Thunderbolt, you were a tech with near unlimited promise when first introduced, but what have you done with all that power? Since my first Thunderbolt-equipped Mac, I’ve essentially been using the ports as straight up Mini DisplayPort replacements, and using them exclusively for powering external screens. But now the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock has arrived, and Thunderbolt finally makes sense. Pricey, $300 sense, mind you.
The Belkin Thunderbolt dock’s design is understated, and will fit with the rest of your black and aluminum standard Mac kit. It’s basically just a box with rounded edges, a cable management channel running through the middle underside of the device, and a row of ports at the back, but it works and it can tuck nicely under your MacBook if you’re using a desktop stand, or underneath the screen of your iMac. There’s even a pair of flashing indicators for network traffic on the Ethernet port, which makes me nostalgic for the days of desktop PC towers that told you everything you needed to know with just a series of blinking lights.
If anything it’s a little bulky, but considering everything it’s bringing to the table, that’s not really all that surprising. Note that this also requires an AC adapter to work, so you’ll have to clear up space on your office power bar.
Computer makers don’t tend to be looking for more ways to fit extra ports in their hardware designs, and the Retina MacBook Pro and MacBook Air lines are perfect examples of where things are headed. As a result, I find myself with only two USB ports on an $1,800 computer, no Ethernet port, a single input for both mic and headphones, and no Firewire 800 for my legacy devices, like portable hard drives. The Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock fixes all those things.
The three USB 3.0 ports are possibly the best part of the arrangement, as they more than double to total load-out of USB ports on your average lightning-equipped MacBook Pro. Even with an iMac, you get 7 USB ports total instead of just three, turning it into a dream machine for someone like a video, design or audio professional who probably has tons of accessories they need to connect and/or switch out at any given time. The first time you don’t have to decide which crucial USB accessory to unplug in order to charge your iPhone, the Dock proves its worth.
The Thunderbolt daisy-chaining also means I can still attach my 27-inch iMac as an external monitor, though that means the chain ends there. But if I had a Thunderbolt drive with two ports, I can easily slot that in between the two, and still use the display as the terminal end of the chain. Finally, the return of Firewire 800 and the Ethernet provide some much-needed tools for using more old-school, but still very effective technologies, including the various Firewire 800 external drives I have sitting around.
All of these ports and additional bits worked flawlessly in my experience, and the headphone jack actually seems to operate as an external sound card to some degree, boosting volume levels and giving you more flexibility in terms of playback options.
If you ever feel like your Mac doesn’t have enough hardware input/output options, then the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock is for you. It took long enough to get here, and it’s pretty expensive at $299 (plus the price of Thunderbolt cable, which ships separately). The Matrox DS1 is another option at $249, but it only has one Thunderbolt port and just one USB 3.0, though it adds both an HDMI and DVI-D output. For my money, the Belkin is the way to go, especially if you use your Mac as your main workstation.
See the original post: Belkin’s Thunderbolt Express Dock Is The Best Damn Thing In The World
Modern Apple owes pretty much everything to the iMac. Yes, it was the iPod and later the iPhone and iPad that took the company to new, almost unimaginable heights. But as everyone knows, the company was at death’s door when Steve Jobs unveiled the “Bondi Blue” iMac in 1998. The iMac saved Apple, giving the company the time to do everything else that followed.
But as we enter 2013, the world is a much different place than 1998. Beyond the aforementioned iPods, iPhones, and iPads, in the “traditional” computing space, everyone seems to be using a laptop nowadays. In fact, something like three quarters of Apple’s Mac sales are now made up of their MacBook lines.
And yet, the iMac still exists.
In the past month, Apple has released the latest iterations of the iMac into the world. I’ve been testing out one version — a fully-loaded 21.5-inch — for much of the past month. Darrell has already posted on some hands-on time with the device, a first look comparing it to the previous versions, and a full-on spec-y review. I figured I’d post some thoughts on how I’ve been using it and where I see the iMac fitting in a computing world heading the other direction.
The second Mac I ever bought was an iMac. And from a form-factor perspective, it actually wasn’t all that different from the way the current version looks. In fact, the 2004 white plastic model, was the inception of the current computer-on-a-pedestal design (the inverse of the desk lamp variety). Apple clearly decided that it liked this concept, and since then it has been refinement after refinement after refinement.
The most striking feature of the current iteration is just how thin it is at the sides — just 5mm. When compared just to the last version of the iMac, this new one looks fake, a dummy window unit, perhaps. It’s something like 80 percent thinner at the sides.
But it’s very real. Once you look beyond the sides, you’ll notice the “hump” in the back where all the goods are actually stored. Even with the component hump, the new iMac consists of 40 percent less volume than the previous versions. (Thankfully, Apple didn’t attempt to shove an optical drive, long-since dead, in the hump.)
