Apple Retools iMac Line

Updated from 12:22 p.m. EDT

Apple Computer's ( AAPL) Macintosh line has been running only on Intel ( INTC) processors for eight months, but the company has already started to upgrade them.

Apple announced on Wednesday that it is replacing the Core Duo chips within its iMac line of consumer desktops with Intel's latest processors, the Core 2 Duo line. According to Apple, its iMacs will now be up to 50% faster than its previous ones, thanks to the new chips.

Additionally, the company introduced new top-end and low-end iMac models and essentially cut prices on the two previous versions of the all-in-one computer. The base prices for the line now range from about $1,000 to $2,000.

As it did with the previous iMacs, the company appears to be using laptop versions of Intel's chips. The chips within the computers range in speed from 1.83 GHz on the entry level model to 2.16 GHz for the top two versions. Those correspond to the chip speeds available on Intel's notebook processors, but not its desktop ones. Interestingly, Apple chose not to incorporate Intel's top end Core 2 Duo processor, which runs at 2.33 GHz, in the standard configurations. That chip is available as an option on the top two iMac models.

The new high-end iMac, which carries a price tag of $1,999, includes not only the 2.16 GHz chip but 1GB of SDRAM, a 250GB hard drive and an Nvidia ( NVDA) GeForce 7300 graphics chip with 128MB of dedicated graphics memory. The 24-inch screen is the largest one Apple has ever offered on the iMac line.

The new low-end iMac includes the 1.83GHz processor, a 17-inch screen, a 160GB hard drive and 512MB of memory. The model appears to replace the education iMac that Apple briefly offered to students and teachers in July. Although the company is selling the model for $999 to retail customers, students and teachers can get it for $899, the same price for which it sold the previous version.

Apple discontinued that offer after just a week, barring sales of the education version to individuals, instead restricting them to institutions.

Apple slashed the price on its two mid-line models by $100 and $200, respectively. The 17-inch version with a 2GHz processor now sells for $1,199; the comparable version with the older chips sold for $1,299. The 20-inch model with a 2.16GHz chip sells for $1,499. Its predecessor cost $1,699.

The price cuts and speed boosts seem to be in line with what analysts expected when Apple announced last year that it would be switching over to Intel chips. Previously, the company relied on PowerPC processors made by IBM ( IBM) and Freescale ( FSL). One of the reasons Apple cited for the architecture change was the more robust road map for Intel's processors as compared with that of the PowerPC line.

Analysts had predicted that the switch to Intel would allow Apple to make its computers more price- and performance-competitive with PC rivals.

Apple announced in January that it was updating the iMac line to include Intel chips, making it the first Macintosh model to switch underlying architecture from the PowerPC processors. The company has now moved over its entire Macintosh line to Intel processors.

The move to Intel seems to boosting the company's computer sales. On a unit basis, Apple's computer sales were up 12% in its most recent quarter from the same period a year earlier, even though it had only limited quantities of some of its new Intel-based models during the period and had yet to update its line of professional desktop computers.

In recent trading, Apple's stock was up 17 cents, or 0.2%, to $71.65.

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