- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Despite continuing predictions of gloom and doom, Apple Inc. continues to roll out amazing new products. A good example is the iMac computer, starting at $1,299, and available — well, sort of — in 21.5-inch and 27-inch display models.

The “unique selling proposition” of the new iMac introduced late last year is that it’s very, very thin. Yes, it bulges a bit in the back, but from the side it more closely resembles a stylish HDTV than an all-in-one desktop computer. The reason: There’s no optical drive inside requiring more space. This allows for the thin-is-in approach, which Apple says yields a computer “5 mm thin at its edge.”

First, a look at the basic machine itself and what makes it worth having.

Processors on the new iMac range from 2.7 GHz to 3.7 GHz Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, with options to tweak some models a couple of gigahertz faster. On the 21.5-inch models, you can have up to 16 gigabytes of RAM, while the 27-inch model can pack 32 gigabytes of RAM. More RAM means faster operations in many cases, and is a necessity for such intensive tasks as photo or video editing.

The lower-end models can be equipped with either a 1-terabyte hard disk drive or a similar-sized “Fusion Drive” that adds 128 gigabytes of “flash” memory in which frequently used programs and data can be stored and accessed, including the basic operating system. This nearly doubles the speed of booting the computer and makes other tasks faster as well. At the higher end, 3-terabyte regular and “Fusion Drive” options are available. Also available is a 768-gigabyte solid-state drive.

My test 21.5-inch model included a 1-terabyte Fusion Drive, 16 gigabytes of RAM, and an 3.1 Intel Core i7 processor. Those options added $650 to the base price of $1,499, for a total retail price of $2,149.

Now that’s a lot more money than many all-in-one computers. But, again, consider the thinness, the elegance, the operating speed and the power. This is one capable machine, and working at one all day wouldn’t be a chore.

But you say, “I’ve got all this stuff on CD or DVD and I need an optical drive!” Apple has you covered there: For an extra $79, you can get an external optical drive that plugs into one of four USB 3.0 ports. What Apple is betting on, however, is that you won’t need that optical drive often or for very long, given the proliferation of cloud-based storage and online software offerings via Apple’s App Store, not to mention many programs available for online download from other vendors.

Again, it’s the lack of an optical drive, among other things, that allowed Apple to make the new iMac as thin as it is. Luddites such as this reviewer may pine for the old days of having the drive on board, but the times, they are a-changing, and on the whole, this seems a reasonable way for things to evolve.

There are two things I’ve noted, pending my own purchase in the not-too-distant future. One is that when I buy, it’s the larger 27-inch display model that’ll likely land in my shopping cart. The 21.5-inch unit I’m testing is certainly fine, but the extra screen real estate would come in handy. Second, buyers would do well, in my opinion, to select the wired “full” keyboard, including numeric keypad, instead of the smaller, wireless one offered as a default choice. The wireless keyboard is fine, but trust me, you’ll very likely want the number pad and extra function and directional keys.

As to the “sort of” availability for these computers: Apple’s retail website lists a 7- to 10-day shipping time for the 21.5-inch model and three to four weeks for the 27-inch device. You may well find one or the other, or both, at Apple’s retail outlet, or other re-sellers, but possibly without the Fusion Drive or other options. If you want a customized iMac, be prepared to wait.

The upside, in this reviewer’s opinion, is that the product you eventually receive will be very well worth that wait.

Mark A. Kellner can be reached at [email protected]

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