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Articles: The Real Star of The Apple Updates - The 24" LED Display

Uncharacteristically, early in the morning, Apple updated over half the Mac lineup. Most updates from Apple happen to just one product line at 10 AM on a given Tuesday morning. This time, Apple updated the Mac Pro, Mac mini, iMac, 15 MacBook Pro, Airport Extreme base station, and Time Capsule all at once and before most of us had our coffee. Despite all these updates, the real star of todays changes was barely mentioned, and that is the Apple 24 LED Cinema Display, now that it can attach to almost any new Mac.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="150" caption="The New 24" Apple LED Display"]The New 24 Apple LED Display[/caption]

When introduced, the 24 LED Apple Cinema Display was useful only to new Unibody MacBook (Pro, Air) computers. For any other Mac you had to look at the old style displays. Many a Mac fan bought, and then had to return, the 24 display due to the misunderstanding that they could use the Mini Display Port-driven monitor on any Mac with the use of an adapter. No adapter exists that can convert a DVI signal to a Display Port Signal. Display Port is a new signal type, and even though the connection used in the Macs can be adapted down to the DVI or VGA connections that older displays use, it is not yet possible to go the other direction. What needed to change was the video card used by Macs, and that is just what Apple did almost all at once.

It is obvious that Apple has been saving up these updates to release together and complete the transition to 100% Mini Display Port compatibility. But with that change came many more improvements. Most notably are the changes in the Mac Pro. Sadly for some, the exterior has not changed, but the internal arrangement has, and I think for the better. The RAM and processors have been mounted on a removable sled, very similar to the Power Mac 6400/6500 design. The RAM per system has also changed a little. Each RAM slot is now more tightly tied to the processor so that the single quad core Mac Pros only have four slots and the dual quad core (eight core) Mac Pros have 8 slots, four for each processor. Much like the RAM pairing of the previous Mac Pros, the new 1066MHz DDR3 ECC SDRAM used works best when installed in groups of three. The fourth spot is better used for expansion down the road, or maxing out the system.

One oddity is that the single CPU model inexplicably maxes out at 8GB while the dual CPU model can go up to 32GB. The CPU appears to be on the daughterboard with the memory, and these new processors are using the Core i7-style integrated memory controllers. The quad-core 1 CPU model uses the Xeon EN 3500 while the 2 CPU model uses the Xeon EP 5500, which may explain why we are seeing markedly different memory arrangements between the two models.

This would be good to keep in mind when looking at which Mac Pro to get. If you pick the single CPU model, you will be restricted to 8GB of memory, if you go for the 2 CPU model, you can max out at 32GB of memory. Intel hasn't published any official documentation for the Xeon 3500 processors yet so it is unclear whether it supports 4GB
DIMMs or not or if this is an artificial limit imposed by Apple. DDR3 memory will run slightly faster if it is installed in sets of 3, but it isn't a requirement.

The Quad-Core Intel Xeon Nehalem processor is also a great improvement in chip architecture which is supposed to do more with less Ghz. I cant wait to see how much the practical real-world speed is increased, but I am sure it will be noticeable, if not outstanding (with the right apps). Another interesting change I noticed is a third keyboard option, aside from languages. The default still is the wired Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad and you can get the Wireless Apple Keyboard without numeric keypad, but now there is also the Apple Keyboard which is a wired keyboard that has the small layout just like the Wireless Apple Keyboard without the numeric keypad. It will be interesting to see how much demand there is for the smaller keyboard; many of the people who write me like a ten-key on their keyboards. Perhaps Apple knows something about the trend for input devices, or it could also be that they figured since the majority of computer users are using laptops, which dont have the ten-key, no one is going to miss them anyway.

The Mac mini was the most deserving of Macs to receive an update. Not only was there a graphics and processor upgrade, but many of the ports were also improved upon. Now there are five USB 2.0 ports, and a FireWire 800 port replaces the FireWire 400 port. The DVI port has been replaced by two new display connections. Now it has a Mini-DVI port, with an included Mini-DVI to DVI adapter, and a Mini Display Port. Just like the Mac Pro, you can have two displays connected to the Mac mini in an extended Desktop mode. This brings the Mac mini closer to the long-missing consumer tower. The Mac Pro is a ton of computer for a non-professional, and the old Mac mini was a little light in power-user feature. The improvements made will not satisfy all, but it is a good concession, and a good Mac.

The updated iMac and MacBook Pro 15 became beefier, and in the iMacs case a little cheaper. The iMac now uses the Mini Display Port so you could have twin 24 LED displays staring back at you from just one iMac. That will be my next dream home system. Of interest, the numeric keypad-less Apple Keyboard is standard equipment now for the iMacs.

Both the Airport Extreme Base Station and Time Capsules received a radio upgrade. The benefit of this upgrade is that it allows you to maintain different simultaneous wireless networks: one for your connections, then an Internet-only network for friends and moochers. You can also have slower connected devices on the 2.4 GHz wireless band and keep your faster 802.11n devices on a 5 GHz band. This will allow all your devices to communicate at their fastest respective speeds, which is great if you push video files from computer to computer at home.

There are many smaller updates to each models specs that I did not get to, but that is what happens when Apple springs such a shift in Mac hardware all at once. If you were waiting to upgrade any of your Macs, now is the time to decide where to spend your money. It is rare we get such a clean product rollover all at once. No question, the better Mac has just come around the corner. Which one will be yours?
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