Apple desktops Updated January 24, 2006
Apple's legacy may be richer than that of any other PC manufacturer. Dating back to the 1977 debut of the Apple II personal computer, Apple has a history of innovation and taking risks. Those risks haven't always resulted in successful products, but the company currently finds itself riding a hot streak, spurred by the return of company cofounder Steve Jobs in 1997 and the introduction of the first CRT-based iMac
the following year. Though Apple computers represent a significantly smaller portion of the desktop computer market compared to systems running Microsoft's Windows operating system, Apple maintains a dedicated fan base.
Apple sells computers via its own Web site and through brick-and-mortar Apple stores, as well as through various online resellers and retail stores. You can still find older systems in the retail channel, but Apple's Web site lists only the latest models, currently divided into three distinct lines. It's also important to note that Jobs stated at this January's Macworld conference that all Apple desktops will move to Intel-based CPUs by the end of the year. Apple prepared all of its software to run on the new chips, but many of its third-party vendors are still catching up. Everything will still work, thanks to a seamless conversion program called Rosetta, but for multimedia programs especially, it's important to consider what titles you want to use and to find out if they have been converted.
The Power Mac G5 is Apple's largest, most powerful system. Aimed at digital media professionals and well-heeled enthusiasts, it features modern technologies, including dual-core 64-bit processors and liquid cooling. The mainstream iMac Core Duo is the newest member of the family. A thin all-in-one PC with modest specs, the iMac Core Duo is significant because it's the first Apple desktop with an Intel Processor. You can still find the iMac G5, which has nearly all of the same features as the iMac Core Duo, but we don't anticipate that Apple will sell it for long.
The entry-level Mac Mini, only a little larger than the size of five stacked CD jewel cases, is designed for basic computing, especially in places where space is a premium. Finally, the Apple eMac, a variation of the original iMac, is no longer officially for sale to the general public but is sold via Apple's education site to students and educators. You can also find it in the general retail channel, but that may be so only until the current supply expires.
If we have any major complaint about Apple desktops, it's that they're not exactly upgrade friendly. The Mac Mini and the iMac are both meant to be serviced by a technician, not opened yourself. You can do it, but it's a pain, and you run the risk of voiding your warranty if you make a mistake. The Power Mac G5 is a little more internally accessible, but it doesn't have a lot of room. We can imagine a number of professional-level users especially who would want to be able to add multiple hard drives where there's room for only two. Still, the Mac faithful are loyal for a reason, and with Apple's number of recent awards, their numbers are growing.
Apple Power Mac G5
| Apple iMac
| Apple Mac Mini
| Apple eMac
Apple Power Mac G5
The Power Mac G5 is the flagship of Apple's desktop computers. An elegant, full-tower system, the Power Mac G5 features some of the most cutting-edge specs of any desktop PC, let alone those from Apple. Prices start at $1,999 and can skyrocket from there when you start adding memory, advanced graphics, and a Cinema Display or two. The Power Mac G5 is configured specifically for the editing and creation of digital media, so we don't recommend it as a digital entertainment system or a souped-up gaming box. It's also too pricey for a straightforward, day-to-day computer.
If you're looking for a computer that gives you professional-level capability in video, audio, or digital photo editing, however, the Power Mac G5 is largely considered the industry-standard platform. At its highest-end configuration, the Power Mac G5 Quad, you'll find two dual-core 2.5GHz PowerPC G5 processors (hence "Quad"). With all Power Mac G5s, you get a forward-looking motherboard with one x16, one x8, and two x4 PCI Express expansion slots, support for up to 16GB of 533MHz DDR2 graphics memory (an upgrade that will cost you more than $10,000). You also get Apple's new Aperture digital photography suite, in addition to Mac OS X and the consumer-level iLife
It doesn't offer much expansion room compared with high-end, full-tower Windows-based PCs, but with Apple controlling every aspect of its design, the Power Mac G5 is also one the most elegant PCs we've seen
. It's also remarkably quiet, thanks to its liquid-cooling system, the first from a mainstream vendor.
