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Archive of iMac Rumors

9to5Mac reports that Apple will update nearly all of its Mac products at next week's Worldwide Developers Conference, with "at least four" out the company's five Mac families seeing upgrades.


The most solid candidate for an upgrade is the MacBook Pro, which has been reported by numerous sources to be gaining a slimmer form factor with the update. Apple's iMac and MacBook Air lines are also considered solid bets for upgrades next week. The report claims that both the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air will receive ultra-high resolution Retina displays, but while the iMac has also been rumored to be gaining the feature in the future, it is unclear whether it will make it into the next update of Apple's flagship desktop line.

If Apple is planning to only update four of its lines, the final spot would come down to the Mac mini and the Mac Pro, with 9to5Mac arguing that the Mac mini is the most likely to see an update given that just-released Ivy Bridge chips that could also be appearing in a 13-inch MacBook Pro would be suitable for a Mac mini refresh.

Xeon E5 chips suitable for a significant Mac Pro update have been available for several months now, but Apple has so far elected not to refresh its professional-level workstation product and there continue to be questions about its fate given that it has been nearly two years since it was last updated.

Finally, today's report indicates that Apple may also be taking the opportunity of a massive Mac update to also introduce new and updated accessories, although details on Apple's plans for those products remain unknown.
As part of ABC News' roundup of the latest MacBook Pro rumors, Joanna Stern claims that not only the MacBook Pro family but also the iMac line is set to gain ultra high-resolution "Retina" displays.
The laptop will see the introduction of the “Mac Retina Display,” which is said to have a very high resolution. ABC News has similarly heard from its own sources that both the next MacBook Pro and the iMac would be getting very, very high resolution displays. Apple refreshed its new iPad with a Retina Display in March.
The MacBook Pro has long been the focus of the Retina or HiDPI display rumors, but it seems natural that Apple would want to move all of its displays to the standard. What is unclear, however, is just how Apple will implement the increased resolution given that most Macs already approach Retina resolution at typical viewing distances.

Many have assumed that Apple will follow the model used in the iPhone and iPad, doubling the resolution in each dimension with a screen carrying four times the pixels of its predecessor. That specific suggestion has already been made in regards to a rumored 15-inch MacBook Pro with 2880x1800 display compared to the 1440x900 display in the current model.

But as screen sizes get even larger, quadrupling the number of pixels starts to bump up against the hardware capabilities of graphics chips and display interface standards. While a 17-inch MacBook Pro coming in at a Retina resolution of 3840x2400 might be possible, the more significant issues surface with the iMac, which is also gaining higher-resolution displays according to today's report.

The 21.5-inch iMac would see a pixel count in the range of the 17-inch MacBook Pro as its 1920x1080 resolution would be bumped to 3840x2160, but the 27-inch iMac would move from its current resolution of 2560x1440 to a monster Retina display at 5120x2880. The same panel could also be used in a revised Apple Thunderbolt Display should hardware be able to support the resolution.


Consequently, some have suggested that Apple would increase display resolution on its Mac lines by a smaller amount than seen on iOS devices, with current variation in pixel density among Mac models already introducing some flexibility in interface element sizes. But with most Mac models offering pixel densities in the range of 100-130 pixels per inch (ppi), moving to a somewhat higher density such as 160-170 ppi to qualify as a Retina display still imposes some difficulties for developers and users.

While user interface elements do vary in physical size depending on the machine they are displayed on, they are designed to be usable in the typical range of 100-130 ppi. Moving to something in the range of 160-170 ppi, for example, could result in user interface elements becoming too small for users to click on with ease unless applications are specifically updated with new elements designed for that pixel density range. Otherwise, elements could be scaled to approximate the physical size seen on lower-resolution displays, but this scaling would undoubtedly degrade image quality.

David Barnard has argued that Apple could still use the pixel doubling motif on larger Mac displays without necessarily having to quadruple the number of actual pixels if users would be willing to accept a smaller workspace than seen on current machines. In one example, Barnard describes how rather than moving the current 2560x1440 27-inch iMac all the way to 5120x2880, Apple could instead offer a display at 3840x2400 that would present itself with a Retina workspace of 1920x1200.
Apple could build a 3840 by 2400 pixel 27-inch screen that presented itself as a pixel doubled 1920 by 1200 pixel display. That’s effectively an 84ppi screen @1X and 168ppi screen @2X. [...]

