A look at Apple's new consumer Macs

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This morning, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced a revolutionary revision to Apple's iMac line. "Our ultimate goal with this product was to make it the ultimate digital hub," said Jobs before unveiling the new iMac. To that end, Apple has created a totally new iMac design comprising of a LCD flat panel display connected to a hemispherical computer base by a stainless steel arm. In addition to the flat panel, the new iMac got a processor upgrade to a 700MHz or 800MHz G4.

Jobs also announced a revision to Apple's iBook line of consumer portables. In addition to significant price drops, a 14-inch screen iBook was added to the high-end model.

The new iMac

During his Macworld keynote address, Jobs said that the new iMac design incorporated the three most common requests made by Apple enthusiasts for new iMac features: a flat screen display, a G4 processor and a SuperDrive. The new iMac models bring all three of these features together.

Apple offers three configurations of the new iMac. The base level iMac has a 700MHz G4, comes with 128MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a CD/RW. This model will be available in March for $1,299. The next model, available in February, replaces the CD/RW with a DVD-CD/RW combo drive and bumps the RAM up to 256MB for $1,499. This model also ships with Apple Pro Speakers. The top-end iMac has an 800MHz G4 processor, 256MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive, a SuperDrive, and also ships with Apple Pro Speakers. This model sells for $1,799 and will ship before the end of January.

Jobs said during his keynote that he expects the top end iMac model to be the best initial seller, and that is why production is being ramped up first for this model. All of the new iMac models can be ordered now. Jobs reported to applause that the first customer for the new iMac was bio-research firm Genentech, which purchased 1,000.

"We would like to announce the official death of the CRT today," said Jobs. The iMac's 15-inch LCD screen is held above the hemispherical base of the iMac by a thick, well articulated stainless steel arm. The necessary cables for the screen are contained within the arm, and no cables or wires are visible between the new iMac and its face. The screen itself is surrounded by a white field and encased in rugged clear plastic. The edges of the screen are designed to be grabbed, and the screen can be moved into almost any position and angle in front of the iMac. The screen also can be swiveled to the left or right.

The new iMac's 15-inch LCD screen is flicker free and supports three viewing resolutions: 640x480, 800x600 and 1024x768, all in millions of colors. The 1024x768 resolution is the optimal resolution, and the new iMac also supports video mirroring through a mini VGA port. The mini VGA port requires an adapter for use with a conventional CRT monitor.

Moving to the iMac's base -- the iMac's graphics are driven by a Nvidia GeForce 2 MX with 32MB of Double Data Rate (DDR) RAM over an AGP 2X port. This level of graphics is provided on all iMac models.

The new iMac's base is where the actual computing happens. "Let each element be true to itself," said Jobs when describing the design philosophy. The idea is that the screen is vertical while the drives perform best while horizontal. Thus, the base is wide, incorporating all of the iMacs components except the screen and allowing them to lay flat, and the screen is thin and floats above the base.

In the front of the hemishperical base are an Apple logo and a retractable CD/DVD drive tray. The drive tray's form fits to the curvature of the base. In the back of the base are all of the connectors for the new iMac: an analog Microphone jack, headphone and pro speaker jacks, two 400MBit FireWire ports, three USB ports (however, there are only two USB 1.1 controllers, so some of the USB bandwidth is shared), modem and Ethernet ports, the power plug and the mini VGA video out port. The power switch for the new iMac is at the extreme right of the back -- you would reach around to the left if in front of the new iMac to turn it on.

All of the new iMacs ship with Apple Pro Keyboards and Mice. The new iMacs also all have 56K V.90 faxmodems and built in 10/100 Base-T Ethernet.

The bottom of the new iMac is removed by taking out four screws and removing the stainless steel plate. This allows users to add RAM or an AirPort card.

The new iMac has a 100MHz system bus and has one 168-pin DIMM slot. Apple populates that slot with the RAM that comes with the system. There is also one user accessible empty SO-DIMM slot for additional RAM. The G4 processor in the system has a 256KB on chip L2 cache, but no iMac models have a L3 cache. During his keynote Jobs said that the addition of the G4 to the iMac was essential to Apple's digital hub strategy. Many of Apple's key applications, iDVD for example, require or derive a significant benefit from a G4.

The new iBooks

Jobs also revised the iBook line. At the low end, the 500MHz iBook got a $100 price drop to $1,299. The mid Range iBook now has a 600MHz G3 processor and a DVD-CD/RW combo drive for $1,499.

The high-end iBook now has a larger 14-inch LCD screen and is physically larger than the other iBooks. This model, selling for $1,799, has a 20GB HD, 256MB of RAM and also has a DVD-CD/RW combo drive.

This story, "A look at Apple's new consumer Macs" was originally published by PCWorld.

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