Well, it’s happened again – Apple’s online store went down briefly this morning, meaning that the secretive company was stocking its virtual shelves with new product. As expected, when the curtain was pulled back, we all had new iMacs staring us right in the face, and they brought with them the customary slew of incremental upgrades over last year’s models. If you were paying attention when Apple refreshed the MacBook Pro earlier this year, a lot of this is going to be familiar to you.

There were two major improvements in the MacBook Pros that made most of the headlines: an upgrade to Intel’s new Sandy Bridge processors, and the introduction of the new Thunderbolt port in place of the former Mini DisplayPort. Formerly code-named Light Peak, this Intel-developed port enables two-way 10Gbps transfer speeds between a variety of devices while also maintaining compatibility with existing Mini DisplayPort dongles and cables.

To see more about the particulars of Thunderbolt, you’ll definitely want to read the extensive write-up we did about the technology when it launched in the 2011 MacBook Pros – everything written there is true of the port in the new iMacs. You’ll definitely see Thunderbolt crop up in other Macs as the year goes on, and you may start to see it pop up in PCs as well depending on how quickly people jump on the bandwagon. Until then, use of the port in peripherals is and will probably continue to be rare, so the more immediate concern for us is the hardware upgrades in the new Macs.

2011 iMac Lineup
  21.5-inch (low-end) 21.5-inch (high-end) 27-inch (low-end) 27-inch (high-end)
Dimensions (inches) 17.75 H x 20.8 W x 7.42 D 17.75 H x 20.8 W x 7.42 D 20.4 H x 25.6 W x 8.15 D 20.4 H x 25.6 W x 8.15 D
Weight 20.5 lbs (9.3 kg) 20.5 lbs (9.3 kg) 30.5 lbs (13.8 kg) 30.5 lbs (13.8 kg)
CPU 2.5 GHz quad-core Core i5 2.7 GHz quad-core Core i5 2.7 GHz quad-core Core i5 3.1 GHz quad-core Core i5
GPU AMD Radeon HD 6750M (512MB) AMD Radeon HD 6770M (512MB) AMD Radeon HD 6770M (512MB) AMD Radeon HD 6970M (1GB)
RAM 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (16GB max) 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (16GB max) 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (16GB max) 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (16GB max)
HDD 500GB 7200 RPM 1TB 7200 RPM 1TB 7200 RPM 1TB 7200 RPM
Display Resolution 1920x1080 1920x1080 2560x1440 2560x1440
Ports Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, 4x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, separate audio in/out jacks Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, 4x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, separate audio in/out jacks Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, 2x Thunderbolt, 4x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, separate audio in/out jacks Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, 2x Thunderbolt, 4x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, separate audio in/out jacks
Price $1,199 $1,499 $1,699 $1,999

All iMacs now come packing quad-core Sandy Bridge processors, dedicated graphics with 512MB or 1GB of memory (the high-end 27” model can also be configured with a 2GB 6970M), Thunderbolt (one port in the 21.5” model, two in the 27” model), and an HD Facetime camera (which supplants the previous generation’s iSight camera, making the white MacBook Apple’s last product to carry the iSight branding). Update: Reader emails have alerted me to an iFixit teardown of the new iMac, which reveals that they're shipping with the new Intel Z68 chipset. We wrote a little about Z68 earlier this year - no word on whether OS X supports or plans to support any of its unique features at this point.

It's too bad to see that all iMac models across the board still come with 4GB RAM installed by default, and Apple's upgrade prices for memory remain ridiculous (bumping it up to 8GB across two 4GB DIMMS costs $200; market value for 8GB DDR3 kits is about $80). At least these iMacs continue to offer four RAM slots, versus the two slots on older iMacs - if 4GB is not a suitable amount for you, adding another 4-8 GB is easy and relatively inexpensive if you don't pay Apple's prices.

All of these internals are packed into a case that’s virtually identical to the aluminum unibody iMac design introduced in 2009, which itself was a gentle retooling of the aluminum iMac introduced in August of 2007. The point being, this refresh is all about the hardware inside: you’re not getting anything drastically thinner or lighter, and if you’ve seen an iMac in the last three or four years, you should have a pretty good idea of what you’re buying.

CPUs: The iMac Gets Sandy Bridged

Prior to the MacBook Pro refresh (and excluding the Mac Pro), the iMac was Apple’s only product line to transition completely away from Core 2 Duo processors to newer Nehalem-based Core i3, i5, and i7 processors – the white MacBook, the Mac Mini, and the MacBook Air lines continue to use the Core 2 Duo along with nVidia chipsets to save space and energy, and to get around using Intel’s previous-generation integrated graphics processor.

So the iMac wasn’t as far behind in CPU architecture as some of Apple’s other products, but the switch to quad-core processors across all models and price levels should give new customers a healthy speed bump over the previous generation. As we saw in our review of the Sandy Bridge MacBook Pros, Apple makes use of Intel’s Turbo Boost feature to make up for the quad core parts’ lower clock speeds relative to dual core parts in single-threaded applications.

