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Well, it’s happened again – Apple’s online store went down briefly this morning, meaning that the secretive company was stocking its virtual shelves with new product. As expected, when the curtain was pulled back, we all had new iMacs staring us right in the face, and they brought with them the customary slew of incremental upgrades over last year’s models. If you were paying attention when Apple refreshed the MacBook Pro earlier this year, a lot of this is going to be familiar to you.

There were two major improvements in the MacBook Pros that made most of the headlines: an upgrade to Intel’s new Sandy Bridge processors, and the introduction of the new Thunderbolt port in place of the former Mini DisplayPort. Formerly code-named Light Peak, this Intel-developed port enables two-way 10Gbps transfer speeds between a variety of devices while also maintaining compatibility with existing Mini DisplayPort dongles and cables.

To see more about the particulars of Thunderbolt, you’ll definitely want to read the extensive write-up we did about the technology when it launched in the 2011 MacBook Pros – everything written there is true of the port in the new iMacs. You’ll definitely see Thunderbolt crop up in other Macs as the year goes on, and you may start to see it pop up in PCs as well depending on how quickly people jump on the bandwagon. Until then, use of the port in peripherals is and will probably continue to be rare, so the more immediate concern for us is the hardware upgrades in the new Macs.

2011 iMac Lineup
  21.5-inch (low-end) 21.5-inch (high-end) 27-inch (low-end) 27-inch (high-end)
Dimensions (inches) 17.75 H x 20.8 W x 7.42 D 17.75 H x 20.8 W x 7.42 D 20.4 H x 25.6 W x 8.15 D 20.4 H x 25.6 W x 8.15 D
Weight 20.5 lbs (9.3 kg) 20.5 lbs (9.3 kg) 30.5 lbs (13.8 kg) 30.5 lbs (13.8 kg)
CPU 2.5 GHz quad-core Core i5 2.7 GHz quad-core Core i5 2.7 GHz quad-core Core i5 3.1 GHz quad-core Core i5
GPU AMD Radeon HD 6750M (512MB) AMD Radeon HD 6770M (512MB) AMD Radeon HD 6770M (512MB) AMD Radeon HD 6970M (1GB)
RAM 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (16GB max) 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (16GB max) 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (16GB max) 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (16GB max)
HDD 500GB 7200 RPM 1TB 7200 RPM 1TB 7200 RPM 1TB 7200 RPM
Display Resolution 1920x1080 1920x1080 2560x1440 2560x1440
Ports Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, 4x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, separate audio in/out jacks Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, 4x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, separate audio in/out jacks Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, 2x Thunderbolt, 4x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, separate audio in/out jacks Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, 2x Thunderbolt, 4x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, separate audio in/out jacks
Price $1,199 $1,499 $1,699 $1,999

All iMacs now come packing quad-core Sandy Bridge processors, dedicated graphics with 512MB or 1GB of memory (the high-end 27” model can also be configured with a 2GB 6970M), Thunderbolt (one port in the 21.5” model, two in the 27” model), and an HD Facetime camera (which supplants the previous generation’s iSight camera, making the white MacBook Apple’s last product to carry the iSight branding). Update: Reader emails have alerted me to an iFixit teardown of the new iMac, which reveals that they're shipping with the new Intel Z68 chipset. We wrote a little about Z68 earlier this year - no word on whether OS X supports or plans to support any of its unique features at this point.

It's too bad to see that all iMac models across the board still come with 4GB RAM installed by default, and Apple's upgrade prices for memory remain ridiculous (bumping it up to 8GB across two 4GB DIMMS costs $200; market value for 8GB DDR3 kits is about $80). At least these iMacs continue to offer four RAM slots, versus the two slots on older iMacs - if 4GB is not a suitable amount for you, adding another 4-8 GB is easy and relatively inexpensive if you don't pay Apple's prices.