And while the backside with less junk-in-the-trunk is great, you’re not going to be looking at the backside of the iMac (though Apple did make the Apple logo extra large this time around for those who do have it on desks facing outward). You’re going to be looking at the screen.
One reason Apple was able to make this new iMac so much thinner is that they borrowed and modified some processes from their other products to make the display itself 5mm thinner. Previously, the iMac’s front panel was laser-welded from the inside, which required more room to maneuver. Now, they’re using what’s called friction-stir welding to put the front right up against the back in a way that any user won’t even be able to perceive.
And since you can’t perceive it, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that the screen itself is now significantly closer to the glass. Just as with the newer iPhones, the screen is now laminated to the display, removing a 2mm gap that existed before. Again, this is perhaps hard to see without a direct comparison, but you should perceive the screen feeling closer and more vibrant as a result.
More importantly from a usage perspective, the screen is now 75 percent less reflective. On my old iMacs (I’ve had three in total), they were all a bit like looking into a mirror if I was using any application with a dark background or if it was sunny outside. Now, you’ll only get hints of your reflection in the black trim around the display.
Unfortunately, the screen is not a “retina” screen. While it is the best screen ever found on an iMac, those who use retina displays regularly now will likely be at least a little disappointed. I’m in that camp as I replaced my old iMac with a 15-inch MacBook Pro with a retina display earlier this year. Going back, the result, particularly with text, is definitely noticeable.
But it may matter less to you depending on again, if you don’t regularly use a retina display, and/or if you use the iMac relatively far away from your head (pixels are harder to see the farther away you are from the screen, hence why the iPhone has a higher pixel density than the MacBook Pro, but both are still “retina”). I’m using the iMac at my standing desk, relatively closer to my face, so I notice.
For many, the additional screen size alone will trump the lack of retina. 21.5-inches when you’re used to 15-inches is great. 27-inches is even better, obviously. The reality is that we’re unlikely to get a 27-inch retina display anytime soon simply because it’s likely too cost prohibitive. Perhaps we’ll get a retina Cinema Display for professionals first, but the iMac will probably have to wait.
Another element the iMac gives you that a MacBook does not (at least not yet) is the option for a “Fusion Drive”. Marketing terms aside, this is a great method of compromise that Apple has come up with. Essentially, you have both a solid-state flash drive and a traditional hard drive in the machine, and software found in a slightly altered version of OS X Mountain Lion determines what data should go where automatically (based on your usage). This allows you to have the speed of SSD with the storage volumes of a regular hard drive.
This is important because one definite use case for the iMac is to be the main content hub of the house. That means it will need a lot of storage. You can configure Fusion Drives up to 3 TB. On this test machine, I have a 1 TB Fusion Drive installed, and it works great. It feels as fast as my MacBooks with flash drives — something like a billion times faster than my older iMac with its traditional hard drive.
Speaking of that old iMac, one major complaint I used to have about the machine was how hot it would run. If you dared put your hand along the backside, it was very, very hot to the touch. One problem was that the fan used to be found along the top and when kicked into high gear, the machine would push all the heat up there. This new iMac feels much, much cooler to the touch. You can still feel a little warmth along the top if you’re pushing the machine, but it’s barely noticeable.
Now, most of the heat is dissipated through the fan in the middle of the back of the iMac. A few times (while testing games and yes, Flash video), I got the fan to kick on. It’s silent and eliminates the heat well — a huge improvement over the previous version of the iMac. Apple also says that the machine now uses 50 percent less energy overall when idle. Again, this is important for the iMac which I imagine many people leaving on at all times as their media hub.
I keep going back to the “media hub” thing. I guess it’s because I’m trying to figure out where the iMac fits in this world of MacBooks that is spilling over into a world of iPads. Again, the extra screen real estate is great in a home office or at a desk in an actual office. But increasingly, you’re seeing more and more people with laptops that either plug into an external monitor at a desk, or don’t even bother. Retina displays are pushing this issue as well, as more content becomes retina-ready.
Meanwhile, the Fusion Drive is great if you’re going to use the device to store all your media. But with services like iCloud, the need to store those massive media files locally is quickly going away as well. And I have to imagine the Fusion Drive will find its way to MacBooks as well eventually — it’s already in the Mac mini too.
This iMac, with a 3.1 GHz i7 processor and 16 GB of RAM, is definitely the fastest machine I’ve ever tested. But part of my rationale behind the “spec is dead” argument is that there are a ton of machines out there that are now “fast enough” for most purposes. And if you’re doing intensive things like video editing, wouldn’t you still opt for the Mac Pro?
Yes, the starting prices for an iMac are relatively cheap (starting at $1,299 for the 21.5-inch version and $1,799 for the 27-inch version), but the starting prices for MacBook Pros are still cheaper (starting at $1,199 for a 13-inch non-retina and $1,699 for a 13-inch retina).
