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Like a fashion house unveiling its fall lineup in Milan, Apple unveils new iMacs with a flourish that goes beyond simply boosting processor speed, RAM, and hard disk specs.

The latest revision of the iMac isn't a huge boost as far as those cold hardware specifications are concerned -- a processor speed increase here, a price drop there. But there is still a lot to talk about, because the iMac is as much about style as substance, and these new models sport a series of striking new shades -- indigo (blue), ruby (red), sage (green), and snow (white) -- to go with the upgraded options.

Four in One

When it first came on the scene two years ago -- and isn't it hard to believe it's only been two years? -- the iMac was a one-of-a-kind machine. It came in any color you liked, as long as that color was Bondi. Over the months, Apple has added to your options, launching five new iMac colors, the iMac DV configuration, and even a graphite iMac Special Edition. Today's iMac lineup is the most complicated yet, with four configurations in five new colors, meaning you could buy eight brand-new iMacs and never get the same one twice.

The Basic iMac Sitting at the lower-priced ($799), least-loaded end of the iMac line is the new base iMac, available only in Indigo. Other than the color, this new iMac is little changed from its $999 predecessor: it's got that same 350MHz G3 processor and 64MB of RAM. The hard drive is slightly upgraded, from 6GB to 7GB. There's still no video-out port on this model, no AirPort compatibility, and no FireWire; but by not offering those features, this iMac is the cheapest new Mac ever released.

Ruby and Indigo

Cheap DV The new iMac DV models -- available in ruby as well as indigo -- are lower-priced than their predecessors, but with the same 400MHz G3 processor and 10GB hard drive. In addition to the faster processor, the DV model differs from the cheaper iMac in its two FireWire ports, a video-out port, and an Airport slot.

One item on past iMac DV models has been removed from this new model, presumably for cost savings: there is no DVD drive. Instead this new DV-editing iMac offers a CD-ROM drive as its only removeable media. If you want to buy a computer that can play DVD movies, be careful when you buy an iMac DV -- if it's one of these new models, you'll be out of luck.

So Many iMacs

One step above the iMac DV is a new iMac configuration, one whose name suggests that the simplicity of the iMac experience doesn't extend to the way Apple has chosen to name the products. It's the iMac DV+.

Plus Processor Naming quibbles aside, the iMac DV+ is the logical next step in the new iMac DV lineup. Available in ruby, indigo, and sage, the iMac DV+ offers everything the iMac DV does -- and more.

Powered by a 450MHz G3 processor, the iMac DV+ is faster than any previous iMac model. It also sports a 20GB hard drive -- twice as big as the iMac DV's -- a major boost if you're an iMovie aficionado with huge digital video files filling your hard drive. Its base RAM configuration, 64MB, is the same as the lower-end models, and it offers the same dual FireWire ports. However the iMac DV+ includes the DVD drive missing from the iMac DV.

Graphite and Ice

King iMac The original iMac DV Special Edition (SE) wasn't all that special, when you think about it. Sure, it had the classy Graphite color scheme, a slightly bigger (13GB) hard drive, and 128MB of RAM. But it also had the same 400MHz processor as the regular iMac DV. With this new round of iMacs, however, Apple's really put the special in the iMac DV SE.

It starts with the colors. Now the iMac DV SE comes in two unique colors: the original graphite is still there, making it a good match with Apple's burgeoning Power Mac G4 line. But there's a new twist, too -- snow, a frosty white shade that makes this new model the most distinctive iMac around (and the model most likely to be seen on the set of the next Star Trek movie).

But inside that distinctive shell is where the SE really gets special. Powered by a 500MHz G3 processor, it's the fastest iMac ever made. It's got 128MB of RAM and a 30GB hard drive, making it a powerful desktop moviemaking workstation. The other iMac niceties are still there, of course: FireWire, USB, video-out port, AirPort, the works.

Little Touches

The launch of the original iMac also marked the introduction of the tiny keyboard and hockey-puck mouse Apple has shipped with all the desktop Macs it's unveiled since. Loved by some but decried -- loudly -- by most, this pair of input devices has finally heard its death knell.

In a surprise move, Apple's not bringing the new Apple Pro Keyboard and Apple Pro Mouse to only the professional end of its product line. All the new iMac models will ship with these new input devices, as well. Fans of Apple's teeny input devices, you may begin the mourning process.

iMovie Sequel The release of the iMac DV also marked the release of iMovie, Apple's video-editing software. But while most would agree iMovie excelled at ease of use, the software was extremely limited in terms of useful transitions, titling features, audio-editing functionality...even the number of clips you could easily manage.

Now it's time for the sequel. These new iMac DV models ship with iMovie 2.0, an updated version that should address many of the frustrations of iMovie users. And anyone who has bought a DV camcorder only to discover that it doesn't come with a FireWire cable should appreciate one of Apple's other small touches: all the new iMac DV models come with a FireWire camcorder cable.

The Last Word

With the exception of the minor improvements in the iMac DV+ and the big boost given to the iMac DV SE, this round of iMacs isn't that technologically far-removed from the previous version. But by changing the color scheme, Apple has proven again that the iMac's appeal comes from its looks and its price tag, not its spec sheet. And, of course, its ease-of-setup and use, but apparently not from the ease of model differentiation.

Once they've navigated the differences between the four iMac models, savvy iMac buyers will recognize the power hiding underneath the plastic in the iMac DV+ and iMac SE. The rest of the world will simply admire Apple's latest fashion show.

iMac iMac DV iMac DV+ iMac DV SE
Color Indigo Indigo, Ruby Indigo, Ruby, Sage Graphite, Snow
Price $799 $999 $1,299 $1,499
Processor 350MHz G3 400MHz G3 450MHz G3 500MHz G3
Memory 64MB 64MB 64MB 128MB
FireWire No Two ports Two ports Two ports
Hard drive 7GB 10GB 20GB 30GB
Video out No Yes Yes Yes
AirPort support No Yes Yes Yes
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