All of these internals are packed into a case that’s virtually identical to the aluminum unibody iMac design introduced in 2009, which itself was a gentle retooling of the aluminum iMac introduced in August of 2007. The point being, this refresh is all about the hardware inside: you’re not getting anything drastically thinner or lighter, and if you’ve seen an iMac in the last three or four years, you should have a pretty good idea of what you’re buying.

CPUs: The iMac Gets Sandy Bridged

Prior to the MacBook Pro refresh (and excluding the Mac Pro), the iMac was Apple’s only product line to transition completely away from Core 2 Duo processors to newer Nehalem-based Core i3, i5, and i7 processors – the white MacBook, the Mac Mini, and the MacBook Air lines continue to use the Core 2 Duo along with nVidia chipsets to save space and energy, and to get around using Intel’s previous-generation integrated graphics processor.

So the iMac wasn’t as far behind in CPU architecture as some of Apple’s other products, but the switch to quad-core processors across all models and price levels should give new customers a healthy speed bump over the previous generation. As we saw in our review of the Sandy Bridge MacBook Pros, Apple makes use of Intel’s Turbo Boost feature to make up for the quad core parts’ lower clock speeds relative to dual core parts in single-threaded applications.

The Sandy Bridge and Thunderbolt upgrades are more or less known quantities at this point – what impressed me most about the new iMacs was the GPU upgrade, especially in the entry-level iMac and the high-end iMac.

GPUs and Preparing for Lion
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  • AddFunction - Tuesday, May 03, 2011 - link

    I agree w/ Spazweasel. I've used ms computers since the 80's & 3 years ago I got a MacBook. Not cheap, but not that expensive & a pleasure to use. No virus issues, security updates, constant housekeeping & maintenance. I still have 2 Win 7 computers but I think I'll stay w/ Macs from now on. Windows is just too much bother & I just don't enjoy that anymore. Reply
  • seapeople - Tuesday, May 03, 2011 - link

    What exactly do you do to your computers that you need "constant housekeeping & maintenance" on Windows 7? Do you live on a porn site and frequent password cracking sites with admin access for fun?

    Oh I get it, I bet you're one of those XP freaks who insisted on disabling UAC and tweaking your registry so clicking on "My Documents" opens up a customized user interface where one click opens the file you select and two clicks opens the file below it.

    Really, if your Windows 7 needs constant user intervention to provide housekeeping and maintenance then you're using it wrong, and the only reason you think Macs are better is because you listen to Steve Jobs when he tells you that you're using those wrong.
    Reply
  • psychobriggsy - Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - link

    Or maybe he ran out of patience with Windows and PCs three years ago (maybe Vista was the last straw), and Windows 7 is just too late to matter any longer to him.

    He is right - using a Mac is no headache compared with Windows, and once you're past a certain age you realise that you've better things to be doing as you race towards old age than fiddlearsing around with a computer.
    Reply
  • chillmelt - Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - link

    That applies to me. But I still choose Windows over a Mac. I found that overclocking and strenuous amount of gaming is one of top causes of software/hardware malfunction on computers, PC or otherwise. I hardly play games now, and I've yet to experience any crashes since I stopped gaming.

    Now excuse me while I enjoy VMWare running Mac 10.6.2 on my Windows PC without the Mac "tax" or performance plummet.
    Reply
  • seapeople - Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - link

    Ok, now I get you. Even though he likes Windows 7 like most everyone on the planet, he has been burned by Windows too much in the past to care. I'm in the same boat. I bought a Lisa, so in my mind every Apple computer made today is complete junk and I will thus freely make outdated claims against Apple. Reply
  • ananduser - Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - link

    Spazweasel, how can you post such idiocies ? No seriously. How do you know how PC users are or how mac users are ? It sounds more like you are a mac user because you perceive macs as suggested to you via marketing. You bought a mac wanting to be what you portray the typical mac user to be, and you strongly believe that you are a "superior" user. This is AT, a tech enthusiast's site. What are you doing here acting like a douche stereotyping everyone who uses a PC? So what if PC users do not agree and do not credit Apple's macs, marketing and doctrine; doest it affect you esteem or what ?

