MACWORLD - Mac hardware gets faster, cheaper

Cheaper iBooks, faster iMacs and a number of powerful additions to its line of desktop and portable computers were among several announcements from Apple Computer Inc. Monday, as the company began its Macworld Expo here with a roar.

By far the most radical change was to Apple's popular iMac desktop computer, which was unveiled in its new form Monday during a keynote by Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs. Powered by what Jobs called "amazing technology," the computer features a 15-inch flat-panel display, a faster processor and more memory than its predecessor -- all packed into an unprecedented new design.

First launched in 1998, bringing a major shift in the design of the beige, boxy desktop PC, the iMac has sold more than 6 million units, Jobs said. But as the colorful computer aged and drew what analysts considered worthy competition from competing PC makers, some users and analysts said the iMac grew stale.

"Then we had our big idea," Jobs said, referring to the new iMac design. "The whole computer is in this tiny little vase," he added, offering yet another visual explanation for the new CPU (central processing unit) design.

With a base 26.4 cm (10.6 inches) in diameter and not much taller than a CD jewel case, the new design marks yet another style innovation for Apple.

Each model of the iMac will include a 15-inch flat-panel LCD (liquid crystal display), as well as five USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports and two FireWire ports, located on the back of the machine. The high-end model, which will be the first to ship later this month, will include the 800 MHz G4 processor, 256M bytes of RAM and a 60G-byte hard drive. That model, priced at US$1,799, will also feature Apple's Superdrive, which reads and writes both CDs and DVDs (digital versatile discs).

A $1,499 model will run a 700 MHz G4 chip and ship with 256M bytes of RAM and a 40G-byte hard drive, and is due for release in February, Jobs said. It will include a combination drive for reading and writing CDs and reading DVDs. The low-end model features a 700MHz chip, 128M bytes of memory, a 40G-byte hard drive and a rewritable CD drive. That model will ship in March and cost $1,299.

Apple's iBook computer also underwent a change Monday. The company lowered the cost of its low-end 500 MHz portable computer by $100 to $1,199. The high-end model, which will now feature a combination CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, will cost $1,499. The mid-range iBook was eliminated from the lineup.

Jobs also unveiled a larger, 5.9-pound iBook that touts a 14-inch display -- what he called the iBook's "big brother." With a price tag of $1,799, the new portable computer will come with a 600 MHz PowerPC G3 processor, 256M bytes of memory, a 20G-byte hard drive, a battery that provides 6 hours of regular use and a combination CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive.

All the new iBooks were made available Monday. With each new hardware release, Apple also said it will ship the new Mac OS X Version 10.1 operating system as the default boot-up operating system. A dual boot of Mac OS 9 will still be available on the computers to run older applications.

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