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Thunderbolt Strikes The iMacs

May 16, 2011
By Dave Hecei ( , The Post-Journal

The first week of May of this year finally brought us spring, but also new iMacs from Apple. The latest updated iMacs look identical to the previous model, but with some faster chips and a new interface technology. This new interface was first introduced on the recently updated MacBook Pro models and is called Thunderbolt.

Thunderbolt is a high-speed input/output port. It is now available on all MacBook Pro laptops and iMacs. Thunderbolt has a theoretical throughput of 10Gb/sec. This is a significant increase in speed compared to Firewire 800, what used to be the fasted I/O port on a Mac. Firewire 800 has a theoretical limit of 800Mb/sec or 0.8Gb/sec. Apple has designed this current version of Thunderbolt to be identical to the mini DisplayPort. It can be used for monitors as well as other high-speed peripherals - mainly external hard drive arrays and video capture systems.

This latest update to the iMac changes nothing on the outside, except for the Thunderbolt port(s). Yes, while the 21-inch iMac has one Thunderbolt port, the new 27-inch iMac has two. This gives the new iMacs a couple of firsts. First one is that all iMacs are now equipped with quad-core processors. The latest 'Sandy Bridge' chips from Intel. Second is that the larger iMac actually has two Thunderbolt ports.

Apple seems to be able to get the latest chips from Intel in a very timely fashion. Sometimes, as in the case with these new iMacs, they even get some chips before Intel has announced they're availability. The new iMacs all use the new Intel Sandy Bridge chips. This included the actual processor plus support chips. Since all iMacs have these new Intel chips, all iMacs now have quad-core processors. While this update gives only a slight speed boost to the top-of-the-line 27-inch iMac model, the low-end 21-inch model, which used to have an Intel Core i3 dual-core processor, gets an amazing speed boost. I say amazing because the low-end 21-inch iMac is still priced at $1199 -with a quad-core processor.

While the 21-inch iMac has a single Thunderbolt port, the 27-inch iMacs has two. For the first time an iMac can have two additional displays, which when you include the iMac's screen gives a total of three. This used to be only possible with tower Macs, since they had card slots that allowed for additional graphics cards. Since Thunderbolt has such high throughput, each port can drive up to a 30-inch display, plus carry high-speed data for input/output. A single Thunderbolt port has two 10Gb/sec channels - plenty of speed for data and display graphics.

To go along with the high-speed ports and processors, the new iMacs have updated graphics processors. The new iMacs use some of the best graphics processors ever available on a consumer Mac. The base 21-inch iMac uses the AMD Radeon HD 6750M graphics processor with 512MB of GDDR5 memory. The next model up uses the AMD Radeon HD 6770M graphics processor with 512MB of GDDR5 memory. The base 27-inch iMac has the same AMD Radeon HD 6770M graphics processor, while the high-end 27-inch has the even faster AMD Radeon HD 6970M graphics processor with 1GB of GDDR5 memory. If you custom-order your new iMac online at, you can upgrade the video to your liking. The 27-iMac can even be ordered with the 6970M with 2GB of GDDR5 memory a very high-end 3D graphics card.

Another internal change with the new iMacs is with the built-in web camera. They have been upgraded to the new HD FaceTime camera. This HD widescreen webcam has a higher resolution than previous iSight cameras at 720P.

One last thing to note, if you decide to order one of these new iMacs online at the Apple Store, you now get to choose whether to get the wireless Magic Mouse or the wireless Bluetooth Magic Trackpad. Since the next Mac OS, called Lion, is coming soon, this might be an important decision to think about. Lion is said to have many new gesture features, something that can only be done with a gesture compatible device, like the Magic Mouse or Trackpad. The Trackpad, in my opinion, has a slight gesture advantage over the mouse since it has a much larger surface even larger than the trackpads on the latest Mac laptops.

The latest iMacs are anywhere from 1.7 times to 1.3 times faster than previous models, these new models are priced the same as previous models they are replacing. The top-end 27-inch iMac is the fastest iMac ever made, but the low-end 21-inch iMac is an amazing bargain at $1199. This gets you a super fast quad-core Mac with an excellent 3D graphics system. Add in the latest I/O technology called Thunderbolt and lightning is going to strike.



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