The Sandy Bridge and Thunderbolt upgrades are more or less known quantities at this point – what impressed me most about the new iMacs was the GPU upgrade, especially in the entry-level iMac and the high-end iMac.

GPUs and Preparing for Lion
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  • psychobriggsy - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - link

    Thunderbolt is a dual-channel (each channel is 10Gbps) bus. One of the channels can be DisplayPort. All implementations so far have a video signal on the cable, however it surely is possible to have two channels of PCIe instead, but it would probably need a special peripheral to make use of it. With graphics the 'special peripheral' for the second channel is one or two monitors.
  • nitro912gr - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - link

    Are you guys serious?

    I read the comments and I see everyone compare the iMacs with a regular custom build desktop PC with windows...

    You miss the point here, that iMacs are All in ones and as of that is pointless to compare them with regular desktop systems.

    The real competitors to iMacs are the all in ones and the nettops and the only one who stand close in price but is somewhat weaker are the Sony Vaio Aio all in one desktops.

    Those All in one systems are more expensive to build than a part by part custom pc, you know that, they are more complicated. They have to take a serious amount of hardware, fit it on a monitor and plus it must function properly without overheating. The engineers are not just stuffing hardware, they design specific motherboards and specific parts who are not going to sale on large numbers.
    The parts we get for a custom pc can be cheaper, they are massive production hardware and not specialized.

    There is no way someone who wants the latest superGPU for games to get an iMac, it is obvious that he will also not get an all in one desktop at all.
    But some people need every inch of their space and need an all in one, or they have other reasons to believe that an all in one cover their needs.

    If apple ever make a regular desktop in mac pro case then OK, you do the direct compares and you say about overprice and whatever you want. Since that it is pointless to do that.
  • riverir - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - link

  • edsib1 - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - link

    Its a desktop so u compare it to other desktops.
  • nitro912gr - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - link

    It is an all in one desktop so you compare it to the other all in one desktops, how much more this have to be explained to get the difference?
    The oven and the fridge are both kitchen devices but you don't compare each other...
  • edsib1 - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - link

    On the one hand u want to say - "Oh look at the fabulous slim design" and use that a plus point when comparing to other desktops - and yet not take into account that slimness means you have to have average performance - by limiting what sort of desktop u want to compare it to.

    As to ur point - although trying to be clever - it doesnt work - a fridge and an oven dont perform the same tasks.
  • nitro912gr - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - link

    Where the hell you jumped to that conclusion? I used a plus point comparing to other desktops?
    Are you dumb? It is not a performance comparison is a space save comparison and some people DO CARE about space because they don't have space.

    I don't believe that stupidity like the one you show here exist, so you must be trolling.

    I have nothing more to say, there are facts clearly stated above, the ones who have minds of their own can read and think what is right and what is trolling.
  • Focher - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - link


    The technology will live on, but not in a discrete graphics product from Intel. It never came close to the performance of discrete GPUs from AMD or NVIDIA.

    So let's hope Apple doesn't use it, as a black screen doesn't make for a very good UI.
  • fluxtatic - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - link

    One one hand, I'd love for Apple to finally bail on the PC market (we'll see how long this 'back to the Mac BS lasts) and embrace being the commodity-gadget company they have obviously become. If for no other reason than to have the Mactards finally stfu about how much better the holy hand of Jobs is with computers.

    On the other, I'd kind of like to see their market share grow to the point where it is worth the time of virus/spyware writers to write for Mac, to get the Mactards to stfu about how they're virus-proof. No, you aren't. It just isn't worth anyone's time to exploit systems with 10% worldwide marketshare.

    And to all the whiners complaining about how Windows is too much hassle - you're doing it wrong. I keep a real-time scanner on, clean junk out with CCleaner every once in a while, maybe scan with Spybot here and there, but I haven't had any sort of infection in over 15 years. You enjoy 'just using' your Mac. I'm going to do...whatever the hell I want, because there is software available that lets me do that. If I don't like this program, there's a competitor. I don't want to have to pay - that's fine, here's an open-source alternative. You enjoy your Garageband and iMovie. Aside from a small handful of pro applications, is there any software for Mac not written by Apple that doesn't suck hard? Not that all of Apple's software is much better in some cases...
  • nitro912gr - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - link

    Skipping the delirium which make you look way more tard than all the mactards together, I inform you that there is no lack of software on mac platform and no, apple does not provide the only software available for macs and guess what, most of the open source software is available too!

    GImp, inkScape, Scribus, Blender and a lot of other open source apps are all available and ported to macOSX.
    Plus most of the windows software is ported to macs as well, but there is a lack of games. However steam made the big step forward for that allowing developers to move and sell their games easier to mac platform.

    So far I haven't found a software (expect some of the games I play) I have in my windows desktop, that is not available or have a good alternative for my macbook.
    So you are not just rude, you are misinformed too.

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