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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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  • edsib1 - Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - link

    so u pay $2000 for ur mac and then have to revert back to windows to play a blu-ray.

    Nothing more needs to be said. Its nice of Steve Jobs to decide what you might want to do on your pc without asking you...
    Reply
  • royalcrown - Friday, May 06, 2011 - link

    Really if I can afford 2000.00 for my mac, I can't afford 100.00 for windows ?!

    Yeah, and MS never limits you...hmmm signed drivers, upgrade to DX10 requires Vista. Plus until vista, windows didn't play DVD's without 3rd party either.

    OSX probably NEVER will suppurt Blu ray tillJobs dies. Still, both machines are good and have good and bad points.

    If you want ALL of the OS features you have to buy the ULTIMATE version. If you want to compain about price: win 7 home premium retail $179.99...Ultimate 259.00 ...Snow leopard $30.00

    Plus until vista, windows didn't play DVD's without 3rd party either. OSX probably NEVER will suppurt Blu ray till jobs dies. Still, both machines are good and have good and bad points.
    Reply
  • royalcrown - Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - link

    All you people that say macs can't do "x..." are full of bs and have likely never owned one. I can play MODERN games on my iMac just fine (are Bulletstorm and Dawn of War: Retribution not current enough ?!). The only real "lag" so far has been MS FSX on "ultra"; is it as fast as a full on desktop ? No. However, Win 7 runs great and I can and DO game.

    Now before the flamers label me a "mac" something fanboy, my Prior system was an e8600 running on an EP45-UD3R with 8 gigs and a 1 gig 4890 that I gave to my friend to replace his junkbox.

    You know why I upgraded... because the mac doesent take up the TON of space that my Cooler Master tower did, I still have a large screen (27), and it is DEAD quiet (in the bedroom). No more vacuum cleaner sound from 120mm fans or XFX radeons is AWSOME, being able to hear music or play games and not have to turn it up to drown out crap is great.

    * Posted from iMac running Win 7
    Reply
  • joe_dude - Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - link

    But weaksauce for a desktop. 4 GB RAM? 1 TB hard drive? It's 2006 all over again.

    I'll wait for the Anandtech review, but it should be fast enough to play games at medium settings.
    Reply
  • ananduser - Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - link

    Since AT made some well researched reviews of the MAC platform, as limited as it may be hardware wise by OSX, scores of the naive kind of mac users(the ones that proactively praise the platform in the same time they ridicule the WinPC) have rushed the comment section of this glorious site. What they don't understand is that this is not the averages user's site, but the poweruser's site or hardcore user's(of both camps) site. Yet they come here lambasting the thoroughness with which PC users maintain their hardware, while praising their detached demeanor in relation with the "superior" mac hardware. I cannot help to observe the irony of their idiocy. Reply
  • marioyohanes - Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - link

    I used PC & Windows (and Linux) for like 15 years, I had fun with it, from national overclocking competition, asian to international overclocking competition with dozens of big companies as my sponsor. Then I moved to gaming competition, from Warcraft 3, DoTA and World of Warcraft in national & international events. My job? I'm a system architect designing a worldwide system involved biometric matching. So, Yes, I'm a power user who knows how to code an operating system and I know a lot about gaming & pc overclocking.

    I switched to Mac ecosystem after I got my job simply because I can't stand anymore with crappy Windows, anti virus, headache synchronization with my gadgets and not to mention I have to deal with multiple vendors to claim warranty for every pieces of hardware attached to my computer. I simply DON"T HAVE ENOUGH TIME FOR THAT ANYMORE.

    Apple is selling integrated system, like IBM in enterprise world. Do you think a big company like AT&T willing to assemble their servers by their own just to cut several millions in hardware? No! They will choose integrated system, where they can dial one number to complaint about everything on their data centre. Because they don't have enough time to deal with that.

    So, both PC & Mac users are equally great, just prefer different taste, that's why we should stop this whole PC vs Mac thing, it will never go anywhere.

    I'm happy working with my 15" Sandy Bridge MBP, old iMac at home, 13" MBA for travel and some of my iOS devices. I don't even use blackberry, because I love how Apple manage their devices to work and get connected seamlessly with each other. That's what I want from paying premium Apple taxes, and I enjoy it.
    Reply
  • ananduser - Thursday, May 05, 2011 - link

    You don't have to buy the PC by parts. You want integrated system you can buy PCs from various vendors(Sony Vaios, top end Dells,HPs, Lenovos etc) or specialized boutiques(like Maingear). Maingear for example is so streamlined that all you have to do is choose the parts and order. They will assemble it, install Windows for you or not, ship it, and if you have Win preinstalled on one of their BTO laptops, it is BLOAT FREE. You also have tech support assured and you can pay for additional support same as AppleCare.

    But you said crappy windows, so if it is crappy for you it's all for naught. Just don't make it seem like the ONLY WAY to own a PC is to build it yourself. You should have known that.
    Reply
  • XiZeL - Thursday, May 05, 2011 - link

    Unfortunately the people that read this kind of sites are tech savy technology enthusiasts.
    The target customer for mac is a mainstream user that wants an easy t use and nice looking pc without any hassle and the feeling that they have a top of the line equipment due to good marketing strategies.

    So yes we are happy that anand does post these articles, because we are tech savy enthusiasts and want to know whats happening in every front.

    the only useless part about this article is the part where enthusiasts post custom computers that with less money have more raw performance than the apple products presented. Once again we are not the target market.

    Only thing that really bugs me about the iMac is that the monitor is always top of the line, that combined with fairly weak GPU power just gives me the feeling the monitor is being put to wast. But still the monitor does give the end user a really nice feeling and a great work area, and good enough CPU power to work on some video/image editing.

    So if your into Gaming and benchmarks and heavy video/image editing/compressing build your own PC.

    if your into Facebook, email music, movies, editing your Holiday pictures/videos, syncing your ipod/phone, and some light photoshoping and have a cool looking easy to install easy to use/configure get an iMac

    if you gain a living on Photoshop and video editing get a workstation or a Mac Pro
    Reply
  • kasakka - Thursday, May 05, 2011 - link

    I work at an advertising agency and we use a combination of Mac Pros and iMacs. The iMacs work just fine for Adobe's programs.

    I currently have a desktop PC and a 30" 2560x1600 display at home but at times I think I should just sell it and get an iMac. The iMac has a very good display and the 27" model has very good specs - basically it's a $1000 computer with a $1000 display to go with it. I don't think that's a bad deal at all. The GPU in the latest ones is pretty powerful and should run most games just fine in 1080p.

    Yes you can build a faster desktop PC cheaper but add a similar quality display and you're pretty close to the same price but have a big box under the table taking space and it doesn't run OSX unless you Hackintosh it. Hackintosh isn't a perfect option because it makes updates more of a hassle and getting things to work requires pretty advanced knowledge at times. Despite writing some custom DSDT stuff I still can't get my motherboard (Abit IP35) to have working sleep in Hackintosh.

    The 27" iMac is a very well thought out and convenient machine.
    Reply
  • royalcrown - Friday, May 06, 2011 - link

    True, plus "PC" users have thhe huge mess of cables...I don't miss that... Reply

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