What you should notice is that the text and UI elements are physically smaller on the current 109ppi iMac than they’d be on the hypothetical 84/168ppi 27-inch iMac. This may be frustrating to some users, but I actually prefer my old 94ppi 24-inch Cinema Display to any of Apple's higher PPI displays. I like that the system default 12pt text is larger. The sacrifice is in the usable workspace, and that’s a matter of taste.
So while Apple appears to face some challenges in bringing its Retina display concept to the Mac, the company seems to be committed to making the transition. It simply remains to be seen how the company will implement the move, as hardware rumors and hints within OS X Lion and Mountain Lion are certainly pointing toward Retina Mac displays sooner rather than later.
As noted in our forums, two new benchmark results appearing in Geekbench's database within the past few days are sparking discussion about imminent upgrades to Apple's MacBook Pro and iMac lines.

The first item of interest is a MacBookPro9,1 entry, which would correspond to an unreleased MacBook Pro model of unknown size coming as a successor to the current MacBookPro8,x line. While such results can be faked, the result in question is consistent with what is known or assumed about the forthcoming models.

This new MacBook Pro is listed as carrying an Intel Ivy Bridge Core i7-3820QM quad-core processor running at 2.7 GHz. That processor has long been viewed as the natural successor to Apple's current offerings in high-end 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro models. With the i7-3820QM being a 45-watt chip, it is extremely unlikely that Apple would be using it in a new 13-inch MacBook Pro model.


The unreleased system carries a benchmark of 12,262, compared to scores in the range of 10,500 for the corresponding current MacBook Pro processor, the Core i7-2860QM.

The motherboard identifier included with the new entry corresponds to one of several unreleased Mac configurations identified in the first OS X Mountain Lion developer preview back in February. In addition, the Geekbench result lists the test machine as running OS X Mountain Lion build 12A211, which would be newer than the 12A193i build seeded to developers on May 2.

On the iMac side is a new iMac13,2 entry, which would appear to correspond to a new 27-inch iMac model. The machine is listed as running an Intel Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770 quad-core processor running at 3.4 GHz, which would correspond to a relatively high-end option in a new model. The system carries a benchmark of 12,183, only slightly higher than typical scores in the range of 11,500 for current iMac models using the top-of-the-line Core i7-2600 processor.


Like the MacBookPro9,1, this iMac13,2 carries a motherboard identifier first seen in the initial OS X Mountain Lion developer preview back in February. The machine used for benchmarking is listed as running build 10A2040 of OS X Mountain Lion, and while a four-digit suffix on the build number is somewhat unusual for OS X, such patterns have been observed in special builds in the past.

Such pre-mature benchmarks have shown up in Geekbench's database prior to new hardware launches from Apple in the past. Consequently, it is feasible that these results do represent genuine machines due for launch in the near future.
Digitimes points to a report in Taiwan's Economic Daily News claiming that Apple is planning to introduce updated iMac models in June, a bit later than some had initially hoped given Intel's Ivy Bridge launch schedule that would see quad-core desktop processors launch at the end of this month.
PC ODM Quanta Computer and chassis supplier Foxconn Technology are expected to benefit from the launch of Apple's latest iMac desktops, which are set to launch in June with Intel's latest Ivy Bridge processors, according to a Chinese-language Economic Daily News (EDN) report citing sources from the upstream supply chain.
The report repeats a claim from earlier this week indicating that Apple will be using anti-reflective glass for the new iMac, and also suggests that updated MacBook Pro models are due "at the end of the second quarter".


Unfortunately, Economic Daily News does not have a terribly good track record when it comes to Apple rumors, with past misses including an iPhone nano in 2009, a 7-inch iPad in 2010, and a Retina-display iPad by the end of 2011. But perhaps coming in support of the newspaper's claim of a June launch for updated iMac models, How to Arena earlier this week claimed a similar June-July timeframe for updated iMac models.

As for Economic Daily News' claim that Apple will be releasing MacBook Pro updates at the end of the quarter, which would mean late June, Apple's situation appears to be complicated by chip availability from Intel. While quad-core chips appropriate for the 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro are said to be launching on April 29, dual-core chips viewed as successors to those used in the current 13-inch model do not appear to be launching until early June.

