It’s High Time for Quad Core iMacs

| Editorial

It's been a continuing source of annoyance -- the desktop iMac has the same processor as the portable MacBook line. That creates a technical dilemma, especially for those eager to replace an old PowerMac tower with a more powerful desktop. It's high time Apple stopped worrying about the Mac Pro cannibalization -- if it hasn't already -- and ship the iMac with a quad core CPU.

On Monday, analyst Shaw Wu with Kaufman Bros. surmised that Apple has been ready to ship a quad core iMac but that there are several considerations holding them back. The first, according to Mr. Wu, is concern about cannibalization of Mac Pro sales, the second is a cooling capacity issue for the current design and the third is the concurrent timing of Snow Leopard.

Apple iMac

In terms of the Mac Pro, it's hard to believe that Apple would seriously think that a consumer looks at just the number of cores as the discriminator between the two: Mac Pro and iMac. The Mac Pro is a monster: heavy, capable of heavy duty graphics work, thanks to its extra slots, and also has massive internal storage. Customers know this, and those who want to buy an iMac simply want the post powerful desktop they can get -- as they watch both Hewlett Packard and Dell move to quad core.

So for Apple to be concerned suggests either very poor marketing or other internal considerations that end up adversely affecting the average customer. Mr. Wu may be barking up the wrong tree here.

I don't believe that the timing for Snow Leopard really influences most users. If they have a quad core iMac now, they'll be happy to upgrade to Snow Leopard when it ships and take advantage of Grand Central and OpenCL later. The upgrade just reinforces the idea that the customer is getting a "whole new Mac," and we've seen Apple take that marketing approach before.

Also customers typically have a more urgent reason to upgrade their hardware than OS - an old system is typically failing. As for OS releases, they tend to take their time, relatively speaking. Snow Leopard could be delayed by last minute issues. Holding back on quad core hardware based on a self imposed, and possibly missed date for Snow Leopard is a questionable practice.

A delay is certainly justified if Apple can't figure out how to properly cool a quad core iMac in the current platform design. Then a more powerful Core 2 Duo (or i7) is justified -- as Shaw Wu suggested in his report. Even so, Apple is going to have to move to quad core on the desktop at some point. It's better for Apple to solve that heat problem now and compete with itself rather than allow someone else.

Apple has never been shy about dictating what it believes to be good technical choices. While current disk drives can't even exploit FW800 let alone FW S3200, and eSATA is a one-trick pony, there are mature technologies that Apple customers seem to get partitioned away from, for example, FW400 on the new MacBooks, Blu-ray, HDMI*, quad core iMacs, Wireless USB, storage media slots and 3G wireless built into notebooks. While Apple can't be all things to all people, it is reasonable to ask why Apple both demands a premium for a high end brand and simultaneously holds back some mature or maturing technologies for ideological reasons.

Quad core on the desktop is an idea whose time has come, for both technical and competitive reasons. I hope Apple makes that decision sooner rather than later.

 


* It's going to be expensive, at first, for Apple customers to convert DisplayPort to HDMI.

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Comments

Tiger

I work at a university. Less than one half of a percent of the entire population could actually tell you what a multi-core processor even is, much less whether they would buy one machine over another because of it. It’s not that big of an issue. Mac users in general do tend to be higher up on the scale of tech savvy, but actually caring about dual core versus quad core isn’t really on their radar yet. The leap from processor speed to number of processors hasn’t made it into the general mindset for comparison. The inability to get much past a 3 GHz processor of any type seems to be more of a concern than whether there are 2, 4 or 8 cores in it.

r

stop this baby whining!

If you have a dilemma choosing between a desktop computer and a laptop then grow up and get your head straightened out. Don’t whine like a spoilt baby brat.

It’s amazing someone actually pays you to voice your insecureties.

