Hands on: The 24-in. iMac -- talk about a wow factor

I haven't seen this much in-house attention to an Apple product since the Mac Mini

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In other words, if you do go out and buy an iMac, for productivity's sake, don't open it up at work.

In case you missed the Sept. 6 announcement, Apple updated its entire iMac lineup, pushing the envelope at both the top and bottom end of the price universe. At the bottom end is a 17-in. version that just slips under the magic $1,000 price point by a dollar. And while it's a fully capable entry-level machine, buyers will be hard-pressed not to opt for spending another $200 on a version that offers a faster processor, twice the RAM, more shared Level 2 cache, a SuperDrive and dedicated video RAM. In other words, if you're seriously eyeing the $999 model, figure out a way to scrape up the extra $200 for the next model up. It's worth it.

Apple also updated the former top-of-the-line 20-in. iMac, and dropped the price on it to $1,499. If you don't need 24 inches of screen real estate, this is the best buy in my book.

But if you do need the big screen, or even if you don't but can't resist getting it anyway, the 24-in. version is absolutely sure to please. It may not have quite the horsepower of the Mac Pro desktop machines, but it's got more than enough for about 90% of users.

"The whole line is faster and more affordable," said Laura Metz, product manager for desktops at Apple. "The Core 2 Duo processor is up to 2.33 GHz [and offers] up to 50% faster performance than what was previously available with the Core Duo processor in the earlier iMacs. We want to put more and more performance in a desktop computer."

According to Metz, the new processor -- which is not only faster in raw processing power but uses a different architecture and 4MB of Level 2 cache for another speed boost -- turns in real-world performance that is between 30% and 50% faster than the previous generation of iMacs. "Whether it's from the moment you turn on the computer to searching the Web or doing more intensive tasks on things like Final Cut Pro, it's our nature to want things to be faster," she said.

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