Recent reports have indicated that production on new 15-inch models has begun ramping up but that 13-inch MacBook Pro updates won't begin ramping until June, and it is unclear whether Apple would introduce the new 15-inch models before the 13-inch models are ready.
In a roundup of touch panel supplier news, Digitimes reports that G-Tech Optoelectronics is not only ramping up production of cover glass for the new iPad but is also working with Apple on anti-reflective glass for the next-generation iMac. The iMac is due for an update in the near future as Intel's Ivy Bridge processors become available later this month.
G-Tech is ramping up its production capacity of cover glass from 1.8 million units a month currently to three million units in 2012 as the company is likely to take up 25-30% of total cover glass orders for Apple's iPads in the year, according to an industry estimate.

G-Tech is also expected to supply AR (anti-reflective) glass solutions for Apple's all-in-one (AIO) PCs with the new products to also serve as a growth driver for G-Tech, indicated industry sources.
Apple's iMac has utilized a glass front for a number of years, leading to some user complaints due to the reflectivity interfering with usability in bright environments. An anti-reflective glass would likely help alleviate some of these complaints.

Apple utilizes a similar glossy display glass standard on the MacBook Pro, but offers a build-to-order option of an antiglare matte display on 15-inch and 17-inch models.

Apple today released iMac Graphic FW Update 3.0, addressing an issue that could cause hanging and freezing on iMac models.
About iMac Graphic FW Update 3.0

This firmware update fixes a graphics issue that may cause an iMac to hang under certain conditions.
The download weighs in at 481 KB and requires OS X Lion. Apple does not specify on the download page which iMac models require the update, so iMac users may want to run Software Update to see if it is offered for their specific machines.
Last week, a Digitimes report claimed that Intel was going to delay mass availability of its new Ivy Bridge processors until after June. Ivy Bridge represents the next generation processors from Intel and are expected to power any new Macs in the coming few months. The original target date for Ivy Bridge shipments was in April.

VR-Zone now reports that the report wasn't entirely correct and that Intel will only be delaying the release specifically of mobile Dual-Core Ivy Bridge processors.
Remember that article from the other day that made some people panic as Intel might've delayed Ivy Bridge to June? Well, there's no need to be worried if you're planning on getting a new desktop system, as none of the desktop parts that were originally meant to launch have been delayed and on the mobile side, only the dual core models have been pushed back.
According to the site, the reason for the delay of those specific processors is due to an overstock of the previous generation chips.

What that means is that it may not have an effect on Apple's release plans for updated MacBook Pros and iMacs. Apple currently offers Quad-Core processors in their iMac, so that product line should see no added delays. The iMac was last updated in May, 2011 and is getting due for a refresh. Meanwhile, in the MacBook Pro line, the 13" model is the only MacBook Pro that currently uses a Dual-Core processor.

As it turns out, we previously reported that Intel's new Quad-Core Ivy Bridge processor will be heat efficient enough to fit in Apple's 13" MacBook chassis for the first time. The limiting factor for a Quad-Core 13" MacBook Pro had previously been the heat output of the processor. If Apple chooses to go this route, they could eliminate Dual-Core processors entirely from their MacBook Pro line, side stepping any delays.

However, this line of reasoning assumes that Apple will not be making any dramatic changes to the MacBook Pro enclosure. Persistent rumors have suggested that Apple may be considering more MacBook Air-like designs for at least some of the new MacBook Pro models. Such a drastic change would change Apple's choice of processors considerably.

It's also worth noting that Apple isn't a typical Intel customer and has, in the past, been able to secure chips earlier than the rest of the industry.
Apple today released a series of three EFI firmware updates bringing Lion Internet Recovery to the company's Late 2010 MacBook Air, Mid-2010 iMac, and Early 2010 MacBook Pro. Available firmware updates include:

- MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.3 (2.98 MB):
This update enables Lion Recovery from an Internet connection on MacBook Air (Late 2010) models and addresses an issue where the system could restart if the power button is pressed immediately after waking from deep sleep.
- iMac EFI Update 1.8 (3.02 MB):
This update enables Lion Recovery from an Internet connection on iMac (Mid 2010) models.
- MacBook Pro EFI Firmware Update 2.6 (3.18 MB):
This update enables Lion Recovery from an Internet connection on MacBook Pro (Early 2010) models.
Apple introduced Lion Internet Recovery on new MacBook Air and Mac mini models introduced last July alongside OS X Lion itself. The feature adds a minimal bootable install onto a machine's firmware to allow it to connect the Internet and download the full Lion operating system for installation.


