Apple's desktop refresh 'underwhelming,' says analyst

Updates complete line, but Apple holds firm on entry prices for iMac, Mac mini

Apple updated its consumer desktop line Tuesday, refreshing the iMac and Mac mini with faster processors, more memory and storage and more capable graphics.

For the most part, prices have not changed, although the least-expensive iMac with a 24-inch screen is now $2,499.

"No surprises," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "This is exactly what you'd expect from Apple, more stuff for the same price. But for anyone expecting them to be a little more price-conscious, it's underwhelming."

The iMac, which continues to be available in both 20- and 24-inch models, boasts twice the amount of RAM found in yesterday's models: 2GB for the 20-inch and 4GB for the 24-inch Apple also doubled hard drive space in the 24-inch models -- from 320GB and 500GB to 640GB and 1TB -- and increased storage on the smaller 20-inch iMac from 250GB to 320GB.

Apple equipped the new iMacs with faster processors as well to put the low end at a 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo rather than a 2.4GHz chip, although the top end remains a 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo.

Prices range from $1,999 for the 20-inch iMac to $2,499 for the 24-inch system.

"Another thing they've done across the entire line is to equip it with fairly hefty graphics," noted Gottheil. "They did that not only to be competitive, but also because when Snow Leopard launches, there will be the opportunity to make a bunch of applications run much faster."

Snow Leopard, the name given to Apple's next operating system upgrade, Mac OS X 10.6, will support technologies that let some software offload part of the processing from the computer's CPU to the graphics processing unit, or GPU. Apple has not set a timeline for Snow Leopard's launch, but in June 2008 said it was shooting for a release in about a year, which would put it on the street in three months.

With Tuesday's refresh, Apple has dropped Advanced Micro Device's ATI graphics chipsets from its standard configurations, swapping them out for ones built by Nvidia, a shift it began last October when it moved the MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops to Nvidia graphics hardware.

In fact, the two lower-end iMacs use the same Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics chipset as the MacBook and MacBook Air. The upper half of the iMac line, however, retains the discrete graphics of their predecessors.

Apple also revamped the Mac mini, its lowest-priced system that sells sans monitor and keyboard. The two new models feature faster processors, larger hard drivers, and in the case of the more expensive unit, more memory. They start from $1,049.

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