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Apple apes rumour sites with 50lb monster Mac

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Analysis Apple paid the Mac rumor sites a backhanded compliment today with the launch of its new eMac. The new machine closely resembles some of the mock-ups of 17inch CRTs created by Mac fans throughout 1999 and 2000, when it was one of the most requested new products. The eMac is the classic iMac shape form factor, with added pituitary gland trouble, and weighs in at 50lb, although the short-neck CRT used by Apple makes for a shorter product, by a fraction. The demand for overweight iMacs fell away a little when it became clear how fast LCD prices were falling, making a flat panel iMac economically feasible.

But joking aside, Apple is defending its schools franchise with renewed tenacity. This is the first education-only product since the mid-90s, when the StrongARM-based, NewtonOS-powered eMate made its tentative debut. Few who saw one of the charming subnotebooks left without wanting one. But will the eMac have the same appeal?

It's certainly keenly priced, starting at $999, well below the $1599 street price of a flat panel iMac. (Educational institutions pay rather less, $1299, for the standard CD-RW iMac2). But just to make sure the LCD line isn't cannibalized, there are some compromises in the eMac that aren't apparently obvious. The version with a DVD/CD-RW drive and a modem costs $1199, and the curiously priced and specced $1456 model buys you 512MB of RAM, with the stand thrown. Er, … that's it. Same processor, same hard drive. Just more memory and a stand. But these folks have got MBAs, right? So what do we know.

The optical drive in the base model is a vanilla CD-ROM, inline with the equivalent bottom-end"classic" iMac, which is still on sale (for $699). But the monitor certainly isn't top of the range: it doesn't match the refresh rates of the now-discontinued 17" CRT Studio Display, for example. That model could comfortably display 1152 pixels at 90Hz, and 1024 at 100Hz. The eMac goes for a lower refresh rates: 1024 at 89Hz, 1152 at 80Mhz and 1280 at a headache-inducing 72Hz. That should deter OS X users - who more than most, can use the higher resolutions - from considering the eMac as a cheap X machine.

Apple designed the product some months before LCD prices started to head North, so it's another sign of good stewardship: the company wasn't banking on LCDs falling far enough to meet the price sensitive schools market. Or if it was, this was the Plan B. Two summers ago, the company gifted Dell a victory be re-organizing the channel at the height of the buying season, with disastrous consequences. These days, Apple is playing a lot more to attention to a market it helped pioneer. Just as the Apple II continued to proliferate after the introduction of the Mac, so the classic iMac line gets a new lease of life. This one could run and run. ®

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