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Mac Bloggers Mentally Dissect Latest Desktops

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Mar 6, 2009 4:00 AM PT

Apple's desktop Mac update dominated the conversation in the Apple blogosphere this week. The company put out two press releases and updated its online store with little fanfare, but it was enough to spark posts galore.

Mac Bloggers Mentally Dissect Latest Desktops

Meanwhile, might Apple's iPhone Safari mobile browser share be slipping?

The New Batch

With its new desktop Macs, Apple basically kept the form factors for its iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro the same. All systems picked up new processors, and most units got updated graphics, frontside bus boosts, and more RAM, along with bigger hard drives and/or upgrade options. Pricing remained largely the same, but the 24-inch iMac dropped down to a previous 20-inch pricing level, and the Mac Pro can be had for US$300 less than before.

The new entry-level iMac is a 20-incher for $1,199, and it comes with a 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB of 1,066 MHz DDR3 memory, a 320 GB Serial ATA hard drive running at 7,200 rpm, and Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics.

The 24-inch iMac uses a 1,920-by-1,200 pixel widescreen display, and it comes in a base configuration that includes a 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 6 MB shared L2 cache, 4 GB of 1,066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM, Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics, and a 640 GB Serial ATA hard drive running at 7,200 rpm. It's upgradeable to a 3.06 GHz processor with 8 GB of SDRAM and a 1 TB hard drive. Depending on the model, the 24-inch iMac can also swap in the Nvidia GeForce GT 130 or 120 or ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics processors.

Apple's Mac mini remains available in two models. It features a 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, up to 4 GB of DDR3 1,066 MHz memory, up to 320 GB Serial ATA hard drive, five USB 2.0 ports, FireWire 800 and a SuperDrive. The Mac mini also includes Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics, and it now comes with dual display support that can drive two Apple or third-party displays via its Mini DisplayPort or DVI connections. Pricing is the same: $499 and $799 for the two models.

The new Mac Pro now uses Intel's Nehalem Xeon processors and a next-generation system architecture that Apple claims delivers twice the performance of the previous system. The new Mac Pro includes Intel Xeon processors running at speeds up to 2.93 GHz, each with an integrated memory controller with three channels of 1,066 MHz DDR3 ECC memory, delivering up to 2.4 times the memory bandwidth while cutting memory latency up to 40 percent. Standard graphics come via the Nvidia GeForce GT 120 with 512 MB of GDDR3 memory, which provides nearly three times greater performance when compared to the previous generation system. However, customers can swap in an ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics process for even better performance.

Awesome Upgrades or Lackluster Changes?

The most anticipated new Mac was definitely the Mac mini -- it had been left essentially the same since August 2007. Enthusiasts were definitely looking for a major upgrade, maybe even to a cool new unibody aluminum case to match the look of its bigger siblings (which it did not get). Some Mac watchers were happy enough with the new Mac mini, but there were plenty of dissenting opinions, and some were still looking for Blu-ray playability. Those in the UK were actually hit with some price increases.

"I have to agree about the continually mis-pitching of the Mini. I frankly can't see how it financially stacks up anywhere but as part of a media centre and even less so now due to the price increases. I'm in the UK and could run off 10 names of friends who've been waiting in some cases for over 8 months to get the new Mini and will now likely look towards Dell to get their next fix. It's price is inflated and feature set stingy," commented Matt Edwards on the Cult of Mac post on the subject.

Then there are those who really want a much better Mac mini.

"All they really have to do is upgrade the mini to have Blu-ray (under the new, simpler license), and then combine it with the Time Capsule and Apple TV into a singe new product, the MacBox. It'll be the must-have gadget in every lounge," added Adam on Cult of Mac.

Moving on to the iMac, discussion was all over the map. Some called it a decent update, while others were upset they had been waiting so long just some minor tweaks, and there were a lot of comments in between.

"I guess the point is, it's a pretty lame update. A lot of people, including myself, have been waiting for a new computer from apple. For apple to expect people to fork out more money for specifications that are over a year old is an insult," commented Anonymous.Shyster on an AppleInsider post on the subject, adding, "Furthermore, in a few months, having to upgrade to Snow Leopard, as most people will want, will add to the cost. So in this 'economic crisis' wouldn't it make some sense to bring out a real updated machine, so everybody who has been waiting will buy one? The demand seems to be there."

It's a good point. Apple will likely release Snow Leopard early this summer, and those who buy now, will have to pay extra to get Snow Leopard in just a few months. Snow Leopard isn't set in stone, of course, but it's a consideration for those who have been following it.

