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Apple adds Retina to 13-in. MacBook Pro, makes iMac customers wait

Subtracts DVD drives from iMacs, adds $100 to price, and delays shipping

Along with the long-rumored iPad Mini, Apple yesterday also refreshed its two best-selling Macs, the 13-in. MacBook Pro and the iMac.

The MacBook Pro got most of the attention, as it followed its larger sibling, the 15-in. notebook by the same name, in adopting a "Retina" high-resolution display.

"The MacBook Pro is thinner, but still pricey," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Gartner, in an interview Tuesday. Earlier in the day, she had tweeted, "While other vendors are cutting back on notebook screen resolution, Apple continues to invest on Retina display for the MacBook line."

Those prices: $1,699 for the entry-level 13-in. MacBook Pro with Retina, $1,999 for the upper-end unit. Both prices are $500 higher than the corresponding Apple notebook minus the higher-resolution screen.

The new 13-in. MacBook Pro is essentially a scaled-down version of the Retina 15-in. that Apple debuted last June, weighing in at 3.6 lbs. versus 4.5 lbs. for the larger laptop (and lighter than the 4.5 lbs. for the 13-in. MacBook Pro sans Retina).

Its 13-in. display produces resolution of 2560-x-1600-pixels, or approximately 227 pixels per inch (ppi), slightly denser than June's pricier Retina 15-in. notebook. The total number of pixels is four times that of the existing 13-in. MacBook Pro.

"Everything on it looks absolutely gorgeous," said Philip Schiller, head of Apple marketing, during the Tuesday launch event.

The form factor is reminiscent of the MacBook Air, but without that ultra-light's tapering case, it's slightly thicker throughout. Like the Air, the new MacBook Pro dumps the traditional platter hard drive and replaces it with an SSD (solid-state drive) composed of flash memory. Standard configurations come with either 128GB or 256GB of storage, but customers can boost that to as much as 768GB for between $1,000 and $1,300.

Both stock models come with 8GB of memory and a 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor that can be factory-upgraded to a 2.9GHz Core i7.

Apple also introduced redesigned iMacs -- both sizes, the 21.5-in. and the 27-in. models -- on Tuesday, raising prices $100 for each.

It was the first refresh of the desktop line since May 2011.

The new all-in-one desktops pack Intel's "Ivy Bridge" 2.7GHz or 2.9GHz quad-core Core i5 processors, 8GB of memory, 1TB hard drives, and Nvidia graphics chipsets with 512MB of RAM.

New to the desktop line is a subtraction rather than an addition: Apple dropped optical drives from the machines.

Apple has been gradually squeezing DVD drives from its systems for several years, and their removal from the iMac marks the completion of that project: The Cupertino, Calif. company no longer sells personal computers with built-in optical drives.

The screens remain the same size -- and contrary to rumors earlier this year, were not upgraded to Retina status -- but have been reengineered, said Schiller, with the cover glass laminated to the LCD. The systems are also substantially thinner, taking a tape at just 5mm (0.2-in.) at their edge.

Resolutions remain 1920-x-1080-pixels for the 21.5-in. iMac, 2560-x-1440-pixels on the 27-in.

Schiller made much of what Apple's called "Fusion Drive," an option that combines 128GB of flash storage with a standard platter-based hard drive of between 1TB and 3TB. OS X and its bundled applications are stored on the flash drive for better performance, but other often-used applications are automatically shifted by OS X Mountain Lion to the faster flash drive.

Fusion Drive is likely not a true hybrid drive, which packs flash and platter drives in a single enclosure, but is better labeled a "hybrid solution," since the controller and software manage where data goes.

OS X Lion and Mountain Lion -- the latter is pre-installed -- have a feature dubbed "Core Storage" that lets the operating system, and thus the user, see multiple physical drives as one logical drive.

Apple's 2011 acquisition of Israeli SSD maker Anobit probably played a major role in the development of Fusion Drive.

The hybrid does not come with any standard configurations Apple has spelled out on its website, but is an option. The company has not disclosed what it will charge for the feature. Storage expert Robin Harris, who blogs on ZDNet and his own StorageMojo, has pegged the additional charge at $250 on a 1TB drive.

Analysts were generally positive about the new iMacs.

"I thought the intro of the hybrid drive was really good, and something users have been waiting for," said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research.

But both Gottheil and Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, were taken aback by the $100 price increase. Apple usually keeps prices steady during hardware refreshes, instead swapping out newer components and adding storage space and RAM, to attract customers.

"That was surprising, especially considering how well the Windows PC makers are doing with all-in-ones," said Moorhead, referring to iMac look-alikes that cost considerably less.

The 21.5-in. iMac starts at $1,299, while the 27-in. desktop begins at $1,799.

Neither will be available soon, however. The smaller iMac, Schiller said Tuesday, will ship next month -- no firmer date than that -- and the 27-in. won't appear until December.

As of Tuesday night, Apple listed the new iMacs on its online store, but was not taking pre-orders. Apple has not said why the new desktops face such long delays, nor has it responded to questions about the inability to pre-order an iMac.

Along with the new Retina 13-in. MacBook Pro and iMacs, Apple also tweaked the Mac Mini by switching to newer Intel processors, the dual-core i5 and quad-core i7. The Mini's prices -- $599 for the lowest-priced model, $999 for one configured for OS X Server that packs two hard drives -- remained the same as the previous generation.

Although the Mac is the longest-lived product in Apple's portfolio, with the first model coming off the line in 1984, personal computers are now a small part of the company's business. In the quarter that ended June 30, Mac sales accounted for just 14% of Apple's total revenue, less than a third of the iPhone's contribution and about half of the iPad's.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Read more about laptops in Computerworld's Laptops Topic Center.


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