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Apple’s All –in-one Desktop gets “Thunderbolted”

Those who have seen or used the iMac will agree that Apple has held the title of the most ergonomically designed desktop computer since it first released the All-in-One iMac G4 in January 2002.  The iMac has seen four major design changes since the “lamp stand” iMac G4, resulting in the current range of 21.5” and 27” glass and aluminum iMacs.  The most recent modification, which took place in May this year, saw the addition of Apple and Intel’s new 10Gb / second Thunderbolt ports to the iMac.

In addition to Thunderbolt, Apple made a few internal changes to the machines that make it faster than ever.  They opted for the AMD Radeon HD graphics cards and Intel’s Quad-Core Sandy Bridge processors and offer the option of Solid State Hard Drives.  These internal enhancements together with the speed of Thunderbolt to connect to external devices as fast as if they were inside the machine, turn what was intended to be a family friendly eye catching machine into a lightening fast powerhouse that may even be fast enough for professional video production.

The iMac comes in four different standard configurations, two of which sport a 21.5” screen and two of which have the huge 27” screen.  All the machines have four cores of processing, with the lower spec 21.5” containing the 2.5GHz whilst the higher spec 21.5” has the 2.7GHz Quad-Core i5.  The lower spec 27” has the 3.2GHz i3 whilst the top spec 27” machine has the 2.8GHz Quad-Core i5. All four models ship with 4GB of DDR3 RAM installed as two 2GB DIMMs, which is upgradable to 16GB. In terms of storage, all the iMacs have a 1 Terabyte 7,200RPM SATA Hard Drive, with the exception of the entry level 21.5”, which has a 500GB.  The two Thunderbolt ports on the back of the top spec 27” machine means that it is now capable of powering up to four external displays given the dual-channel nature of each port. On the side of the screen you will find a Dual Layer DVD writer which will allow you to burn up to 8GB on a dual layer disk.  Underneath the DVD writer, there is an SD card slot allowing you to read data directly off the card from your digital camera.  The iMacs are ready to use right out of the box, and ship with an Apple Wireless keyboard and Magic Mouse.

For Windows lovers, the iMac can run your chosen version of Microsoft’s operating system in one of two ways. By purchasing a piece of software from either Parallels or VMWare, a user can install a virtual environment on top of the Mac Operating System. Within this virtual environment, one can install the operating system of one’s choice. The second alternative is to partition the machine’s hard drive into two virtual drives, one containing the Mac Operating System and one containing the Windows or alternative operating system. On booting up the machine, the user can select which operating system he or she would like to work in.

So to wrap-up, could a pro-level user, someone who spends their days in Photoshop or Final Cut or even Premier be happy here?  Yes, surprisingly, they could -- especially with the addition of an internal SSD (an $800 option for 240GB) and a high-speed external storage array connected via Thunderbolt.  It wouldn't be our choice, and whether it makes sense to buy something like this in preference to a dedicated machine such as an 8 Core Mac Pro with an external display is another question entirely but, if you wanted to, you certainly could.

For ease of setup, aesthetic appeal, and overall performance and flexibility, the iMac is as hard to ignore as ever.

1 June 2011