There is no question in my mind that this is the best desktop computer that Apple has ever made. I simply wonder how many people need a desktop computer in their lives going forward. Certainly, everything is trending the other way towards portable and fully mobile computing. And with all computing rapidly advancing towards the “fast enough” threshold (MacBook Pros are there, iPads/iPhones probably aren’t that far behind), the only argument for the iMac becomes the screen real estate. That just reeks of a dedicated screen (or smart glass) that sits on a desk (or your wall) that you push content to from your portable/mobile devices. I fear the need for a stand-alone desktop computer is nearing an end no matter the environment.
But we’re not there yet. And if you’re at all interested in having a desktop machine for your office and/or home office, the new iMac is clearly the one to get. I’m tempted to buy a fully-loaded 27-inch model (which, by the way, allows you to upgrade the RAM to 32 GB). But it’s not a slam dunk that I’m going to — and that has never been the case before. My MacBook is simply fast enough, and because I can take it everywhere, I get much more usage out of it. My desire for the iMac is simply for the larger screen real-estate — but again, non-retina prevents it from being a slam dunk in my mind.
So really, I think I’m just drawn to this machine for reasons of nostalgia. It bears a resemblance to my first iMac, but it’s so much more stunning in every way. And it hearkens back to the product that once saved Apple.
Apple’s new redesigned iMac marks a significant departure from a physical design that the company has basically used for its all-in-one desktop since 2007. The 21.5-inch iMac represents a significant visual change and packs a lot of new stuff inside the entry-level $1,299 version as well, which is the one I received for testing. Here’s how it performed as my primary machine over the course of a few days.
Internal changes aside, the iMac’s first impression is based on that new, tapered shell with the 5mm thick edge. It makes the screen seem like it’s just floating in air and, combined with a redesigned display that makes content seem much closer to the glass, has the effect of making the computer look like a store prop when it’s powered on and sitting idle. My family was in town for the weekend, and all were very impressed by the new display – the fact that it was sitting next to my 2008 iMac at the time only served to heighten the effect.
All that fat trimming has led to some omissions, of course; the new iMac doesn’t have a built-in optical drive, and it also lacks user-accessible RAM. Memory could once be swapped out using just a screwdriver, thanks to doors on the underside of the iMac’s “chin,” but now you’re essentially stuck with the memory loadout you select at checkout.
It’s not a huge issue, but it means strongly considering paying an additional $200 to max out the 21.5-inch iMac at 16GB is probably a good instinct, especially if you’re not planning to upgrade to a new computer for a few years. As for the optical drive, you can pick up Apple’s Superdrive (or any other external drive), or you can probably live very happily without given how pervasive digital distribution and other options like SD card (the iMac comes with a built-in reader) and Flash-drive storage are now available. Finally, as with previous generations, the 21.5-inch iMac does not feature a removable stand for VESA mounting, but new to this generation is the fact the 27-inch one apparently seems to lack this capability as well.
This revamped iMac hardware is a huge improvement over previous generations in just about every way that matters. The weight and space savings are nice, as are the addition of two Thunderbolt ports that can both power external displays, and 4 USB 3.0 ports for high-speed connections, but the screen is the real game-changer for long-time iMac owners. Apple claims a 75 percent reduction in reflection. While that is hard for me to quantify, I can say that, because my office has a rather thin curtain, I’m often in near-direct sunlight while working, and the difference is considerable. In general, the screen feels much improved in all tasks, but editing photos in Lightroom was an especially pleasant experience on this computer versus on my 2011 27-inch iMac.
The 21.5-inch iMac delivers solid improvements over previous generations in terms of benchmark scores. I found that it consistently scored above 9,000, putting it ahead of its predecessor by at least 1,000 points on average, according to Geekbench’s comparison browser (a higher score is better). Numbers aside, the iMac truly impressed in terms of executing everyday tasks, including running Photoshop and Lightroom, as well as rendering and editing video in Final Cut Pro X. It does have a dedicated graphics card (the NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M with 512MB of dedicated RAM), but it somehow feels faster than you’d expect it to from just reading a stat sheet. Mostly, I’m comparing it against my experience with my 2011 27-inch iMac – my 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro with its SSD storage still feels faster on the uptake all around, but that’s to be expected. I’d love to see how the Fusion Drive hybrid approach stacks up, but unfortunately that wasn’t available in my review unit.
Speed and processing power are only one aspect of performance. The iMac also scores high in another respect: audio/visual performance. The new model comes equipped with dual mics, which did indeed seem to help me come across clearer to FaceTime call receivers, and the built-in stereo speakers definitely produced better sound than either the 27-inch iMac or the 27-inch Cinema Display I had on hand. Even my audiophile father commented on the sound quality improvements while he was visiting and we were watching trailers via Apple.com.