Still, how do the Apple updates shake out for those who aren't emotionally invested in buying a new Apple desktop?

"I would call it unsurprising," Avi Greengart, research director of Consumer Devices for Current Analysis, told MacNewsWorld.

"This was a refresh of existing models, not an unveiling of anything truly new. Apple is sticking to its premium product strategy despite the economy. The iMacs are better values than before, but the Mac mini is hard to justify if you don't place a significant premium on design -- the mini is tiny -- and Apple's excellent software," he explained.

The Mac Pro

The new Mac Pros have started to jump out ahead of the Mac pack.

"Oh boy. The difference between the Mac Pro and iMac is going to be a lot more pronounced than it was in the last generation," commented SydneyDev on the MacRumors.com post on the subject.

Still, the Mac Pro is an interesting issue for professionals on the fence.

"Hmmm a bit expensive but hasn't that always been the case with Apple? I mean people will be getting top quality both hardware and software wise so no need to bitch about the 'spicy' prices. I must say though that i would appreciate more ram at the base model!" commented azaas. "Anyway, since i am not in desperate need for those new processors and it is not like i need the 4 firewire ports i think i might be better off with the iMac."

Crunching the numbers of cost vs. processor and graphics improvements has left more than a few scratching their heads.

"You know, I'm not sure if the Mac Pro is a great deal. The updated chips seem better but the speeds are slower. I like the newly updated guts, though it seems easier to change out memory on my 18 month old Mac Pro. The update video card is nice, but I can do that, too," Sven Rafferty, founder of hyperSven and SvenOnTech.com blogger, told MacNewsWorld.

Rafferty also noted that he was disappointed that the Mac mini gained USB ports while the Mac Pro did not, which he found irritating.

"I have been forced to waste two PCIx slots for stupid USB cards because of the lack of port density on the Mac Pro. I've put together many PCs and I know how easy it is to put a USB bus on the motherboard and slap more ports on a case. I made one PC with 10 USB ports!" he explained.

"Finally, I don't care how much a 'bag of hurt Blu-ray is' -- pros need options, and to not have this optical standard in a machine labeled 'Pro' is plain stupid at this point. Yank the movie ability and just give users data options at worst. Man, what gives?" he said. "To sum it up, the Mac Pro seems more of a disappointment than anything. Nearly two years and this is what we got?"

Meanwhile, Other Mobile Browsers on the Rise?

Apple a Day blogger David Zeiler covered a Net Applications report regarding mobile browsing market share. "While nearly two-thirds of 'mobile browsing' was done from an iPhone, that dominance may not last," he wrote.

Basically, mobile browsing on the iPhone accounted for 69.54 percent of mobile browsing online in January, but fell to 66.44 percent in February.

"It's good to be king, but a little digging indicates the iPhone already may have peaked," he wrote. As other phone manufacturers have include better browsers and browsing experiences on their smartphones, he noted, Apple's share of mobile Web usage will likely go down as other smartphone users amp up their time on the Web.

"This is ridiculous. Over the Christmas holidays the iPhone was probably being used non-stop as a browsing device. People that were using it are probably just taking a break to give their eyes a rest. Or maybe right now they're too busy playing games on their iPhones and iPod touches. You may be reporting a drop in 'Net usage, but these gaining platforms are hardly pulling any large positive changes. I doubt if the iPhone's drop has anything to do with some other platform replacing it," commented Constable Odo on the Apple a Day post.

Regardless of the holidays, changes are certainly on the way in the mobile browsing world.

"There will be major shakeups in the market share of browsers over the next 12 months -- driven by exits of Palm OS and expansion of new OSs like Android and Palm's WebOS," Chris Hazelton, research director of Mobile and Wireless for The 451 Group, told MacNewsWorld.

"iPhone is still the best mobile browser experience by far -- but this also makes it a target and benchmark. Windows Mobile will see growth further out with Windows Mobile 7. Another threat is mobile Linux with LiMo due to increasing carrier support," he added.

"What is not covered is the role of independent browsers that sit on top of the native browsers, like Opera Mobile and Firefox, which used to be called 'Fennec.' The percentage of people installing a separate browser on their mobile phone will increase -- even as device vendors try to leverage their advantages with tight integration between an OS and native browser. It is still the early days of the mobile Internet, so there will be large swings in market share, driven by the entrance of rock star devices," Hazelton explained.

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