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Apple unveils iMac2 – The Anglepoise Generation

... with speeds, feeds and a hands-on

Updated Apple has unveiled the next generation iMac.

As expected, it's a flat panel design, but contrary to most predictions, the iMac now features G4 processors in all three new models.

Apple also added a 6lb midrange model to its notebook range. It's based on the iBook, but with a 14.1" screen and larger battery.

And it's making OS X the default operating system across all new models. [A typo in an earlier version of this article suggested that OS X itself is a free download from the Apple website. It isn't, and technical problems prevented us from fixing this sooner. Apologies]

The new iMac is a 15" flat panel unit that breaks with the integrated design of the original, although strictly speaking it's an all-in-one design. (All except the speakers, that is).

Instead, the LCD sprouts from a base unit less than a foot in diameter, and looks like an anglepoise lamp. Unlike the Cube, Apple has integrated the power supply into the computer.

The base is a hefty 20lb unit, with the ports (3 USB, 2 Firewire, Ethernet, modem, audio in/out, VGA out) inconveniently - for a "digital hub" - located furthest away from the user at the back of the unit.

We managed to rotate the base 90 degrees clockwise, and the monitor 90 degrees anti-clockwise to improve access, but it's not something you'd want to do too often. So some usability has been sacrificed in favour of aesthetics. Optimally, the Mac keyboard ought to have a FireWire port in addition to, or replacing, one of its USB ports.

However, what could have been a perilous and ungainly operation - balancing an LCD on a hinged stand - works beautifully.

Expansion is limited to an Airport card, like the current iMacs the new models have a built-in antenna, and there's a free slot for one stick of PC100 memory. You'll need to undo four screws at the base, however.

As for noise, the new iMac does have a fan to cool the G4 and the NVidia GeForce 2MX graphics card. We're told that the design goal was to ensure the fan is no noisier than the hard disk, and Apple tells us the noise emission is a reasonable 25 decibels.

Two new models use the 700MHz G4, a 128MB memory/40 GB HD/ CD-RW model at $1,299 and a 256/40 GB/DVD combo drive model at $1,499. A $1,799 high end model is specced at 256MB/60GB/Superdrive. All flavours of optical drives are tray rather than slot loading. More detailed specs can be found here.

And it's the high-end that will ship first, by the end of the month, promised Jobs. The mid-range follows at the end of February and the low-end in March.

Apple had given the Canadian edition of Time magazine a sneak preview of the new iMac, hours ahead of its unveiling at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco this morning.

As it promised investors a year ago, Apple isn't following the PC box-shifters into a price war. And as we suspected, the original iMac will still be available as a $799 model. Apple's core education market is keenly price-sensitive. (Apple introduced a lower-cost model aimed at schools after a mere $50 rise in the last update to the iMac line). ®

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