    Man, it is unbelievable how identical hardcore mac fans are. In my country they hold annual mac themed meetings and praise the enlightened despot that is SJ( actual words used ). They spew the same idiocies like you with the platform superiority and the ULTRA synergetic,ergonomic,unisex,revolutionary and whatnot. They even wish well for MS(their perceived enemy) so as the unwashed masses keep to the inferior platform. Well if such is the case in an eastern European country, where Apple is extremely low profile, I can only imagine how the mac "clubs" in USA are. After all Apple is the only tech company that has an ultra loyal following, a fan base instead of an user base.
    Reply
  • akm3 - Tuesday, May 03, 2011 - link

    I *personally* don't care about BluRay but your point stands. The 4GB RAM is certainly pretty lame too (as well as the overpriced hard drive and difficulty to upgrade).

    However, no eSATA and no USB 3.0 is kind of a false argument with Thunderbolt and Firewire 800 (and USB 2)

    Thunderbolt > eSATA and USB 3.0....if you're willing to invest in (mostly non-existent today) peripherally to attach to it.
    Reply
  • Targon - Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - link

    And there are dozens of Thunderbolt devices ready to go? New technologies always take some time from release to when devices become available. The only reason for the lack of USB 3.0 is because Intel can't get it out at this point.

    If AMDs Bulldozer really does provide the improvements that have been mentioned in terms of CPU performance, that really will do some very interesting things for the industry, since AMD already has USB 3.0 ready to go.
    Reply
  • Wizzdo - Tuesday, May 03, 2011 - link

    Yawn. Always the same old boring "It's too expensive...blah blah blah" half-baked comments.

    You make your money back on resale alone with a Mac.

    We all have the same organs but that does not mean we all use them the same. Macs are designed to run amazingly well with OSX. They are like a well-designed, finely-tuned automobile that provides users with YEARS of satisfaction.

    I just installed the latest OSX Snow-Leopard on a 6 year old Macbook Pro and it makes that machine feel and run as if it was brand new. Another happy customer.

    Windows machines look like crap, run like a hodge-podge, and make you feel like upgrading to a mac within a couple of years. And you can barely give away that OLD hunk of junk you thought you saved money on 2 years ago.

    You get what you pay for. If you want cheap plastic crap with no support that is obsolete within a few months and will require half-a-day to upgrade to the next Windows super-overpriced non-professional-version Vista-fix (that you would probably have been better off installing from scratch), then you have no right posting your nonsense here or anywhere else for that matter.

    Best of luck with your soon-to-be landfill donation.
    Reply
  • Tamz_msc - Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - link

    Typical comment (as expected) from iSheeple.

    If you have some basic knowledge, Windows based PCs run amazingly well too.
    Windows is well designed, and it has given me YEARS of satisfaction, and I'm sure that is also the case with countless other Windows users.

    I installed Windows 7 last year on my old PC(1.86 GHz Core 2 Duo, 1GB RAM, 8600GT, 250 GB HDD) and it runs great.

    ITS WE WHO DECIDE HOW OUR PC WILL LOOK LIKE, not Jobs. It all depends on how much you spend, what parts you buy etc.A Windows machine like this:
    http://www.guru3d.com/article/guru3d-rig-of-the-mo...
    looks a thousand times better than a boring white iMac, and performs better than any of you iSheeple could ever imagine.I guess you're too happy with some shiny white case and Steve Jobs' propaganda to be bothered about the cheap parts inside your Macs like motherboards which come from companies like FOXCONN, where workers are worked to their DEATH.

    You also get what you pay for- shine white poop which gets updates once in six months, gets new hardware only after mainstream Windows PCs,who get them much earlier, some OS that you feel is the best but has been proven to be vulnerable time and again.

    Continue dreaming about the superiority of your beloved Mac..............
    Reply

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