Apple slims down iMac 40% with 'friction-stir welding' & ditching the disc drive

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited April 2014
Apple's new iMac updates the company's flagship Macintosh into a faster, faster and ? in particular ? thinner version of itself.

Apple's iMac turned 14 this year. To celebrate, the company gave it a modernizing update, importing a series of ideas that have driven MacBook sales to the top of the notebook market.

The iMac was already Apple's most popular desktop model, despite being a relatively premium priced machine that already focused on design elegance than delivering the most transistors at the cheapest price.

iMac 2012


The latest refresh delivers a much thinner outline lacking an optical drive, as AppleInsider anticipated earlier in the year.

It now joins every other Mac (apart from the Mac Pro, which Apple's chief executive said would be next updated significantly in 2013) in ditching built-in support for reading or writing optical discs, although all models can make use of the external USB SuperDrive Apple has sold since first releasing a MacBook Air without a disc reader.

Dropping a bulky disc mechanism allowed Apple to pare the iMac down to its core, resulting in an impressively thin outline, particularly at its outer edges where the case tapers to a skinny 5 mm. Overall volume was scaled back 40 percent.

iMac 2012

Too thin to take apart

"That required unprecedented feats of engineering," Apple notes, including the challenge of attaching the front and back case components together.

Conventional welding wouldn't work, so the company switched to a process known as "friction-stir welding," which it says "uses a combination of intense friction-generated heat and pressure to intermix the molecules of the two aluminum surfaces ? creating a seamless, precise, and superstrong join."

The case isn't just hard to crack, it's not designed for end users to open at all. The smaller 21.5 inch version even lacks a user accessible cover to access RAM, which the 27 inch model retains. Both can, however, be upgraded if the entire case is opened up.

Apple says the smaller version supports up to 16GB, while the 27-inch model can be configured with 8, 16 or up to 32GB of RAM, using 1600MHz DDR3 SO-DIMM memory.

The removal of the optical drive and thin new redesign puts the SDXC Flash Card slot on the back of the machine, next to its 4 USB 3.0 ports, 2 Thunderbolt, 1 Gigabit Ethernet and a headphone jack.

iMac 2012


Apple previously experimented with iMac designs that allowed users to effortlessly lift the entire back panel off, even pull major components out for replacement via mail in the case of failure. That system did not go over well at all, failing to save any money on repairs while complicating the system's design.

While Apple takes a lot of flack for not making its systems easy to open and tinker with, the reality is that Apple's sealed boxes enable it to offer thinner, lighter, cheaper-to-build systems that people have bought in rapidly increasing numbers.

iMac 2012

Screen improvements

The latest iMac also employs a new display assembly that fuses the display to the glass covering the screen, eliminating a 2 mm air gap while also using a super thin LCD that sheds another 5 mm.

iMac 2012


In addition to getting thinner, the eliminated dead space also reduces reflections of the screen off the back of its glass.

Micron-thin antireflective layers of silicon dioxide and niobium pentoxide are plasma coated to the front of the display, which Apple says further reduces reflections by 75 percent.

New chips, faster graphics

Apple's 21.5 inch iMac, priced starting at $1,299, offers a third generation "Ivy Bridge" 2.7 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, and 1 TB hard drive. It begins shipping in November.

The 27-inch iMac starts at $1,799, with a 2.9 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, and 1 TB hard drive, and is expected to be available in December.

iMac


Both models offer upgrade options that include a faster Core i5 (up to 3.2GHz) or a 3.1 or 3.4GHz Core i7, as well as a Fusion Drive option that accelerates the hard drive using an adaptive 128GB flash storage system. The 21-inch model also supports a 3TB hard drive or 768GB of pure flash storage.

image

Additionally, the new iMacs switch from AMD (ATI) Radeon graphics (which they've used for the last three years) to an NVIDIA GeForce chip employing the GPU maker's new Kepler graphics architecture.

iMac 2012

The new iMacs use either a GeForce GT 640/650/660M with 512MB of GDDR5 memory, offering an performance increase of around 20-40 percent, or the option (on the 27 inch model) of the GeForce GTX 675MX/680MX, which Apple says increases graphics performance by up to 60 percent. It uses 1GB GDDR5 memory as well as a 2GB option.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 194
    flabberflabber Posts: 100member
    I can't wait to see the benchmarks and Bootcamp possibilities (aka install via USB stick and such) :)
  • Reply 2 of 194
    flabberflabber Posts: 100member
    I can't wait to see the benchmarks and Bootcamp possibilities (aka install via USB stick and such) :)
  • Reply 3 of 194
    all well and good, but you need to buy the 27" model or else you get stuck with a 5400RPM hard drive and memory upgrades restricted by apple service.
  • Reply 4 of 194


    I don't like how disingenuous the pictures of it are, you know? Yeah, it's thinner… at it's thinnest point. I don't see any MacBook Air pictures trying to hide its bulge.


     


    And I don't really get why they couldn't have made RAM user-upgradable in the 21.5" model, but we'll have to wait until iFixit breaks one apart (and gives it a zero repairability rating) to see if it would have been possible.

  • Reply 5 of 194
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,590member
    i'll probably wait a couple months before I order mine. I wonder how much effort is needed to open the whole case?
  • Reply 6 of 194
    evilutionevilution Posts: 1,337member


    Has no one else noticed the frankly ludicrous position of the SD card slot!

