First impressions of Apple's refreshed desktop lineup

Apple on Tuesday refreshed its desktop lineup and introduced a new MagSafe-savvy 27-inch Cinema Display. But all this Mac goodness is not enough to knock the iPhone 4 off Apple.com's front page.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

Apple on Tuesday refreshed its desktop lineup and introduced a new MagSafe-savvy 27-inch Cinema Display. But all this Mac goodness is not enough to knock the iPhone 4 off Apple.com's front page.

Cupertino keeps upping the performance stake for both consumers and professionals with its new desktops. According to Apple, the refreshed Mac Pros can "feature up to 50 percent greater performance than the previous generation." Of course, that depends on how much dough you want to pack into technology as well as the application.

It appears that Apple wanted to prep the education market for the updated machines since school buying is taking place now. The refreshed line will ship in August.

Still, even before placing the new models on his test bench, professional photography blogger Lloyd Chambers is hot on the packed 8-core model instead of the 12-core versions.

The new hexacore 3.33GHz model with 12MB of cache will be the hands-down winner for 99 percent of users out there. The slower clock speed 12-core is going to be pointless for most everyone.

It all depends on what you're doing. In 2D photography, processor speed is more critical. Certainly, workers in the 3D effects and sci-tech segments will find use for extra cores.

And the addition of another Mini DisplayPort (a total of two) will let users add a second display without requiring another graphics card. Apple says the dual-link DVI port supports legacy DVI-based displays up to a resolution of 2,560-by-1,600 pixels.

There were rumors this summer that the new machines would feature USB 3.0 ports. However, that was optimistic thinking. There are few storage devices on the market with USB 3.0 connectors and the controllers are still expensive.

Then there are the new iMacs. Apple said the new models sport an improved, integrated memory controller that can access system memory directly. In addition, the new models support Intel's Turbo Boost technology that let processors run faster for short periods if the environment will support it.  This all means more speed.

Finally, there's the new mid-range Cinema Display that uses an LED-backlite. One interesting feature for Mac users with this new model — aside from its 27-inch screen size and 2,560-by-1,440 resolution  — is the support for MagSafe, Apple's proprietary power port on its MacBook and MacBook Pro lines. Mac notebook users won't have to use up a slot on the power block with their power adapter anymore if they buy  the new Cinema Display.

With the announcement today of a 12-core Mac Pro and new, faster 4-core iMac, it's easy to understand the push made at the summer's Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference towards Mac OS X Snow Leopard's Grand Central Dispatch APIs and their hardware abstraction. With GCD, multicore, multiprocessor threads are not left up to the application (or the programmer of that application), rather are handled by the OS itself. GCD can distribute tasks among system memory and cores that will hopefully result in the best performance across the board (literally).

The benefit for users is that their programs will run as fast as they can on the new hardware. In addition, programmers don't have to do any extra work to get performance gains from more cores and their application will run at its best with older (or newer) machines that have fewer cores. This is a much different situation than the past, where vendors had to put in extra work to support more processors and memory configurations, even requiring different versions, which was at times confusing to the market.

Still, the Mac desktop computer news wasn't enough to move the small elephant in the channel, the iPhone 4, off of the front of Apple.com.

Many older, longtime Mac developers at this summer's Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco griped a bit about the backseat that Mac application development and enterprise integration took to the newly renamed iOS mobile version of OS X. I heard this complaint as I left Steve Jobs' keynote address as well as when I talked with developers during and after the show.

Apple in 2007 dropped the word "Computer" from its name, in advance of its current multi-legged platform strategy. It's not the Macintosh company anymore, even though the Mac is still important. Is there a loss of respect, or is it just that the iPhone 4 and iPad are hot, hot, hot right now. Only Apple's developers know for sure.

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