OS X Lion by default installs a recovery partition on the machine's hard drive for this purpose, but for users who are installing a blank hard drive or whose recovery partition becomes inaccessible, Internet Recovery provides yet another fallback option for Lion installation.

The company has extended the Lion Internet Recovery feature to a number of older Mac models over time, with the most recent addition coming two weeks ago and adding support for the Mid-2010 versions of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, white MacBook, and Mac mini. One notable exception is the Mac Pro, which has yet to see even the currently-shipping models support Lion Internet Recovery.
Forbes reports on a new research note from Wedge Partners analyst Brian Blair suggesting that Apple may bring some aspects of its rumored television set to the iMac with a revision in the first half of next year.
Blair envisions the company pushing the largest screen sizes of the iMac toward the TV market by integrating Apple TV and iCloud features into a slimmer all-in-one PC with TV capabilities.

“We think this makes sense because while we typically think about the newest TV’s hanging on the wall in large form factors, Apple could effectively start with what they already have on the manufacturing line and slowly push their offering from 27 inches and scale up from there to 32 inches and then move on to the 42, 50 and 55 inch market,” he writes. “In short, we believe the initial Apple TV is their iMac computer that can function as a TV, over the iCloud platform.”
While the full context of the claim is not included in the Forbes report, the claim is referred to as "speculation" on Blair's part and no specific evidence to support it is offered.


Apple had previous offered its "Front Row" software for OS X, providing users with a full-screen media display to allow easy access to content while interacting with their Mac via the remote control previously included with most Macs. Front Row debuted on the iMac in 2005 and made its way throughout Apple's Mac lines, but was gradually phased out until it was completely removed in OS X Lion.

Apple is said to be developing a television set product featuring Siri-powered voice input, with a release rumored for late 2012 or 2013. An iMac offering some of that television functionality could bridge the gap to the dedicated television set, with the 21.5-inch and 27-inch screens on the iMac suitable for smaller-scale television settings.
As noted by AppleInsider, shipping estimates for build-to-order iMac models equipped with 2 TB hard drives have slipped to a significant 5-7 week timeframe, suggesting that hard drive shortages caused by massive flooding in Thailand over the past several months may be catching up with Apple.


Curiously, Mac Pro models configured with 2 TB drives do not show the same delays, with those build-to-order configurations shipping in just 3-5 business days. The 2 TB drive on the iMac is the only drive affected, as the standard 1 TB drive and configurable 256 GB solid state drive do not significantly boost build times. That 2 TB drive is available as a build-to-order option on the high-end 21.5-inch iMac and on both base models of the 27-inch iMac.

Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked about the potential impact of the Thailand flooding on Apple's business during the company's October earnings conference call. Cook noted that there would undoubtedly be an industry-wide shortage of hard disk drives that would primarily affect Apple in its Mac business, but that there had yet to be a full assessment of the impact or an estimated timeline for recovery. He also declined to offer any specific information on the expected impact to Apple, noting only that any such impact was figured into the company's blockbuster revenue guidance of $37 billion for the holiday quarter.
Apple today released a series of firmware updates for its 2011 Mac lineup, addressing several issues to increase the stability of the systems. But the iMac EFI Update 1.7 goes a bit further, bringing the Lion Internet Recovery feature to the current generation of iMac models. The iMac update also specifically addresses several Thunderbolt performance issues.
About iMac EFI Update 1.7

This update enables Lion Recovery from an Internet connection and includes fixes that resolve issues with Apple Thunderbolt Display compatibility and Thunderbolt Target Disk Mode performance on iMac (early 2011) models.
Internet Recovery launched as part of OS X Lion in July, allowing users to easily install the operating system on a blank hard drive, a feature that is handy for users who are replacing their hard drives or for whom the recovery partition included on their Lion system becomes inaccessible. Internet Recovery functions by adding a minimal bootable install onto a machine's firmware to allow it to connect the Internet and download the full Lion operating system for installation.


Internet Recovery initially debuted on the MacBook Air and Mac mini models that were released alongside OS X Lion, but was extended to the Early 2011 MacBook Pro line last month. With the addition of the iMac, all of Apple's current Mac models with the exception of the Mac Pro are now capable of accessing Lion Internet Recovery. The Mac Pro has not been updated since mid-2010, and delays in Intel's chip production appear to have pushed any refresh into next year.