FlipFriddle

I think a bigger issue here is the widening price and performance gap between the iMac and the MacPro. There’s more than a $1000 difference between the base model of each line, but with the iMac you get a monitor. I had hoped that Apple had room in their product line for something that would fit in between the iMac and the MacPro, but they don’t seem interested. Who cares about the cores, make the iMacs more upgradeable or give us a super MacMini with a real video card, and a real dual processor. Maybe make it modular: buy the processor/RAM box; add the video board box, then add hard drive boxes as you need them.

cg0def

I can’t believe that you are really complaining about the iMac not having a quad core CPU. Sure Apple is eventually going to move to quad cores just like every other manufacturer but what difference does it make right now if you have 4 cores instead of 2? Most applications ( even the OS X ones ) do not benefit from the extra 2 cores and I would much rather have Apple focus on 10.6 than on how to get a quad core cooled properly so that it doesn’t burn a whole through iMac’s beautiful screen. If I had to guess I’d say that by this time next year iMacs will have a quad core option but I, much like many other users, couldn’t care less about that. I’d much rather like apple to add faster RAM, larger hdd an a newer video card. And maybe replace the fw400. A faster optical drive would be nice too but I’m not holding my breath for that one.

lanceh5

I am waiting for a quad core iMac running OS 10.6.  The G5 iMac is just too slow.  I have my money ready.

Bregalad

Ten years ago when I needed to run Windows I was buying a new PC almost every year because I could keep my existing display, kb, mouse and just upgrade the box with something faster. Apple really doesn’t offer that option.

If there was a Mac Media Server, a box with multiple drive bays and several processor/video options priced between $900 and $2000, I could invest in an LED Cinema display and then just upgrade the computer every couple of years.

As it stands I refuse to have a 16-bit display so the least expensive desktop Mac I can get is the 24” iMac and there’s no way I can afford one of those every two years.

Tim Harness

Could be what’s going on is a quad core iMac might not look that much faster running 10.5, but if grand central lives up to it’s billings, might seem enormously faster in 10.6, especially if there are 8 or more GPU cores to work with. And if there are heat issues, I don’t mind if they take some time to get it right.

Glyn

Hi,

My wife and I are considering switching to a Mac (having lived with Windows and Linux).

My impression is that a Mac has everything a consumer needs out of the box, the hardware and software are developed by the same company and the various software packages offer good (if not perfect) integration between each other. The decision to go to a Mac is mostly based on the very positive experience I have had with my 1st Gen iPhone.

We will be mostly using it to manage and perform basic edits of photos in iPhoto ‘09, manage music in iTunes, convert video for use on iPhone/PS3 using QT Pro, create documents in Pages ‘09 and keep track of finances in Numbers ‘09. In future we plan to manage and perform basic edits of hi-def video in iMovie ‘09+ and record and collaborate on music projects with my band using GarageBand ‘09+.

For this, we are opting for an iMac and at present, we are considering the 2.66GHz model. We would ideally like the Macbook Pro, but we can’t justify the ?400-?500 premium for portability and a battery.

Based on the recent rumours of a possible hardware refresh of the range that might include Quad-Core processors, I have a few questions:

1) If we bought a Dual-Core (DC) iMac now, would we be able to upgrade to a Quad-Core (QC) chip at a later date? Either DIY or at an Apple store?

2) I have read that OpenCL (in Snow Leopard) will allow developers to utilise the additional processing power of the nVidia GPUs for general processing tasks. Does this also apply to the ATI GPUs in current-gen iMacs?

3) When Apple refresh their hardware, is there usually a price hike? In other words, if a DC iMac currently costs ?1000, is it reasonable to expect that a QC iMac would be the same price when it’s released?

4) How ‘well’ does the 2.66GHz iMac currently perform the tasks that I’ve mentioned above? (Specifically the video editing and conversion tasks). I don’t mind leaving the iMac to convert/import/export video projects over night etc. but I’d like the interface to be quick and responsive when I’m being ‘creative’.

