After weeks of rumor mongering and days of dried up channel inventory, Apple on Tuesday finally refreshed its iMac family. The signature aluminum and glass design remained unchanged, but a look under the hood reveals the latest Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5 and i7 processors from Intel, the new high-speed Thunderbolt I/O interface developed in co-operation with Intel, a FaceTime HD camera and storage upgrades across the board.

The 21.5-inch models have one Thunderbolt port and 27-inchers have two. Apple says the new processors deliver up to 70 percent faster performance while AMD graphics with “a powerful new media engine for high-performance video encoding and decoding” is responsible for a threefold jump in performance over the previous generation.

The release quoted Apple’s marketing honcho Phil Schiller:

Our customers love the iMac’s aluminum enclosure, gorgeous display and all-in-one design. With next generation quad-core processors, powerful new graphics, Thunderbolt technology and a FaceTime HD camera, we’ve made the world’s best desktop even better.

The new FaceTime HD camera supports high-def video calling between all FaceTime HD-enabled Macs and standard-resolution calls with iPad 2, iPhone 4, the current-generation iPod touch and other Intel-based Macs. This refresh has brought the quad-core performance of the Intel Core i5 processors to the entire family, with an option to upgrade to a Core i7 chip up to 3.4GHz.

Four new SKUs have replaced the previous models with two 21.5-inch and two 27-inc computers, beginning with the $1,199 entry-level 2.5GHz 21.5-incher and all the way up to the flagship $1,999 27-inch iMac with a 3.1GHz processors. More information and the official press release right after the break.

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The 21.5-incher is available in two variants: one with a 2.5 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, AMD Radeon HD 6750M and 500GB hard drive and the other with a 2.7 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, AMD Radeon HD 6770M and 1TB hard drive.

The flagship 27-inch machine also comes in two flavors: Either a 2.7 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 with AMD Radeon HD 6770M graphics and 1TB hard drive or a 3.1 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 with AMD Radeon HD 6970M graphics and 1TB hard drive. Custom configurations include a faster 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 processors, additional 2TB hard drive, a 256GB solid state drive, additional DDR3 memory and AppleCare Protection Plan.

All new models cost the same as previous models and include 4GB of RAM, IPS display technology for sharp image at wide viewing angles, an SD card slot supporting high-capacity SDXC memory cards, the wireless Apple Keyboard and Magic Mouse and more.

Here’s full press release from Apple:

CUPERTINO, California—May 3, 2011—Apple® today updated its signature all-in-one iMac® with next generation quad-core processors, powerful new graphics, groundbreaking high-speed Thunderbolt I/O technology and a new FaceTime® HD camera. Starting at $1,199, the new iMac is up to 70 percent faster and new graphics deliver up to three times the performance of the previous generation.*

“Our customers love the iMac’s aluminum enclosure, gorgeous display and all-in-one design,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “With next generation quad-core processors, powerful new graphics, Thunderbolt technology and a FaceTime HD camera, we’ve made the world’s best desktop even better.”

The new iMac features quad-core Intel Core i5 processors with an option for customers to choose Core i7 processors up to 3.4 GHz. These next generation processors feature an integrated memory controller for an amazingly responsive experience and a powerful new media engine for high-performance video encoding and decoding. With new AMD Radeon HD graphics processors, the new iMac has the most powerful graphics ever in an all-in-one desktop.

iMac is the first desktop computer on the market to include groundbreaking Thunderbolt I/O technology. The 21.5-inch iMac has a single Thunderbolt port while the 27-inch model features two ports for even greater expansion. Developed by Intel with collaboration from Apple, Thunderbolt enables expandability never before possible on an all-in-one computer. Featuring two bi-directional channels with transfer speeds up to an amazing 10Gbps each, Thunderbolt delivers PCI Express directly to external high performance peripherals such as RAID arrays, and can support FireWire® and USB consumer devices, and Gigabit Ethernet networks via adapters. Thunderbolt also supports DisplayPort for high resolution displays and works with existing adapters for HDMI, DVI and VGA displays. Freely available for implementation on systems, cables and devices, Thunderbolt technology is expected to be widely adopted as a new standard for high performance I/O.

iMac includes a built-in FaceTime HD camera and Apple’s innovative FaceTime software for crisp, widescreen video calling the whole family can enjoy. The new camera supports high definition video calls between all FaceTime HD-enabled Macs and standard resolution calls with iPad® 2, iPhone® 4, the current generation iPod touch® and other Intel-based Macs. The iMac continues to feature its signature aluminum and glass design, gorgeous IPS LED-backlit high resolution display, SD card slot and comes with Apple’s innovative Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad.

Continuing Apple’s commitment to the environment, Apple’s desktop line is a leader in green design. The iMac meets stringent Energy Star 5.2 requirements and achieves EPEAT Gold rating.** iMac features LED-backlit displays that are mercury-free and made with arsenic-free glass. iMac uses PVC-free components and cables, contains no brominated flame retardants, uses highly recyclable materials and features material-efficient system and packaging designs.

Every Mac comes with Mac OS® X Snow Leopard®, the world’s most advanced operating system, and iLife®, Apple’s innovative suite of applications for creating and sharing great photos, movies and music. Snow Leopard builds on more than a decade of innovation and includes the Mac App Store℠ for finding great new apps for your Mac. iLife ’11 features iPhoto® with stunning full screen views for browsing, editing and sharing photos; iMovie® with powerful easy-to-use tools to transform home videos into fun theatrical trailers; and GarageBand® with new ways to improve your playing and create great sounding songs.

Pricing & Availability
The new iMac is available through the Apple Store® (www.apple.com), Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers. The 21.5-inch iMac is available in two configurations: one with a 2.5 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, AMD Radeon HD 6750M and 500GB hard drive for a suggested retail price of $1,199 (US); and one with a 2.7 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, AMD Radeon HD 6770M and 1TB hard drive for a suggested retail price of $1,499 (US). The new 27-inch iMac is available in two models: one with a 2.7 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, AMD Radeon HD 6770M and 1TB hard drive for a suggested retail price of $1,699 (US); and one with a 3.1 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, AMD Radeon HD 6970M and 1TB hard drive for a suggested retail price of $1,999 (US).

Configure-to-order options include faster Intel Core i7 processors up to 3.4 GHz, additional hard drive capacity up to 2TB, a 256GB solid state drive, additional DDR3 memory and AppleCare® Protection Plan. Additional technical specifications and configure-to-order options and accessories are available online at http://www.apple.com/imac.

*Testing conducted by Apple in April 2011 using preproduction iMac configurations. For more information visit http://www.apple.com/imac/features.html.

**Claim based on energy efficiency categories and products listed within the EPA ENERGY STAR 5.2 energy database as of April 2011. EPEAT is an independent organization that helps customers compare the environmental performance of notebooks and desktops. Products meeting all of the 23 required criteria and at least 75 percent of the optional criteria are recognized as EPEAT Gold products. The EPEAT program was conceived by the US EPA and is based on IEEE 1680 standard for Environmental Assessment of Personal Computer Products. For more information visit http://www.epeat.net.

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and has recently introduced iPad 2 which is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices.

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