AAfter failing to make an appearance at the September 12 Apple event, Apple has finally announced new iMacs. Both the 21.5-inch and 27-inch versions have been updated to a new razor-thin form factor, and their guts have been upgraded with Intel Ivy Bridge processors, which brings USB 3.0 to the Apple desktop.
The new form factor is 80% thinner than the previous generation, and features a screen surface bonded directly to the underlying IPS LCD panel. The previous iMac design included a removable clear protective bezel over the LCD's surface; the new design puts less material between the user and the LCD, and Apple promises that it will result in a clearer screen and a better viewing experience. The new iMacs weigh less, too, shedding eight pounds of material from their porkier predecessors. One not-entirely-unexpected casualty is the optical drive, though one can be purchased as an add-on.
Screen resolutions are unchanged from the previous generation, with the 21.5-inch iMac coming in at 1920x1080 and the 27-inch model at 2560x1440. In a move bound to disappoint many, "retina"-resolution displays for the desktop computer are not on the list of features this time around. Producing a high-DPI display at the sizes necessary for the 21.5-inch and 27-inch displays in the iMac is difficult and expensive, but the biggest problem to overcome is finding a discrete video card that fits within the iMac's tight thermal budget and which has the horsepower to drive that many pixels. iMacs have long used mobile graphics chipsets for their reduced power consumption and heat output—even if not marketed as such, a comparison of PCI device identifiers has shown every iMac since 2007 has come with a mobility video card rather than a desktop version—and even the fastest mobile chipset on the planet would struggle with the number of pixels in a retina-DPI 21-inch or 27-inch display. Don't expect Apple to give up on Retina, though—we will almost certainly see a retina-DPI iMac in the future.
Both iMacs will come with 1TB hard disk drives as standard, along with up to 768GB of solid state storage as an add-on. In addition to the either-or approach, Apple is also letting you do both with a new option called "Apple Fusion Drive," which is a semi-hybrid setup with 128GB of solid state disk backed by a 1TB or 3TB traditional hard disk. The preinstalled applications all start out on the flash, and documents and other applications start out on the spinnning disk. OS X watches what applications and files you open and seamlessly promotes the ones you use more often up to the flash so that they run much faster and demotes unused items down to the slower but larger hard disk.
The base 21.5-inch iMac will have a 2.7GHz quad-core Ivy Bridge i5, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard disk drive, a discrete GeForce GT 640M, and will start at $1299; a second upgraded configuration with a 2.9GHz quad-core Ivy Bridge i5 and a GeForce GT 650M will come in at $1,499. Both will ship in November. The 27-inch base model comes with a 2.9GHz quad-core Ivy Bridge i5, 8GB of RAM, 1TB of hard drive space, and a GeForce GTX 660M discrete video card, for $1,799. An upgraded model with a 3.2GHz quad-core i5 and a GeForce GTX 675MX will cost $1,999. These will be available a month after their littler brothers, in December. All models can be built-to-order with additional storage and more RAM (up to 32GB); the top 21.5-inch and 27-inch models can also be upgraded via BTO to Ivy Bridge i7 processors, with the 21.5-inch model supporting a 3.1GHz quad-core i7 and the 27-inch model supporting a 3.4GHz quad-core i7. Additionally, the top-end 27-inch model can have its video card upgraded to a GeForce GTX 680MX with 2GB of GDDR5 video RAM.
Additionally, Apple's tiniest Mac, the Mac Mini, has been updated. The smallest member of the Mac family still comes in three main variations, two with the standard version of OS X and a third featuring OS X server. The two standard versions include a 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Ivy Bridge i5 with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive, or a 2.3GHz quad-core Ivy Bridge i7 with 4GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive.
Both models can be customized with faster CPUs, more RAM, and additional storage. The third Mini, preloaded with OS X Server, includes a quad-core 2.3GHz Ivy Bridge i7 with 4GB of RAM and dual 1TB hard drives, and can also be built to order. Like the updated iMac, the switch to Ivy Bridge means that all of the Minis now have USB 3.0 in addition to their Thunderbolt ports and can take full advantage of the growing list of high-speed USB 3.0-compatible devices. Additionally, the i7-powered non-server Mini supports the same Fusion Drive technology as the iMac does, though only with a 1TB disk. The server Mini doesn't get Fusion Drive, but does have dual 256GB SSDs as an option.
Pricing remains unchanged from the previous generation, with the base model starting at $599 and the upgraded model starting at $799. The server model will start at $999. They are all available for sale today.