In addition to the iMac EFI firmware update released today, Apple also pushed out MacBook Pro EFI Firmware Update 2.3 for Early 2011 models, MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.2 for Mid 2011 models, and Mac mini EFI Firmware Update 1.4 for Mid 2011 models.
Apple today released iMac Graphic FW Update 3.0, a new firmware update to address issues which could cause users' machines to freeze up.
About iMac Graphic FW Update 3.0

This firmware update fixes a graphics issue that may cause an iMac to hang under certain conditions.

Do not shut off the power on your iMac during this update. Loss of power could result in your iMac failing to start up.
The update weighs in at 482 KB and requires OS X Lion. Apple does not specify exactly which iMac models require the update, so users should run Software Update to see if the download appears for their specific machines.

Discussion forums on Apple's site and elsewhere have been filling with numerous reports of freezing issues on iMac models under OS X Lion. It is unclear if this update is designed to target the exact issues being reported in those complaints, but it seems reasonable to speculate that Apple is indeed looking to solve at least some of those problems.
AMD today announced the launch of its new Radeon HD 6990M mobile graphics processor, calling it the world's fastest single mobile GPU with up to 25% greater performance than NVIDIA's just-announced GeForce 580M.

While Apple typically uses middle-of-the-road GPUs in even its high-end MacBook Pro models in order to meet the requirements of the thin enclosure and thus will not be considering adopting the new Radeon HD 6990M for the notebook line, the company does also use AMD's mobile GPUs in its iMac line, where it has adopted a number of mobile components in order to save space within the desktop machine's sleek all-in-one design.

Apple currently offers AMD's previous top-end mobile GPU, the Radeon HD 6970M, in the highest-level configurations of its 27-inch iMac line, suggesting that Apple may be planning to adopt the Radeon HD 6990M in its next iMac update. AMD in fact specifically touts the improved performance of the Radeon HD 6990M over the 6970M.
The AMD Radeon HD 6990M also represents a significant upgrade from AMD's current gaming notebook graphics solution, the AMD Radeon HD 6970M, raising the bar from both a performance and image quality perspective.
Apple of course just released updated iMacs a little over two months ago, and the company is thus unlikely to refresh the lineup again until late this year or early next year. Of course, depending on how AMD's future GPU development cycle meshes with Apple's iMac update cycle, even newer GPUs could be available for the next iMac, with the Radeon HD 6990M perhaps sliding down into the mid-range iMac models.
Apple's latest edition of the iMac is finally shipping with the build-to-order 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 and 256GB Solid State Drive option installed. As with any new Apple product, benchmarks and speedtests are beginning to trickle out, and the conclusion from Macworld is that this is the fastest Mac they've ever tested.

Last month, Macworld benchmarked the highest standard configuration 27" iMac Core i5 3.1GHz with standard hard drive installed. It scored 227 on Speedmark 6.5, roughly 16 percent faster than the old model -- but still quite a bit slower than a Mac Pro 3.33GHz Xeon 6-core, which scored a 263 on the same test.

Now, after a month-long delay, Apple is finally shipping BTO 3.4GHz Core i7 iMacs with a 256GB SSD option. This top-of-the-line iMac, the 27" 3.4GHz Core i7 w/SSD has been declared the fastest Mac that Macworld has ever tested.


The video above was sent in by a reader. He filmed it on his 27" 3.4GHz Core i7, 16GB of RAM and the 256GB SSD option. He opens all the standard applications that come with the iMac simultaneously (though with Front Row and Dashboard deselected, because they're both full-screen apps) as a quick demo of the speed of his new SSD iMac.

Macworld's testing puts the 3.4GHz i7 w/SSD at 298 on the Speedmark 6.5 test, well clear of the Mac Pro 3.33GHz Xeon 6-core's comparatively pokey 263. It also beat the Mac Pro in file duplication, Zip file compress and uncompress, iTunes encoding, and iMovie and iPhoto importing tests.

It's important to note, however, that for massively parallel tasks like Handbrake encoding, Cinebench, Mathematica, and GeekBench benchmarks the Mac Pro still outperforms the iMac because it has more cores, especially with Hyper-Threading. But, for individual application tests like encoding an MP3, importing a movie to iMovie, or importing photos to iPhoto, the iMac beats all.



Of course, the brand new iMac might be faster than the current generation Mac Pro, but the Mac Pro hasn't been updated since last July. New Mac Pros are expected sometime soon, presumably with Thunderbolt support and a rumored narrower, rackmountable enclosure.

