The New 2011 iMacs are Here! And a Simple 2011 iMac Buying Guide. Should you Start Drooling?

So it’s been less than a year since the “old” iMac line came out and now Apple has released their new iMac lineup.  Let’s take a minute to go over what’s new (and what isn’t).

What’s New

1.Quad-Core goodness.  Previously only the 27″ iMac had a quad-core option (or so it is as I recall).  With the new 2011 iMac lineup all modes have an quad-core processor standard, and are either Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors (the updated i5 and i7’s).

2. Camera upgrade.  Gone is the iSight camera, now replaced by the FaceTime HD camera which has widescreen (and of course, HD) capability.  Whether there will be a noticeable difference in picture quality and performance remains to be seen.  I seem to recall where I mistakenly assumed that the cameras on the iPad 2 would be at least a good as the cameras on my iPhone 4…

3. Improved Graphics. Now every computer manufacturer always “improves their graphics”, so this upgrade is relative to what you are using the machine for.    Apple claims that the new cards are “3x faster” than before, but this statement also needs to be evaluated, and if of course, relative to what you do.  Will these cards improve iMovie or Final Cut performance? We will have to wait and see.

4. Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt is Apple’s new “port” that is supposed to be USB + Firewire + Awesomeness.  They claim superspeed with Thunderbolt peripherals.  At the current time there aren’t a ton of  Thunderbolt peripherals available, so you can still use the trusty USB 2.0 and Firewire 800 ports.

A Simple 2011 iMac Buying Guide

1. Decide 21″ vs 27″.  And I would WAIT at least a month or two to make sure that the 2011 27″ iMacs aren’t plagued by the screen problems that the previous generation of 27″ iMacs suffered with.

2. Pick the lower clock speed (e.g. default processor). I’m not terribly convinced that, in the new 21″ iMac that moving from a 2.5 GHz quad-core to a 2.7GHz quad core really makes a significant difference in performance.  Similarly, a 27″ iMac with a 2.7GHz quad-core vs a 3.1 GHZ quad core also isn’t a really significant performance difference for everyday applications.

3. Use the money you save to consider boosting ram to 8GB.  4GB is fine but if you know out of the box you will be doing RAM and processor intensive things such as Final Cut or large iMovie movies, 8GB may be better.  And as of now it looks like only the 27″ iMacs can handle 16GB of RAM.  Remember that you can always upgrade RAM later, but who want to leave their iMac in the shop?

4. Get the largest hard drive you can, and I still like SATA over SSD.  And yes, SSD doesn’t have the same moving parts problems as a traditional hard drive, but as long  as you are backed up, a failed hard drive is an inconvenience, not a disaster.  Besides, SSD’s are expensive, and you are going to be putting tons of video and photos on your iMac, and that hard drive will fill up quickly.

5. Next sigh loudly about your graphics options.  The only way to get 1GB of video RAM on your iMac is to go with a 27″ model.  Again — the average user won’t see a difference but I find this to be a frustrating limitation.  I guess if you are going to be relieved and comforted by Apple’s configuration simplicity, you need to take the good with the bad.

So that’s the quick overview of the new 2011 iMac lineup.  Now when will they come out with a Mac Mini that’s more powerful than my 2009 HP laptop?

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