5) When Grand Central is released with Snow Leopard, should I expect an immediate improvement in performance on the dual-core CPU/ATI GPU architecture?

6) What about if the architecture was refreshed to quad-core CPU/nVidia GPU?

Just doing my research and want to gauge the opinion of present Apple users on the above issues.

Many thanks,

Glyn

FlipFriddle

Hi Glyn,
I’ll try and give you a quick answer here, but please post in the forums and more people will be able to help you. Welcome to Mac land BTW.
The current iMacs are very capable machines and would do anything you talked about well. I don’t think it’s possible to upgrade the processor(s). Mac OS upgrades usually work well on current and one generation old machines, and still usually function (a bit slower) on two or even three generations old. Though I think Snow Leopard will be the first OS to ditch the PowerPC chip. Personally I would spend the extra money on the 2.8GHz 24” - the screen is tremendous and you get a bit more horsepower and a better video card which will make the machine last longer. Plus unlike the MacPro (which is $1000 more) you get a builtin iSight camera. Adding external firewire drives gives you virtually unlimited storage. The big negative with an iMac is the limited RAM expansion. Hope this helps.

Glynton

Hi,

I’ve made a post in the forums.

http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/forums/viewthread/74976/

FYI, We decided to ‘up’ for the 2.66GHz over the 2.4GHz machine due to high speed processor, bigger HDD, more RAM and better GPU/GRAM which for only ?100 more (or so) was pretty reasonable. To go up again to the 2.8GHz would be only a increase in CPU speed and larger screen (everything else the same) for ?150. Less of an incentive IMO.

Thanks,

Jeffrey Penner

I can not wait for a new Pro.  I have the money waiting, but I really need it soon for work

Art_dir

Why, oh why, do so many fanboys get their little panties in such a bunch anytime someone comments on the Mac product lineup with anything other than mindless drooling praise? AND they have the nerve to say that anyone who does is whining?seems to me they’re doing most of the whining.

If you don’t need the power of quad core, then of course you don’t care about it. However, the world extends substantially further beyond the end of your own nose. For those of us who do video, animation, or 3D, the faster the better. A more powerful iMac (or better yet, a middle tier headless mac) that is more affordable than the pro tower is a welcome thing. There is a whole industry of professionals with a huge investment in time and money in the Apple platform who could use this. If you don’t need it, fine. But when it comes to trying to silence anyone who voices a desire for it you’re more than welcome to STFU yourself. Stop being such sycophants?some of you raise brand loyalty to the level of blind cult following. It’s disgusting, not to mention downright creepy?talk about needing to grow up (this coming from a Mac user since 1985).

Dean Lewis

I just wish people could discuss things without denigrating folks by calling them fan boiz, cultists, and blind. There are as many knee-jerk name callers out there as there are supposed fan boiz. And it isn’t just in Mac circles. It’s PC users that get called out for happening to like their systems, or gamers or music lovers who happen to like their particular game consoles or MP3 players. Or people who happen to admire a politician for the work he or she is doing or want to be like a particular pop star (“how could you like that bland, pop crap”) or art rock powerhouse (“music elitist snob”).

Everyone needs to get over themselves and just deal with themselves rather than telling everyone else how to be.

And, now that I’ve told you all how to be, I’ll go sit in a corner. smile

Terry

Of course Apple needs quad core in the iMac as well as a more powerful video card.  Anyone who doesn’t think so isn’t paying attention.  The Mac OS would take great advantage of more cores and the competition takes multi-core as a given.  Not to mention there is a huge gulf between the iMac and mac Pro in terms of expandability and capability.  Apple needs to fill this hole especially given their high hardware prices in the middle of a long and probably worsening recession.  You are just not thinking rationally if you believe otherwise or you are unaware of the issues. One other thing is that the usual small incremental iMac updates are not going to tempt even long tie mac users to upgrade especially in the middle of a recession.

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