Apple today released iMac Graphic FW Update 2.0, a firmware update to addresses graphics issues on the company's latest iMac models.
About iMac Graphic FW Update 2.0

This firmware update fixes an issue that in rare cases may cause an iMac to hang during startup or waking from sleep.

Do not shut off the power on your iMac during this update. Loss of power could result in your iMac failing to start up.
Apple has also posted a support document noting that the update addresses issues arising as a white screen during startup or vertical lines on the screen while in use.
In certain circumstances, your iMac (Mid 2011) may become unresponsive on startup, with a white or gray background on the display. You may also notice vertical lines on the display while using your iMac.
iMac Graphic FW Update 2.0 weighs in at 699 KB and requires Mac OS X 10.6.7.
Hard drive from Early 2011 iMac (Source: iFixit)

As noted by Other World Computing, Apple has implemented a new temperature sensor system on its latest iMac models that significantly hampers the ability of users to replace their original hard drives in the case of failure or a desire to upgrade. Without the custom 7-pin hard drive cable and proprietary firmware included on stock hard drives in the new machines, the new iMacs' fans spin to full speed and the machines fail to pass the Apple Hardware Test.
For the main 3.5" SATA hard drive bay in the new 2011 machines, Apple has altered the SATA power connector itself from a standard 4-pin power configuration to a 7-pin configuration. Hard drive temperature control is regulated by a combination of this cable and Apple proprietary firmware on the hard drive itself. From our testing, we've found that removing this drive from the system, or even from that bay itself, causes the machine's hard drive fans to spin at maximum speed and replacing the drive with any non-Apple original drive will result in the iMac failing the Apple Hardware Test (AHT).
As the report notes, the change does mean that anyone seeking to replace the hard drive in a new iMac will have to go through Apple, limiting options and increasing costs.
It is not a matter of "if" but rather a matter of "when" your hard drive is going to fail. We preach this all the time in regards to having a proper backup strategy in place to prepare from when that failure happens. But it seems now, that when that happens to the main drive on your iMac, you're left with two options - buy a new drive from Apple and have them install it via one of their Authorized Service Centers, or enjoy the rather large Apple logoed paperweight on your desk. Want a 3.5" drive larger than 2TB? Too bad - Apple doesn't offer them.
Apple has not officially supported do-it-yourself hard drive replacements on the iMac for many years, but many users have still elected to take on the task themselves or have others not specifically authorized by Apple perform the swap for them.

Last week, we noted that Apple's new iMac models utilize Intel's latest Z68 chipset, a component that Intel had yet to even publicly introduce at the time of the iMac's debut. The chipset has been highly anticipated for its ability to support SSD caching, a software technology that pairs a small solid state drive (SSD) with a conventional hard drive to significantly improve performance in a manner virtually invisible to the user.

While Apple's new Z68-based iMac does not currently support SSD caching, now officially known as Smart Response Technology (SRT), it actually goes further in offering the option of a secondary 240 GB SSD to directly host the user's operating system and applications, leaving the conventional hard drive for media and other data. But with reports just prior to the most recent MacBook Pro refresh in late February incorrectly claiming that the updated models would offer the option of a small secondary SSD to essentially perform SRT functionality, there has been significant interest in the possibility of Apple adopting Intel's solution.

With Intel's embargo on Z68 information having lifted earlier today, AnandTech has posted a thorough review of the chipset and the SSD caching feature. On a basic level, the report notes that Z68 is the chipset Intel should have launched for its Sandy Bridge platform earlier this year, overcoming a number of limitations related to overclocking and graphics options.

Intel's Z68 should have been the one and only high end launch chipset offered with Sandy Bridge. It enables all of the configurations we could possibly want with Sandy Bridge and does so without making any sacrifices. Users should be able to overclock their CPU and use integrated graphics if they'd like. While Z68 gives us pretty much exactly what we asked for, it is troubling that we even had to ask for it in the first place.

But the most anticipated feature of Z68 is its support for Intel's SRT SSD caching, and AnandTech takes a close look at the technology. With support currently available for Windows 7, it allows users to dedicate up to 64 GB of SSD space for caching purposes.

With Intel's RST 10.5 drivers and a spare SSD installed (from any manufacturer) you can choose to use up to 64GB of the SSD as a cache for all accesses to the hard drive. Any space above 64GB is left untouched for you to use as a separate drive letter.

