Hey Apple, don't forget these Macs need updates, too

An updated iPhone is great, but most of Apple's Mac laptops and desktops still have outdated processors.

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Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
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3 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's September 10 event has iPhones front and center in the minds of industry watchers, but that doesn't mean that's the only topic that will be covered during the presentation.

The company often includes updates for other product lines, software updates, and, in this case, likely more information on iOS 7 and perhaps OS X Mavericks.

CNET's live coverage of Apple's September 10 event

But if I may offer a suggestion, this would be the perfect time to slip in some modest internal upgrades for most of the Mac line of computers. The only recently upgraded Macs are the 13-inch and 11-inch MacBook Air, both of which received Intel's latest fourth-generation Core i-series processors, sometimes referred to by the code name Haswell. This internal-only upgrade resulted in amazing battery life gains, with up to 14 hours of running time for the 13-inch Air.

But, that left us with the unusual circumstance of Apple's entry-level laptop line (if $999 can be called entry-level) being a generation ahead of its premium MacBook Pro line, to say nothing of the desk-bound iMac or Mac Mini.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, which still have Intel's third-generation Core i-series chips, could definitely benefit from the switch to Haswell-generation parts, especially as they're more expensive than the Air models, starting at $1,499 and $2,199, despite being a generation behind.

Likewise, the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro, currently the only Apple laptops with a built-in optical drive, could use new CPUs to keep them from feeling quite so dated. Despite starting at $1,199 and $1,799, these workhorses have lower-res displays (1,280x800 and 1,440x900 pixels) than most comparable Windows laptops. While both the Air and Retina Pro come with solid-state drives for storage as the default, an SSD is only available as an expensive add-on here. Of course, there's always the chance these non-Retina MacBook Pro models will finally be put out to pasture, so we may never seem them refreshed at all.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The all-in-one desktop iMac got a complete design overhaul in 2012, and we shouldn't expect a new look either tomorrow or later in 2013. For a system with no internal battery, the benefits of a spec update to Intel's new CPUs are less obvious than in a laptop, but there are some performance gains to be had, plus general power efficiency.

The small Mac Mini, sometimes forgotten amid the other Macs, has actually been kept fairly up-to-date until now, and the current version has the same third-generation Intel Core i-series processors as most of the other Macs. While the Mac Mini would also not benefit from the better battery life offered by Intel's new chips, the improved internal graphics could help with casual gaming, video playback, and other tasks.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Separate from the above, Apple has already announced a new Mac Pro desktop. That high-end system is skipping Intel's new consumer chips entirely, and going with workstation Xeon processors. The Mac Pro is expected later in 2013, but we're still waiting for a release date and price.

Will we see any of these Mac systems updated as a side note to Apple's September 10 iPhone announcement? Probably not, although that would put each of these systems on much firmer footing going into the holiday shopping season, as purchasers could be sure they were not buying a computer that would be replaced by a newer model before the end of the year.

If Haswell updates come to the rest of the Mac family, it may be at a later event, such as the unconfirmed but expected October iPad event, or simply as a spec change added to Apple's Web site and online store with little fanfare, alongside the expected fall release of the OS X Mavericks operating-system update.