Apple’s Mac refresh disappoints

Magic Trackpad arrives alongside Apple Battery Charger

THE RUMOURS OF Apple’s new products proved to be mostly right, at least up to a point. We’ve got new CPUs and graphics cards in most of Apple’s line-up and the new 27-inch monitor materialised alongside with the Magic Trackpad. What we didn’t expect was the Apple Battery Charger, a product that has clearly been missing in Apple’s product range.

Let’s start with the new Mac Pro which is now available with Intel’s latest 6-core Xeon processors based on the Westmere core. Apple offers the “new” Mac Pro with a choice of either a single 2.8GHz quad core Xeon W3530 with 8MB of L3 cache, a pair of 2.4GHz quad core Xeon E5620’s or two 2.66GHz 6-core Xeon X5650, all with 12MB of L3 cache per CPU. Upgrade options include various Xeon models including the W3565, the W3680 for the quad core Mac Pro and the X5670 for the 6-core Mac Pro. The Nehalem based model comes with 3GB of RAM standard while the other two models come with 6GB of RAM, although Apple offers several cost options here, up to a total of 32GB of RAM.

Apple has updated the graphics card options as well and gone are Nvidia. The entry level card now is much more powerful than Apple’s previous Mac Pro models as you’re looking at an ATI Radeon HD 5770 with 1GB of GDDR5 memory. The card has two mini DisplayPort connectors and a single dual-link DVI port. There’s only one upgrade option here and it’s the Radeon HD 5870, again with 1GB of GDDR5 memory and the same port layout. All models come with a single 1TB 7,200rpm SATA drive as standard, although Apple is offering 2TB drive options as well as 512GB SSD options at a yet unknown additional cost.

Sadly it turns out that the predictions of new interfaces didn’t come true, as the new Mac Pros lack both USB 3.0 support and faster FireWire support. It seems like Apple has decided to once again play it safe and not add much-wanted features to its high-end systems. You do get 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR as standard, but this was included with the previous generation of Mac Pros as well. Considering the cheapest model will set you back $2,499 with a single CPU and no display, these puppies aren’t going cheap. The dual socket quad core system starts at $3,499 while pricing wasn’t revealed for the dual socket 6-core system. The new Mac Pro’s won’t be available for purchase until next month.

That moves us on to the updated iMac. The good news is that Apple has dumped Intel’s Core 2 processors as expected, and along with them, Nvidia’s chipset and graphics. However, Apple did still play a slightly nasty trick here, as the entry level Core i3 model gets stuck with a last gen Radeon HD 4670 graphics card with a mere 256MB of memory.  Supply contraints?  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, let’s start with taking a look at the CPU choices.

Apple still offers two SKU’s, the 21.5-inch entry level model and the 27-inch model. The basic 21.5-inch model comes with a Core i3 540 while the next model up features the 3.2GHz Core i3 550. The entry level 27-inch iMac also comes with the Core i3 550 while the high-end model comes with the quad core Core i5 760. All models are also available with the dual core Core i5 680, while the 27-inch models are also available with the quad core Core i7 870. All models come with 4GB of RAM as standard and can be upgraded to 16GB.

We don’t quite understand Apple’s reason for keeping the 256MB Radeon HD 4670 for the entry level iMac, as all the other models feature Radeon HD 5000-series graphics, something we predicted would happen way back in June last year. It’s worth remembering that the iMac uses mobile GPUs and you’re looking at a 512MB GDDR3 Radeon HD 5670 for the high-end 21.5-inch iMac and the entry level 27-inch model. The high-end 27-inch gets a Radeon HD 5750 with 1GB of GDDR5 memory. Apple doesn’t appear to be offering any kind of graphics upgrade options on any of the new iMacs.

The only other new feature we spotted was the inclusion of an SDXC compatible card reader. Apple has, in all fairness, also added the option to kit out the 27-inch models with a 256GB SSD for a “mere” $600. Interestingly this can be added alongside a standard hard drive and this makes it the first iMac to have official support for two internal drives. Apple claims that its SSD offers data transfer rates of up to 215MB/s but doesn’t state if this is for read or write operations, or both. The 21.5-inch model starts at $1,199 with the next model up coming in at $1,499. The entry level 27-inch model is priced at $1,699 while the high-end model starts at $1,999.

Apple also unveiled its new 27-inch Cinema Display today which didn’t hold too many surprises. As expected it has a native resolution of 2560×1440, it has a mini DisplayPort input and also features three USB 2.0 ports, a built in iSight camera with microphone and a pair of speakers. The only thing that did surprise us was the pricing, as Apple will be selling the new 27-inch Cinema Display for a very affordable $999, that’s $100 cheaper than what Dell charges for its 27-inch display, although the U2711 does feature a lot of additional connectivity options that the Apple Cinema Display lacks. The bad news is that you’ll have to wait until September to get your hands on one.

Apple also launched its Magic Trackpad today which is pretty much an enlarged version of the trackpad found in Apple’s notebook range. It doesn’t have any physical buttons; instead you click on the trackpad itself. It supports multi-touch and gestures and it’s powered by a pair of AA batteries. This takes us onto the Apple Battery Charger, something no-one had predicted that Apple would launch today. Apple is making some big claims about how power efficient it is, as it only draws a mere 30mW once it has charged the batteries, something Apple claims is 10 times better than the industry average. The battery charger comes with a set of six batteries that are meant to hold up to 80 percent charge even if you leave them in your desk drawer for a year. The Magic Trackpad is price at $69 while the Apple Battery Charger comes in at an affordable $29 which makes it the Apple product everyone can afford.S|A

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