Intel limited the maximum cache size to 64GB as it saw little benefit in internal tests to making the cache larger than that. Admittedly after a certain size you're better off just keeping your frequently used applications on the SSD itself and manually storing everything else on a hard drive.

That latter scenario is of course what Apple has chosen to do in the iMac with the secondary 256 GB SSD, although the company could certainly seek to utilize SRT on future systems as an alternative to the $600 price premium the larger SSD requires.

For its part, Intel has released a new "SSD 311" drive checking in at 20 GB and codenamed "Larson Creek". The SSD 311 is specifically designed as a caching SSD for Z68, utilizing high-performance and long-lasting single-level cell (SLC) flash memory and expected to be priced at around $110.

AnandTech goes on to explain the difference between the more secure "enhanced" and faster "maximized" modes for Intel's SSD caching and offers a number of benchmarks for booting and application launching. Overall, SSD caching offers much of the performance improvement of a full SSD solution, but at a fraction of the cost. Consistency is an issue, however, as the technology obviously requires that information be cached in the first place before speed enhancements can be seen. This limits speed improvements for application installation and first-time runs of applications, but frequently-used tasks quickly see significant speed increases.

Intel's Smart Response Technology (SRT) is an interesting addition to the mix. For starters, it's not going to make your high end SSD obsolete. You'll still get better overall performance by grabbing a large (80 - 160GB+) SSD, putting your OS + applications on it, and manually moving all of your large media files to a separate hard drive. What SRT does offer however is a stepping stone to a full blown SSD + HDD setup and a solution that doesn't require end user management. You don't get the same performance as a large dedicated SSD, but you can turn any hard drive into a much higher performing storage device. Paired with a 20GB SLC SSD cache, I could turn a 4-year-old 1TB hard drive into something that was 41% faster than a VelociRaptor.

It of course remains to be seen if Apple will even adopt SSD caching technology as an alternative to pricier standard SSD options, but the company's embracing of the Z68 chipset at least opens the door to the possibility at some point down the road.
Earlier this week, we pointed to initial benchmarks from Macworld for the new 3.1 GHz 27-inch Mac, finding the new system to be about 16% faster than the high-end standard configuration of the previous generation overall.


Now that the machines have been out for a couple of days, Primate Labs has put together an early report collating the results from users submitting Geekbench 2 results. While not all models of the new iMac are represented in the database yet, initial reports from Geekbench point to an approximately 25% increase in performance over the corresponding models from the previous generation and up to a 70% increase over low-end "Wolfdale" Core 2 Duo iMacs from two generations ago.

While the improvements aren't as dramatic as with the Sandy Bridge MacBook Pros, there's a consistent 25% performance improvement between Sandy Bridge and Lynnfield at both the low-end and the high-end of the iMac model range (and over a 70% improvement between Sandy Bridge and Wolfdale). While this update may not tempt Lynnfield iMac owners into upgrading, it's certainly a compelling upgrade for Wolfdale iMac users.

Geekbench 2 focuses on processor and memory performance, offering direct comparisons of raw power in each machine. Other factors such as video cards and data storage devices also affect system speed but are not addressed in Geekbench's benchmarking metrics.

HardMac reports that the new iMac released earlier this week brings support for 450 Mbit/sec Wi-Fi connectivity, adding a third antenna to support the higher speed using multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) standards when connected to a compatible network access point. The iMac joins the latest MacBook Pro in offering the improved connection speeds.

It seems that Apple seeks to standardize this data flow. Thus, the new iMac is also compatible with the 450 Mbits/s. For that, Apple changed their Airport card and also installed 3 antennas (instead of 2 before), something indispensabie to be able simultaneously to use 3 channels of 150 Mbits/s.

In order to take advantage of the increased speeds with compatible base stations such as the latest AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule, users must be sure to set the base station's options to use the 5 GHz band and to allow use of wide channels.

Other World Computing reports that the iMac EFI Update 1.6 released yesterday for Apple's new iMacs brings an unadvertised improvement in SATA performance for the internal hard drive bays.

While iMac EFI Update 1.6 is described as including "fixes that improve performance and stability for Thunderbolt," it would also seem that an unadvertised benefit is that it also unlocks the full 6Gb/s, SATA 3.0 capabilities of two of the internal drive bays.

Unfortunately, the optical bay remains at 3Gb/s.

The report notes that Apple also released an EFI update for the current MacBook Pros yesterday, but it is unclear whether that update attempts to address SATA performance issues found in the 17-inch models.