Summary: Desktop overhaul leads busy day of Apple releases

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Apple on Tuesday overhauled its desktop line, releasing long-awaited updates to its Mac Pro and Mac mini offerings while also tweaking iMac configurations.

The desktop updates had been a long time coming—it had been more than a year since Apple had last released a new version of its Mac Pro desktop tower for pro users while the Mac mini last saw an update in August 2007. The aluminum iMac line had been unchanged since last spring.

The lack of desktop activity had been readily apparent in Apple’s sales figures. While the company has enjoyed record Mac sales in six of the last seven quarters, much of that growth has come from the laptop side. During Apple’s December quarter, for example, the company sold 728,000 desktops, down from 977,000 from the December 2007 quarter. In that same period, laptop sales increased to nearly 1.8 million units from 1.675 million.

Tuesday’s updates should spark some renewed interest in Apple’s desktop offerings, particularly for the Mac Pro, which sees a new class of processors as well as a new system architecture.

The Mac Pro now runs on Xeon processors from Intel’s Nehalem family—a code name for a micro-processor architecture that features on-chip power management and a memory controller that’s integrated on the processor for faster access to data stored in memory. The interior of the machine has also been redesigned making it easier to access memory, hard drives, and other components.

The Mac Pro comes in two models—a 2.66GHz quad-core machine that costs $2,499 and an eight-core model with two 2.26GHz quad-core Xeon chips for $3,299. Apple cut the price on the entry-level Mac Pro by $300 from the previous generation.

Get more details on the new Mac Pro models

As for Apple’s long-neglected Mac mini, the entry-level desktop was updated with faster graphics, faster memory, and other enhancements. Apple kept the current price tag, however—the mini still starts at $599.

Both the $599 and $799 Mac minis feature Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics, the same graphics that are featured on Apple’s MacBook laptop line. The previous generation of the mini included Intel GMA 950 graphics, which often led to sluggish performance in graphically-intensive applications and games.

Both models run on a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. The $799 model features 2GB of RAM-twice the amount of the base model—and a larger 320GB hard drive.

Get more details on the revamped Mac mini line

Apple also refreshed its iMac offerings, with new versions of its 20- and 24-inch configurations. The changes include a Mini DisplayPort connector, an extra USB port (for a total of four on the back), and increased hard drive size, RAM, and processor speeds. FireWire 800 is now standard on all iMac models.

The lone 20-inch iMac model features a 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of 1066 MHz DDR3 memory, a 320GB Serial ATA hard drive, and Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory. (Previous 20-inch models had discrete ATI Radeon graphics.) It sells for $1,199.

Thee 24-inch iMac comes in 2.66GHz, 2.93GHz, and 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo configurations; all three 24-inch models offer 4GB of memory and either a 640GB or 1TB hard drive. The 2.66GHz model has the same Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics as the 20-inch model, while the other two models feature discreet graphics.

The 24-inch iMacs start at $1,499—$300 less than the previous 24-inch iMac model.

Get more details on Apple’s iMac changes

Desktops dominated Tuesday’s releases, but Apple couldn’t resist including one laptop update. The company quietly adjusted the specs on the 15-inch MacBook Pro, bringing it in line with the 2.66GHz included in the 17-inch version of Apple’s pro-level laptop.

Get more details on the MacBook Pro update

Finally, Apple released a spate of peripheral updates. Both the AirPort Extreme base station and Time Capsule storage device saw an update that adds the ability to operate on two bands simultaneously. They also get a Guest Networking feature that gives visitors access to the Internet but not other parts of your network, such as shared printers, drives, and libraries. Meanwhile, Apple added a third keyboard to its offerings that combines the thin design of its wireless keyboard with the cable of its standard-sized keyboard.

Get more details on the changes to AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule and the new wired keyboard

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