April 23, 2011

∴ New iMacs Imminent, But...

Supplies of iMac machines are drying up, even on Apple's own web store (9To5Mac). It means only one thing when Apple product supplies become constrained: a model refresh is imminent. Before picking out a shiny, new iMac when they drop, consider a strategy I've been using with my newish MacBook Pro: dual use.

The iMac and MacBook Pro are internally the same machine. Same connectors, same processors, same memory, same hard drive options (for the most part ... the iMac gives you the option of pairing an SSD with a hard drive, something you'd have to hack a MacBook Pro to achieve). There are only a couple of significant differences. The iMac possesses either a 21.5- or 27-inch display. The MacBook Pro provides mobility.

Here's how to get the best of both worlds. Rather than a new iMac, pick up a new MacBook Pro, instead. Spec it out with 8 GB of RAM and a one terabyte hard drive, or splurge on a speedy SSD. Pick a 13-inch model for greatest mobility, or a 15-inch model if you don't mind the added weight, price and awkwardness.

Now add a BookArc ($50). This moderately priced item holds your new laptop vertically on the desktop, allowing access to the optical drive and cable connectors and keeping the rear cooling vents clear while presenting the smallest possible footprint.

Next add a 27-inch Apple Cinema Display ($1000). This gives you the display area of an iMac at a fraction of the price. Remember, with a MacBook Pro in hand you already have the computer. This item gives you the big display for desktop use. Bonus: it comes with a mini DisplayPort cable that carries audio, video and USB signals from your laptop, perfect for hooking up your MacBook Pro.

You'll also want an external Bluetooth keyboard ($70) and mouse ($70). If you prefer, USB-connected Mac keyboards and mice can plug right into the Cinema Display. If you prefer the feel of your MacBook Pro's trackpad, there's always this ($70).

This works nearly as well with a MacBook Air in place of a MacBook Pro, but you're limited to 4 GB RAM and a smaller SSD. The Air's processors are significantly slower, but that should be remedied by a refresh in the next month or two.

Now fire it all up. What do you have? The equivalent of an iMac in a portable package, for a whole lot less money than the price of both, and only a few hundred more than the price of an iMac alone.