Apple's newest iMac packs a wallop

The line-up now tops out at 3.06GHz

When Apple recently sent along one of its new iMacs -- a sweet 24-inch model with a 2.8GHz Penryn processor -- I agreed to take it home and give it a dose of family testing at the Finnie household. And with three kids aged 3, 6, and 16, that's saying something.

I barely had it set up before the younger two were locked in a battle to gain control of the wired Mighty Mouse and svelte aluminum keyboard. The 16-year-old nonchalantly leaned over and pushed the On button, which is located in an out-of-the-way spot behind the one-piece computer's screen on the left side. Even though it's the first iMac in this house, it clearly wasn't his first iMac experience. (By the way, when you have a three-year-old, trust me, a concealed power button is a blessing.)

Apple's popular iMac line has gone through radical changes since it emerged in 1998 as the all-in-one Mac that helped turn around the company financially. The "gumdrop" models gave way to flat-screen versions that swiveled over a round base. Then came the all-white pizza-box-on-a-leg models, and most recently, the "aluminum and glass" iMacs introduced last August.

The current line-up, updated in April, looks just like the iMacs released last year; the modest-but-welcome changes are all on the inside. Apple currently offers two 20-inch models and two 24-inch models. Prices start at US$1,199 for the entry-level iMac with a 2.4GHz chip and run up to US$2,199 for the top-of-the-line 24-inch version with a 3.06GHz processor.

The new iMac starts with the recently introduced Intel 45nm Penryn Core 2 Duo processor, which offers larger Level-2 caches and greater energy efficiency. Because of the Penryn and its chipset, the new iMacs now sport 6MB of shared Level-2 cache and a faster 1066MHz front-side bus.

My 24-inch test model offers the best blend of power and price, with a 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB RAM, a 320GB 7200-rpm serial-ATA hard drive, an 8x double-layer SuperDrive, and ATI's Radeon HD 2600PRO video with 256MB of memory. Compared to the previous generation iMac, you get twice as much RAM and the next-generation Core 2 Duo processor at 2.8GHz instead of 2.4GHz for the same price: US$1,799.

It's possible to upgrade the new iMac 24 to a 3.06GHz CPU (US$200), 4GB RAM (US$200), and to Nvidia's GeForce 8800 GS video with 512MB of memory (US$150). Hard drive upgrades include 500GB (US$50), 750GB (US$150), and 1TB (US$300). See Apple's iMac tech specs for more details, and for options, check the Apple Store's 24-inch iMac configuration screen.

The 24-inch model offers a richly-saturated and bright LCD screen with a resolution of 1920-by-1200 pixels, meaning it doubles very nicely as a DVD movie player should you be looking to use it for that. (The 20-inch model offers a slightly lower resolution: 1680 pixels by 1050 pixels, but the screen should be equally crisp and bright.)

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More about: Apple, ATI, Intel, Logitech, Macs, Nvidia, Parallels, RADEON, Speed, VMware
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