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Apple has plans for iMac, Mac Mini, Mac Pro in 2009

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Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Apple
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Another win for NVIDIA with Apple

Previous Success

2008 was quite a year for Apple, to say the least.  They released a completely new line of iPods, the iPhone 3G launched to just as much fanfare as the original and a refreshed line of MacBook computers has been well received by the media and consumers.  Because the technology and hardware behind the new MacBook and MacBook Pro computers was so similar to products we cover on a near daily basis, PC Perspective was more involved with the rumors leading up to the product announcement than ever before. 

On July 30th I wrote an article that put the pieces together in the theory that NVIDIA chipsets would find their way into Apple's new laptops based on hordes of stories that had been circulating at the time.  Then on October 10th I wrote another editorial that gave a lot more detail, much of it for the first time to the public, on what chipset and products would be announced by Apple later in the week.  Finally, on October 14th, Apple made the announcement official and pretty much everything I thought would happen did.

Now, as we approach the MacWorld show that starts on Monday, January 5th, rumors of more new Apple computers are swirling.  I think we have some additional information that should solidify the hardware that Apple will announce at the keynote. 

What to expect at MacWorld

Easily the most accepted rumor making the rounds for the upcoming MacWorld Expo is that Apple will announce updated iMac computers as well as a new Mac Mini.  AppleInsider has a story pointing to a source for new iMacs quoted at providing 800,000 units for Q1 alone.  ArsTechnica and AppleInsider both agree as well that the iMac will likely have a new "cooling solution" which to me only makes sense if we are going to see a hardware change as dramatic as we did with the MacBook and MacBook Pros. 
Although, maybe this new cooling solution is not for the 20" and 24" iMacs but something different described below...

Based on information that I have seen we will definitely get (at least) a set of four new iMac computers announced this week.  Two 20" iMac computers will be offered with an NVIDIA integrated-GPU chipset based on the MCP79 design (the same used in the most recent MacBook and MacBook Pro notebooks) and one of those will include the mobility GeForce 9600-series discrete GPU as well.  This integrated + discrete graphics solution is basically identical the setup the new 15" MacBook Pro includes. 

Along with the 20" models there will also be a set of 24" iMacs with the same integrated chipset but both of these will include discrete graphics solutions.  The lower-end 24" model will use the same mobility 9600 series used in the MacBook Pro and the higher-end model will use a slightly faster GeForce 9800M solution.  This will give the new 24" iMac a lot of GPU-compute power; useful for gaming and the well-documented OpenCL support that Apple demands. 

The rumors of the new Mac Mini are much more curious in nature simply because many people have been speculating that Apple would just as likely kill off the drab line than spend the money and time to upgrade it.  Instead it looks like Apple has spent some time with the device updating its hardware and even possibly adding support for more than one monitor.  We even have a supposed leaked image of the new Mac Mini courtesy of Macenstein.com:



Is this the new Mac Mini design?  More than likely yes.
According to this picture the design looks very similar to that of the new MacBook laptops and it has an integrated slot optical drive.  But what about the hardware inside of it?  According to the information I have seen the new Mac Mini will include a slightly slower (and cooler) version of the MCP79 chipset, though not quite as low power as the chipset used in the MacBook Air.  This would give NVIDIA's GeForce 9400/9300M chipset a spot in eight current Apple products including the MacBooks, iMacs and Mac Mini. 

What you MIGHT see at MacWorld

The above five products (four iMacs and one Mac Mini) I feel nearly 100% confident are correct for tomorrow's MacWorld Expo.  There are some other parts that I have seen information on but haven't seen creep up into the world of rumors quite yet.  The most exciting of which is the possibility of a new 28" iMac!  Besides the much larger form factor and increased screen real estate, the hardware inside such a machine looks to be much different than the 20"/24" iMacs; instead of using Intel's Core 2 line of processors with the NVIDIA MC79 chipset these new computers are likely to use the new Intel Core i7 processor along with the Tylersburg chipset and platform.



The Intel Core i7 processor and Tylersburg platform likely to be found in new 28" iMacs and Mac Pros
The Tylersburg chipset is essentially that used by the X58 motherboards we have reviewed here at PC Perspective and is the ONLY chipset currently for the Core i7 line of CPUs.  This new hardware shift would give the 28" iMac a significant performance improvement over the other models with support for up to eight threads (quad-core CPU with HyperThreading enabled) of computing power, triple-channel memory support with an integrated memory controller running at DDR3-1333 speeds and more.  Because the X58 chipset does not include any kind of integrated graphics, discrete GPUs from NVIDIA are likely to be used.  With two different 28" iMac models I would expect to see both using GeForce mobility 9800M solutions though with a higher priced model using faster clocks and more memory. 

This would also answer a nagging question I had about why Apple would need that mysterious "cooling solution" for the iMacs.  A move to NVIDIA chipsets alone would likely not mean that much additional power/heat for the system but a move to a Core i7 processor and X58 chipset could definitely require the additional cooling rumored to have been designed for Apple.

This would give Apple a desktop solution between the somewhat overpriced Mac Pro systems and the current lineup of iMac computers.  Speaking of those Mac Pro machines, are we likely to see changes in that line any time soon?  The short answer is yes, the Mac Pros are also going to see an upgrade to the Core i7 processor and Tylersburg platform early in 2009.  The main difference between what we will see with new 28" iMac and the upgrade Mac Pro is in the graphics solution offered: my information shows that the GT200 graphics core, first used in the GeForce GTX 200-series of parts this past June, will be the heart of the Mac Pro's graphics system.



When will the new 28" iMac make its appearance?

The real question to me is not IF these products will be released, just WHEN they will be released.  The information I have here is just as solid as the information I had on the new MacBook products as well as the information on the upcoming 20" and 24" iMac and Mac Mini products.  The timing on the 28" iMac and Mac Pro puts them about a month behind the release schedule of the 20"/24" models so we will either see Apple announce these at the MacWorld Expo with a later retail availability date or they will hold off on those products for a future announcement. 

Final Thoughts

This year's MacWorld Expo, though it will be Apple's last in attendance, will see the release of some badly needed hardware refreshes in the form of 20"/24" iMac computers and a new Mac Mini all using NVIDIA's MCP79 integrated chipsets and Intel's Core 2 processors.  There is also a chance of seeing new 28" iMacs and Mac Pro machines using the Intel Core i7 processor, X58 Tylersburg chipset and high-end discrete NVIDIA GPUs.  Remember you heard it here first!

When all of these products are finally available, it's my view that what we are seeing is a whole new Apple; an Apple that is producing products that are as compatible and performance-driven as any PC on the market.  Apple is one of the key driving forces behind the adoption of OpenCL, the open-standard compute language that will take advantage of the power in GPUs for everyday computing, and every Apple computer at this point has an NVIDIA GPU (either integrated or discrete) inside allowing their next operating system to fully take advantage of this architectural advancement.  Apple may still not have the open hardware ecosystem and software support I think it needs, but from a hardware perspective, they are definitely putting themselves on the leading edge.

If you have any comments on this article jump into our PC Perspective forum or send me an email.  Thanks for reading!

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