVD-writing SuperDrive built in. Like that model, this iMac has an 800MHz G4 processor, a standard allotment of 256MB of RAM, included Apple Pro Speakers, and that self-same SuperDrive. But Apple has upgraded this iMac's storage, equipping it with an 80GB hard drive, compared to the 15-inch model's 60GB.
Meanwhile, that top 15-inch model has returned to its original introductory price: $1,799. After the iMac was introduced, Apple raised the price by $100, citing a sharp spike in the cost of flat-panel displays (The other two iMac configurations remain at their post $100-hike prices). Now that high-end iMac is back where it started, filling one of five slots (six if you count the $799 G3 iMac, which, at press time, remains on Apple's price lists) in the rapidly expanding Macintosh line of consumer-oriented desktop computers (see "The Consumer Mac Family").