  • Reply 7 of 194
    noirdesirnoirdesir Posts: 1,027member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by dalidrama View Post



    all well and good, but you need to buy the 27" model or else you get stuck with a 5400RPM hard drive and memory upgrades restricted by apple service to anybody with suction cups.


    Here, corrected that for you.

  • Reply 8 of 194

    Quote:


    i'll probably wait a couple months before I order mine. I wonder how much effort is needed to open the whole case?



     


    The article says it's not designed for users to open at all. The friction welding of the front to the back prevents that. I'm not sure how Apple plans on servicing failed hard drives etc., but I would expect it requires special tools to go in via the screen. Why would you need to open it anyway? If you need to do a repair, best take it to Apple. If you want to upgrade it, you're probably buying the wrong computer.

  • Reply 9 of 194
    I think dropping the DVD from the iMac, and making them difficult to service/upgrade is a mistake. These are not laptops, so dropping the weight is not worth the trade off.
  • Reply 10 of 194
    quinneyquinney Posts: 2,521member
    I don't like how disingenuous the pictures of it are, you know? Yeah, it's thinner… at it's thinnest point. I don't see any MacBook Air pictures trying to hide its bulge.

    And I don't really get why they couldn't have made RAM user-upgradable in the 21.5" model, but we'll have to wait until iFixit breaks one apart (and gives it a zero repairability rating) to see if it would have been possible.

    They might have to break out their intra-molecular spudger.
  • Reply 11 of 194
    quadra 610quadra 610 Posts: 6,741member


    Removed the optical drive?


     


    About damn time. 

  • Reply 12 of 194


    I love the look of it, but I prefer to keep my current iMac with the built-in DVD player/burner. Seems a bit retrograde to put the disc reader/writer back on the desktop.

  • Reply 13 of 194
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    I don't like how disingenuous the pictures of it are, you know? Yeah, it's thinner… at it's thinnest point. I don't see any MacBook Air pictures trying to hide its bulge.
    Why do you think they are trying to hid the bulge over just taking the most attractive picture possible. This is not the first time Apple hasn't shown the back of their product in print ad.

    You could say Apple is trying to hid the bulge in this image if you wanted to but I think you'd agree that it's just a shot from the front, nothing dubious: http://images.apple.com/macbookair/images/design_multitouch.jpg
  • Reply 14 of 194


    Originally Posted by quinney View Post

    They might have to break out their intra-molecular spudger.


     


    Does that come in metal, too? I find the plastic ones start to get all… torn up after a while. image

  • Reply 15 of 194
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    I love the look of it, but I prefer to keep my current iMac with the built-in DVD player/burner. Seems a bit retrograde to put the disc reader/writer back on the desktop.

    If you need it you need it, but I wonder what you need it for in this day and age? Are you a wedding photographer on the weekends?
  • Reply 16 of 194
    crimguycrimguy Posts: 116member


    I noticed.  Ergonomics are weird, although I've accidentally put sd cards in the dvd slot when I wasn't looking ;-D


     


    I think the new imac is very attractive, but frankly a step backward in every other way (except performance).


     


    This computer, as one Macrumors user posited, seems geared to a purely consumer/home user demographic, perhaps to segment itself from any future Mac Pro models that come out. 


     


    Well, i have a few imacs at my law office, and these computers are really not viable designs overall.  I don't know where DED, or Apple, gets the statistic that it doesn't save money to have user-accessible parts inside.  I had to swap out a bum hard drive on my 2007 iMac.  That cost me $70 versus a heck of a lot more through apple (who would have only given me a 250GB drive, whereas I got a 1TB drive instead).  I upgraded ram  on a 27" iMac to 12GB for about $50.  I expect apple to charge $150-200 to go from 8 to 16 GB of RAM.


     


    I'm not even going into the need for an external DVD, which, I'm sorry to say Mr. Cook, is the "now" and not the "past," at least if you work in any professional field.  All my discovery comes on CD/DVD.  I can live with an external drive, however, as I can throw it in a drawer when not used, and it will doubtlessly offer better performance than what you've put in my iMacs.


     


    Nice computer, but I think I'd rather get last years model as a refurb.

  • Reply 17 of 194
    isaidsoisaidso Posts: 750member
    Didn't realize there was no easy RAM access. Maybe a little concerning...? We'll see.
  • Reply 18 of 194
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    jongrall wrote: »
    The article says it's not designed for users to open at all. The friction welding of the front to the back prevents that. I'm not sure how Apple plans on servicing failed hard drives etc., but I would expect it requires special tools to go in via the screen. Why would you need to open it anyway? If you need to do a repair, best take it to Apple. If you want to upgrade it, you're probably buying the wrong computer.

    As previously noted we've been entering iMacs via the magnetically attached glass with suction cups. There were no screws to undue to get the mass of components on the inside, save for the RAM, which is still accessible externally on the 27" model.

    Personally, I'm hella excited and can't wait for this to drop in December.
  • Reply 19 of 194
    I too am disappointed that the SSD drive is not being offered in the 21.5". I was waiting to upgrade to that configuration as I wanted to eliminate all of the fan noise along with the speed increase.
  • Reply 20 of 194


    Originally Posted by isaidso View Post

    Didn't realize there was no easy RAM access. Maybe a little concerning...? We'll see.


     


    Only on the 21.5". The 27" has four slot access still.

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