These are interesting times for Mac users. It has been a full year now with IBM's G5 in Power Macs, and the trickle down of G5s to consumer machines is beginning.
Given Steve Jobs' subtle hints at the Worldwide Developers Conference and the odd but revealing statements on the Apple Store website, it's clear that we'll see a G5 based iMac or iMac-replacement on August 31 at Apple Expo, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Mac. Yes folks, the first mass-produced GUI-driven personal computer is 20 years old this year. How quickly they grow up. And to think, it was this very event in Apple history that caused me to switch from Apple to Microsoft-powered PCs. And I stayed there until just a few years ago... When OS X 10.1 came out I immediately bought my first Mac. It was an iBook, and I liked it (and OS X) so much that just one year later I upgraded to a 15" PowerBook Titanium. But I digress...
So what will the new summer 2004 iMac include? Well, Apple has already stated that it is a new line, which obviously sounds like a new form factor, housing the G5 970FX. Given that the Power Macs are now all duals and start at 1.8 GHz, a single PowerTuned 90 nm 1.8 GHz 970FX (with its favourable heat dissipation characteristics) seems like a perfect fit for the new iMac. Thus, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to think that the new top-of-the-line iMac would be configured something like this:
G5 970FX 1.8 GHz, with 512 KB L2 cache
3:1 multiplier, for a 600 MHz bus
256 MB Single-channel DDR333 memory, with 2-3 memory slots
80 GB 7200 rpm hard drive, upgradable to 160 GB
8X SuperDrive (DVD-R/W, CD-R/W)
nVidia GeForce FX 5600 Ultra 64 MB DDR
Airport Extreme ready
Firewire 400 and USB 2.0 ports
VGA/S-video/composite video output
Analogue audio input and output
And yes, I suspect the new iMac is still going to be an all-in-one, with a built-in LCD screen. I'd love to see a headless iMac (aka Cube-redux, consumerified), but somehow I just don't expect it given Apple's recent history. Apple does always continue to surprise us though.
But most importantly, despite the vastly upgraded CPU and bus speeds, I suspect the price of the new iMac will be LESS than what it is now. The current LCD iMac is a design marvel, but it simply is priced too high for its hardware performance specs. The requirement to buy a built-in LCD sure doesn't help cost-wise either, even if it is a good quality LCD with a digital connection (not analogue VGA). Apple must drop prices to compete, and judging by Fred Anderson's price point comments in the recent past, I believe they will. Furthermore, I believe they can compete favourably, as Apple's aggressive pricing of the dual Power Macs illustrates. The Power Macs may not be the absolute cheapest, but they are a very good value. The current LCD iMacs overall are not, but the introduction of a new G5 line gives Apple the opportunity to change this. The success of the new iMac depends on it, and even more so than cool industrial design.
As for the G5 PowerBook, Apple has already told us it won't be available in 2004. That is unfortunate, but a G5 1.8 GHz PowerBook running OS X 10.4 Tiger in the first half of 2005 would be perfect... along with a 6 GB version of the oh-so-sexy iPod mini. Give us that combo, and I'll whip out my credit card faster than you can say Reality Distortion Field™. :)