Picking the Right Apple: A Guide to Apple's Mac Lineup: Page 3

Posted November 19, 2008

Ryan Faas

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While the mini can seem a little bare bones, the iMac line ships with everything you need in a one box. Apple’s well-known all-in-one machine offers a very crisp display that rivals the screen quality of most HDTVs of similar sizes. The iMac ships with a full range of ports and is available in 20-inch and 24-inch models with processors ranging from 2.4GHz at the low end to 3.06GHz at the high end. There are varying graphics chipset options from both ATI and NVIDIA, though all offer dedicated video memory. The result is somewhat better performance and a complete out of the box solution than the Mac Mini.

The current iMacs offer everything that most home users (and many office users) will need both in terms of performance and features. Like the MacBooks, the iMac includes a built-in iSight camera and (like all Macs save the Mac Pro), it includes support for the Apple Remote and Front Row media center, which can make it a perfect home entertainment machine.

The one potential downside to the iMac is that it is an all-in-one. Should one component be damaged or should you eventually decide to upgrade, you will be forced to repair or replace the iMac as a single unit. This contrasts to the Mac mini and Mac Pro (and most PCs) where you can replace just the computer and retain an existing display. In fact, the freedom to use an existing display and thus reduce the cost of buying a new Mac can be a solid argument in favor of the Mini over the iMac.

The final Mac on the list is Apple’s high-end Mac Pro desktop. The Mac Pro is designed to offer performance and expandability. It is the most upgradable of Mac options on the market (offering four internal hard drive bays, two optical drive bays, and three PCI Express expansion card slots – one PCI Express 2.0x16 slot and two PCI Express x4 slots). Unlike the rest of Apple’s lineup, which offer no more than two RAM slots, the Mac Pro offers up to eight.

The Mac Pro is the only Mac model (aside from the Xserve rack-mounted server) to offer more than two processor cores. It is available with one or two quad-core Intel Xeon 5400 processors, offering up to eight cores, meaning that it can pack far more punch than any other Mac available. While this level of performance may be overkill for most consumers, gamers and media professionals will more than appreciate the computational and rendering power offered by the Mac Pro.

Of course, all that performance comes a price, with the Mac Pro ranging in cost from $2299 to $4399 depending on the processor options chosen alone. The base configuration, which can be customized at Apple’s online store, is an dual quad-core model at 28GHz for $2799. Like the iMac line, a number of graphics chipsets from both ATI and NVIDIA are available (the Mac Pro can also support multiple graphics cards).

As you might expect from such a highly expandable machine, the Mac Pro offers a full range of ports, including digital optical TOSLINK in and out. However, given it’s aim of being high-powered pro workstation, it comes without support for some of the features common in other Mac models, such as the iSight camera or support for the Apple Remote. (But the Front Row environment is still available when using keyboard short cuts or the Remote application for the iPhone/iPod Touch).

Display Support

Beyond the considerations of the various Mac lines, you should be aware that the most recent models introduced in October (the new MacBook, MacBook Pro, and iMac models) rely on a new display connector known as Mini DisplayPort. This emerging standard for connecting computers to displays is currently only used on Apple’s Cinema Display line. You will need to use an adapter for any other displays. Adapters are available to convert from to both DVI and VGA for use with older or non-Apple displays.

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Tags: video, Apple, Intel, Mac OS X, MacBook

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