If you’re familiar with OS X, then you can probably skip this section, but it’s worth talking a bit about Mountain Lion and how it works on the iMac for those who may be coming over to Apple for the first time (and I think this machine could attract a few switchers). The iMac especially benefits from some of the changes made to Mountain Lion.
One in particular is search in Launchpad. This feature adds a lot to a desktop-computing experience, especially when you’re primarily using a mouse and keyboard rather than a trackpad. Search on every page makes Launchpad an actually useful launcher, instead of just something you find yourself scrolling through mindlessly looking for an app whose icon you can’t seem to spot. Another very nice feature on the iMac is Dictation, which is noticeably better thanks to the background noise-eliminating power of the dual mics. I talk like I’ve got a mouth full of marbles, so this is a feature addition that brings more than a minor benefit to me in particular.
The 2012 iMac is an update that pushes the needle in all the ways we’re used to from Apple – improved performance, better hardware under the hood, etc. – but it also adds the most dramatic and attractive case redesign in recent memory to the mix. This is both nice from an aesthetic perspective, and a welcome change for anyone who needs to move their all-in-one around or just wants it to take up less space on the desk. It also works in target display mode, making it a sleeker (albeit more expensive) alternative to a Thunderbolt Cinema Display as a second screen for your Mac notebook. Some might gripe about the sacrifice of the built-in DVD drive, but in my book that’s not even a noteworthy admission given all the improvements on board, including many more high-speed I/O ports than previous generations have offered.
This is a great time to jump on board with iMac, since Apple will likely stick with this design for a while now, and future iterations for the next few years will likely be less dramatically different. I’d spring for the extra 8GB of RAM were I to go with the base model, but that’s just personal preference. The base model iMac should satisfy the computing needs of most, even with the default configuration.
Your next Mac could be assembled in America. Apple is assembling at least some of the new, ultra-thin iMacs within the USA. The backside stamp containing the serial code and FCC logo generally says “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” But several owners of the new model quickly discovered their machine was made in the good ol’ US of A.
Apple long made its products in the US. Its Elk Grove, California complex opened in 1992 and retrofitted from a distribution center into a manufacturing plant in 1995. During the iMac’s heyday, it employed more than 1,500 people and pumped out computers seven days a week. The plant made its last computer in 2004 when then SVP of Worldwide Operations, Tim Cook, consolidated Apple’s manufacturing in what would be a successful move to maximize efficiency and margins.
The Sacramento Business Journal noticed in September Elk Grove’s workforce had grown 50 percent on the year. This could be the location of the iMac’s secret manufacturing base.
Apple has yet to comment on the findings. It’s unclear at this point where the new iMac is being assembled in the US. It could be Elk Grove. It could be a US-sourced 3rd party manufacturing facility. At D10 in May of this year, CEO Tim Cook acknowledged that Apple’s strength was not in manufacturing. He also noted in his chat with Walt Mossberg that he hoped that someday Apple could assemble products in the US.
As noted by the stamp on the back of the iMac, the computer is not “made” within the US, but rather “assembled” there. Per the US Federal Trade Commission, the latter denotes a product that contains foreign-made components where the principle assembly, in which a substantial transformation happens, takes place in the U.S.
There has been a sort of call to arms in the wake of the U.S.’s economic downturn. Once the heart of America’s economy, manufacturing jobs simply disappeared over the past generation. Apple wasn’t alone outsourcing its manufacturing and assembly to 3rd parties. Foxconn, Compal, and other OEM/ODMs saw significant growth other the last decade as (among many others) HP, Dell, and Apple, turned to these manufacturers to make their wares. But now, as the US attempts to regain what was lost, having the little label “Made in the USA” (or assembled) is in vogue.
Not all the new iMacs are assembled in America. Our review tester is adorned with the normal “Assembled in China” message. It’s unclear at this point how to identity a Made-in-America unit from a Chinese model while the computers are still in the box. But there has to be a way; there has to be a way to show Apple that Americans prefer computers assembled by Americans.
Read the original here: The New iMac: Designed By Apple In California, Assembled In USA
Apple today clarified when it will make the new iMacs available finally, after keeping customers waiting about specific shipping timelines since their unveiling. The 21.5-inch iMac will ship on November 30, Apple said in a press release, with the 27-inch model coming in the more general time frame of “December,” with no more specific date attached.
When Apple announced the new iMacs in October at a special press event, the company said the 21-inch model would be available in November, with the 27-inch model following on in December. The new information puts a specific date for availability on the smaller version, which Apple says will be available to purchase in stores, through retail partners and through its official online store beginning November 30, which is this upcoming Friday.
The new iMacs feature refreshed internals, including Core i5 processors, s well as NVIDIA discrete graphics. They also feature a $1299 price-of-entry, as well as a significant case redesign that sheds a lot of weight and bulk from previous versions.