A Faster iMac

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The first thing you notice about Apple's new iMac — running the Intel Core Duo chipset rather than an older PowerPC chip — is that it's almost identical to the iMac that the company introduced in October. The second thing you notice, though, is that it is noticeably faster. It only takes around 30 seconds to restart the entire system.

On the outside, the only feature that distinguishes this iMac from the last one is the video output. With the right adapter, you can now plug in one of Apple's 20-in. or 23-in. displays and extend your desktop into that space. (Previously, any external monitor simply mirrored what was on the iMac's own screen.) On the inside, of course, it's running a 2GHz dual-core processor that Apple says has been tested at roughly two times the speed of the old G5.

Perhaps you're thinking about upgrading to one of the new Intel Macs, either the iMac or the 15-in. MacBook Pro due out in February, but you're worried that your old software won't work well. Here's the deal: Apple has asked its software partners to compile programs in a "universal" format, which means they'll have two sets of execution code written side by side. Anything that isn't written for Intel will be handled in the computer's background. You won't have any kind of "Classic" environment popping up. The catch is that a few of Apple's higher-end programs won't work this way, including Final Cut Pro, Motion, Soundtrack Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Aperture, Logic Pro, Logic Express, Shake and Final Cut Express. If you run any of those on a regular basis and plan to get an Intel-based Mac, you'll have to "crossgrade" to the new editions, due by the end of March.

As you might have expected, the iLife suite of multimedia software has been recompiled for the Intel platforms. What you might not have known is that it has also been overhauled, in a brand new '06 edition. Highlights of the new iLife release include a faster, easier-to-manipulate iPhoto with a picture capacity of up to 250,000 shots; an iMovie with pre-produced themes so you can Hollywood up your home movies with opening credits and scene changes; Garageband with do-it-yourself podcasting tools; and a new application, called iWeb, that helps you build your own slick web pages. The only thing that's easy to complain about is a new feature in iTunes called MiniStore, a panel that tells you what other music you can buy based on what you're listening to at the moment. It's uncharacteristically tacky, but as Apple folks are quick to point out, you don't have to turn it on.

Apple's new product line, both hardware and software, offers a lot to digest but don't worry. We'll revisit it again soon when the MacBook Pro, a sort of iMac on wheels, ships next month.