Apple Unleashes Aggressively Priced Haswell iMacs

Hot on the heels of its iPhone 5S/5C launch, Apple, Inc. (AAPL) has refreshed its iMac lineup.  The new release brings fresh Haswell cores courtesy of Intel Corp. (INTC), new NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) GPUs, improved Fusion drives, and impressive allotments of ports/DRAM.

I. New iMacs — Tons of Ports

The iMacs — for the uninitiated — are Apple’s all-in-one (AIO) personal computers.  All-in-ones are a general term for computers that have the internals (motherboard, memory, CPU, GPU) squeezed into the monitor casing or its base.  

Apple needed to make a move with the iMac.  After dominating the AIO PC market for several years, in late 2012 Apple was bumped from its number one spot by The Lenovo Group, Ltd. (HKG:0992), who has since clung on to that rank.  Apple is still ahead of perennial third place Hewlett-Packard Comp. (HPQ).  But the latest bump may be just what the doctor ordered for Apple’s bid to regain the AIO sales lead.

Whereas the Oct. 2012 iMac refresh was a bolder revamping of the iMac line, which saw the introduction of new 5 millimeter thick aluminum frames, this week’s bump is filled with minor changes that make Apple arguably the best AIO PC value on the market.

The iMac has evolved once more. [Image Source: Apple]
The new iMacs all come with 8 GB (upgradable two 32 GB for 27-inch, 16 GB for 21.5-inch) of 1600 MHz DDR3 and a 1 terabyte “Fusion” drive, a mostly hard disk hybrid drive with an undisclosed amount of NAND flash onboard (upgradable to 3 TB traditional HDD, a 256 GB SSD, or a 512 GB SSD).  

The iMacs come with a wireless “Magic Mouse” and wireless keyboard.  On top of that they come with 802.11ac Wi-Fi and a wide selection of ports:


  • SDXC card slot
  • Four USB 3 ports (compatible with USB 2)
  • Two Thunderbolt ports
  • Mini DisplayPort output with support for DVI, VGA and dual-link DVI (adapters sold separately)
  • 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector)
  • Kensington lock slot

Apple claims that it has significantly improved the hardware and firmware of its proprietary Fusion drives, delivering 50 percent faster performance than the previous generation as commonly (or recently) used files are automatically shuffled to flash storage, while lesser used files are relegated to the hard disk.

II. Haswell, Iris Pro, and GeForce 700M Cards Offer Top Performance

In terms of processing power the base $1,299 USD 21.5-inch model trades last generation’s NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M for the on-die Iris Pro GPU inside the Intel Haswell 2.7 GHz quad-core Core i5-4570R processor.  The new processor can turbo clock up to 3.2 GHz.

Overall the new processor with its on-die GPU consumes only 19 W more than the last generation’s Core i5-3330S processor, for a net reduction of 13 W of GPU+CPU TDP when the last generation’s 32W TDP GeForce GT 640M GPU part is considered — although it’s worth noting that the on-die GPU part itself only saves 4 W (it has a TDP of 28 W) with the remaining savings (9 W) coming from improvements to the CPU cores.

Iris Pro — GT3e — drives the $1,299 USD 21.5 inch iMac [Image Source: Intel]
Aside from being power efficient, the on-die GPU should be slightly faster than the GT 640M.  Benchmarks have shown the Iris Pro (HD 5200) to be 10-15 percent faster than last generation’s GT 640M, roughly neck-and-neck with this generation’s GT 740M part, and 10-15 percent behind the GT 750M part. 

The Intel part is a BGA design that is soldered to the motherboard, so there’s no direct pricing information available from Intel.  But given that the other members of the family retail for $192 USD (tray) versus $184 USD (tray) for the last generation, it appears that NVIDIA has next to no hope of competing against Intel’s latest generation Iris Pro graphics on a price versus performance basis.  Hence, Apple likely improved its margins substantially — perhaps $50 USD or more — from a hardware cost standpoint, while giving the consumers slightly better performance.

The new iMacs get more power-efficient Haswell core chips. [Image Source: Intel]
A bump to the slightly more expensive Core i5-4570S part (which bumps the turbo clock to 3.6 GHz) and a slightly faster NVIDIA GeForce 750M discrete card costs $1,499 USD.  The i5-4570 has a tray price of $195 USD from Intel, while the GeForce is rumored to cost around $60 USD, based on bill of materials, so Apple is likely pocketing nearly $150 USD (if not more) for this modest performance bump.  The good news for the customer is that if they’re brave enough to want to disassemble their motherboard, the i5-4570S isn’t a BGA part, so it may be upgradable.

The 27-inch iMac starts at $1,799 USD and gets a peppier NVIDIA GeForce GTX 755M and a Core i5-4570 processor (quad-core, 3.2 GHz standard, 3.6 GHz turbo).  And $1,999 USD buys you an upgrade to a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 775M and a Core i5-4670K processor (quad-core, 3.4 GHz standard, 3.8 GHz turbo)

III. Well Priced in a Sea of Shoddy Competitors

Overall, though, Apple’s prices for the 21.5-inch SKUs are surprisingly aggressive, compared to competitors.  While competitors offer devices for as much as $500 USD less for a given screen size, they feature much weaker hardware, making them a pretty unappealing alternative.

For example the $1,299 USD Lenovo IdeaCentre does pack a 27-inch screen, but features a slower processor (the Intel Core i5-3337U 1.8GHz), less memory (6 GB DDR2), slower storage (a 1 TB HDD with no flash), no 802.11ac support, a far bulkier body (0.19 in. for the iMac v. 1.17 in. for the IdeaCentre), a weaker NVIDIA GeForce 720M GPU, and only 2 USB 3.0 ports.  To be fair the Lenovo device does have a unique selling point — it can act as a tablet, with stand-alone battery — but like many competitive offerings it come up short hardware and design wise versus the iMac.

The Lenovo IdeaCentre 27-in.
  Also, it is worth noting that some iMacs are now being produced in the U.S.A.  I’m not suggesting anyone buy an inferior product out of national interests in today’s global economy, but if you can get a comparable or superior domestically made product, I think it’s hard to argue that isn’t an added bonus.

There’s no real competitor product that offers as strong hardware internals, let alone as slender an AIO package, as the iMac. [Image Source: Apple]
If you want a cheap AIO, Lenovo has a number of options that outsell the iMac, but for an AIO with premium design, a ton of ports, and decently powerful hardware, the rivals still has no real answer to the iMac.

Even those who want a Windows 8 AIO may opt to look at the new iMacs as an option via Boot Camp, which finally supports Windows 8.

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