Apple powers up iMac with Penryn processor

Faster CPU on tap, and better graphics for some

Apple refreshed its iMac desktop line today by bumping up CPU speeds across the board and adding faster graphics to the top-end 24-in. model.

The graphics boost is aimed at gamers and at consumers and professional users who want faster image processing, said Apple. "We want to make the iMac even more appealing to even more people, whether that's gamers looking [to play] great games or consumers and creative professional who want to run pro-level software faster," said Tom Boger, senior director of Apple desktop product marketing.

Although the move had been anticipated by several Apple enthusiast sites and blogs, it was a low-key upgrade: Apple did not hold an event to announce the new machines.

Prices did not change for the three existing models -- US$1,199 and US$1,499 for the 20-in. iMac, and US$1,799 for the 24-in. system -- while the high-end 24-in. configuration actually dropped by US$100, to US$2,199. The new model packs an Nvidia GeForce 8800 GS card with 512MB of memory. It's the first time since last August's revamp of the iMac lineup that Apple has offered a card from Nvidia Corp. Until now, the only graphics supplier for the aluminum-clad iMacs was ATI, a division of Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

"In tests [the Nvidia card] is 2.2 times faster than the [ATI Radeon HD 2600 PRO] card that comes standard with the 24-in. iMac," claimed Boger.

Apple said it included Boot Camp drivers for the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GS card in the update it issued last week, for the program that lets Intel-based Macs run Windows XP or Windows Vista.

All iMacs received faster Intel Core 2 Duo processors based on the 45-nanometer Penryn architecture. The 20-in. iMacs are now powered by 2.4-GHz and 2.66-GHz chips, whereas they were previously running 2.0-GHz and 2.4-GHz processors, respectively. The larger, 24-in. systems come with either a 2.8-GHz or 3.06-GHz chip, rather than the 2.4-GHz or 2.8-GHz CPUs used earlier.

With the exception of the least-expensive 20-in. iMac, the new machines include 2GB of memory standard, twice as much as when they debuted last year. The revamped iMacs also boast a 1066-MHz front-side bus -- up from 800 MHz -- as well as 6MB of Level 2 cache on the CPU, up from 4MB. All systems come with Mac OS X 10.5.2, the newest version of Leopard, as well as iLife '08, a consumer-oriented suite that includes iPhoto and iMovie.

Apple launched the current generation of iMacs last August and until today had not updated them.

In the first three months of 2008, Apple sold 856,000 desktop machines, the vast bulk of them iMacs -- 37% more than in the same period last year. For the quarter overall, Apple sold nearly 2.3 million Macs, a 51% year-to-year gain; according to Gartner, that growth rate was three and a half times the industry average.

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Gregg Keizer

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