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Apple Upgrades iMacs With Faster Intel Chips

The iMac line now includes Thunderbolt I/O technology to make large files easier to transfer.

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Faced with surging demand for its computers at a time when the rest of the PC market is shrinking, Apple on Tuesday refreshed its iMac line with quad-core processors, more powerful graphics hardware, and Thunderbolt data transfer technology.

Apple last month reported selling 3.76 million Macs, a 28% increase from a year earlier. Its new iMac, which starts at $1,199, is likely to benefit from that momentum, though perhaps not as much as the company's portable models.

During its Q2 2011 earnings conference call last month, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said, "The growth in Mac sales was fueled primarily by the continued great popularity of MacBook Air, which was updated in the December quarter, as well as very strong sales of MacBook Pro."

The 21.5-inch iMac comes with a 2.5-GHz or 2.7-GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, or a 2.8-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 as a custom configured option. The 27-inch model offers a 2.7-GHz or 3.1-GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor as standard options, or a 3.4-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 as a custom configured option.

Storage choices include either 1-TB or 2-TB Serial ATA Drives, or a 256-GB solid-state drive as a custom option.

Apple claimed the new iMacs run up to 70% faster and offers as much three times better graphics performance than previous models.

The extra graphics power comes from an AMD Radeon HD 6970M, which features either 1-GB or 2-GB of GDDR5 video memory. The graphics chips support dedicated video acceleration for MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 and a few other codecs, which helps make video playback better.

Those wishing to make use of the improved video performance need look no further than the iMac's FaceTime HD camera for video conferencing and chatting.

Apple's iMac becomes the company's second hardware product to ship with a Thunderbolt connector, the first being the revamped MacBook Pro notebook that was introduced in February. Thunderbolt is an input-output technology developed by Intel that allows bi-direction data transfer between devices at rates of up to 10 Gbps. Intel says that's fast enough to transfer a full-length HD video in 30 seconds.

The iMac ships with Snow Leopard, version 10.6 of Mac OS X. A new version dubbed Lion, Mac OS X 10.7, is expected to be released this summer. Also included is iLife '11, a suite of consumer content creation and management applications that includes iPhoto, GarageBand, and iMovie.

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