Apple's new 27-inch iMac with the i7 quad core CPU and hyperthreading appears, at first, to be merely an incremental improvement to the iMac line. However, there comes a time when a sufficient confluence of features creates a quantum leap for a product, and this is it.
For a long time, Apple seemed to, pardon the expression, limp along with a Core 2 Duo in the iMac. That created a problem for me and many others. Namely, it's hard to justify a desktop computer when the CPU is no more powerful that that found in a notebook, say, the MacBook Pro.
That's why thousands of Apple customers, including me, when it came time to retire our PowerMac G5s, turned to the Nehalem-based quad core Mac Pro last summer. Prior to that, for about a year in my Hidden Dimensions column and in editorials, I urged Apple to move to quad core in the iMac line. Hewlett Packard and Dell had long since done that with the i5 predecessor, the quad core big brother of the Core 2 Duo.
Why Apple waited for the i5 & i7 isn't clear. Perhaps some at Apple thought that, in a recession, it would be best to keep the cost and scope of the popular iMac within more modest bounds. Now, however, with the recession on the wane and the i5 and i7 CPUs ready for shipment, Apple judged it time. And, of course, there's no real threat to the Mac Pro. Apple, it seems, will keep that Mac are the forefront of power and expandability.
The Game Changer
The real point here, however, is that in the process of moving to an LED backlit 27-inch screen and an i7 on the top end that includes hyperthreading, Apple has created a breakthrough desk top computer that is far beyond the competition. Hyperthreading is an Intel technology that allows a core to run not one but two virtual threads. So when you run activity monitor in an i7 iMac, you'll see eight hyperthread activity meters.
The advantage here is suddenly obvious. A MacBook Pro with 2 cores is hard pressed to run virtualization swimmingly. One CPU for the Mac and one CPU for the guest OS. We know that Snow Leopard would really like to have its two cores back. So while virtualization runs nicely with VMWare Fusion or Parallels Desktop, on a MacBook Pro, there is a class of desktop users who will really like giving two cores (with four virtual thread execution units) to both Snow Leopard and also to either Linux or Windows 7.
Next, that 27-inch screen is now big enough to finally have some real breathing room. After using my 24-inch Cinema Display on my Mac Pro, the 27-inch screen seems somehow enormously bigger. For once you can run a virtual OS on the Mac's desktop with plenty of room to spare and not even have to use Snow Leopard's Spaces.
Of course, the combination of a high quality LED backlit display married with iTunes makes for a very nice video experience. It may be just big enough, in some environments, say a small office, dorm room, or an apartment -- where a 50-inch Plasma is out of the question -- to serve as the complete video entertainment system. Whether it's iTunes, streamed Netflix, Hulu, or DVD movies, a large number of people will find that this computer, fed with a broadband connection, is simply the complete solution for everything. Work, UNIX workstation, app development, science & research, entertainment, home use, you name it.
Think how cool it would have been with a Blu-ray player inside as well? There were rumors that it might ship that way, and, someday in the future, it might.
As a result of the critical design factors, up to 16 GB of RAM, a huge LED backlit display, a powerful i7, the new high end iMac is a formidable computer. It literally takes your breath away. Combined with Snow Leopard, it's the dream machine we always wanted. It has the horsepower to run virtualization really well. For many, it's the only sensible computer to have, and the perfect computer to run Windows 7 on, if you must. This computer is so far advanced over the PCs you can purchase at, say, Best Buy, it isn't even funny.
This is an example of how incremental improvements can suddenly morph into a game changer, and, as Steve Jobs might say, create a computer than is more than the sum of its parts.