- Price range: $1,999 to more than $10,000
- CPU: Single or double dual-core Apple PowerPC G5 processors, from 2.0GHz to 2.5GHz
- Memory: 512MB to 16GB of 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM
- Graphics: Up to a 512MB SDRAM Nvidia Quadro FX 4500
- Hard drive: 7,200rpm Serial ATA drives from 160GB to 2x 500GB; software RAID control
Apple's midrange all-in-one iMac now lives a dual life. Apple sells both the iMac Core Duo, with a dual-core Intel Core Duo chip inside, as well as the iMac G5, an older system with the PowerPC G5 processor. Both systems have the same sleek design and core features that we love. The iMac G5 won an Editors' Choice award, in fact. The noticeable differences lie mostly in the software.
Currently, there are two camps of Apple software: those titles that have been rewritten for the Intel chips and those that have not. All of Apple's homegrown software, along with the Tiger OS, the new iLife '06 suite that comes standard on all iMac Core Duo systems, and other titles have made the transition. Other vendors--Adobe, for one--are still catching up. The good news is that you can still run older software on the iMac Core Duo, but some titles, especially demanding multimedia software, won't be as fast. If you need a midrange system for heavy-duty Photoshop work, you might want to buy an iMac G5 now or wait for the conversion.
No matter which chip you choose, however, the core design and the primary features are identical. Apple currently offers 17-inch and 20-inch models of both the iMac G5 and the iMac Core Duo. You can upgrade the memory and hard drive size in each, but otherwise the core components are fixed. All iMacs come with double-layer DVD burners, integrated graphics chips, Bluetooth adapters, and wireless networking capability.
The last upgrade to the iMac G5 integrated Apple's iSight
camera into the front bezel of the iMac chassis, giving it videoconferencing capability right out of the box (provided you have a broadband Internet connection). That update also introduced an iPod Shuffle
-like remote control and Apple's easy-to-use Front Row home-theater software. The iMac doesn't feature a TV tuner, so it's arguably not as complete as some systems running Microsoft's Windows Media Center 2005.
- Price range: $1,299 to more than $2,000
- CPU: Intel Core Duo or Apple/IBM PowerPC G5 CPU
- Memory: 512MB to 2.5GB
- Graphics: 128MB or 256MB ATI Radeon graphics
- Hard drive: 7,200rpm Serial ATA from 160GB to 500GB
Apple Mac Mini
The Mac Mini, Apple's smallest and cheapest PC, provides straightforward computing capability. It ships without display, mouse, or keyboard, but it'll work with standard PC displays and USB input devices, making it a great fit should you have such hardware from an old PC. Its small size also makes it ideal for dorms or other places with limited desk space.
Unlike the Power Mac G5 and the iMac G5, the Mac Mini uses older, slower PowerPC G4 processors. There are three models, each of which offers limited customization. The entry-level $499 model features a 1.25GHz G4 processor; the $599 and $699 models feature 1.42GHz G4 processors. All models provide a standard 512MB of memory and integrated ATI Radeon graphics. The two higher-end models include Bluetooth and wireless networking capability to the Mac Mini via a post-launch product revision. The only difference between the $599 and $699 models is the latter's DVD burner to the former's combo DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive.
Recent reports of a "silent upgrade" remain a mystery. Apple rumor tracker AppleInsider
was the first to report about customers receiving Mac Minis with slightly higher specs than Apple reports on its Web site, including faster CPUs and hard drives and improved Bluetooth technology. Then Macworld
reported that Apple issued a cryptic statement confirming that upgrades had been made but wouldn't specify what. When asked, Apple referred us to the specs on Apple's Web site, which point to the older specs, so we're still unclear about what, exactly, you'll receive when you purchase a Mac Mini. At worst, you'll receive what you're expecting, so at least Apple isn't making promises it can't keep.
- Price range: $499 to more than $1,000
- CPU: 1.25GHz to 1.42GHz PowerPC G4
- Memory: 512MB to 1GB of 333MHz DDR SDRAM
- Graphics: integrated ATI Radeon 9200
- Hard drive: 40GB to 100GB 4,500rpm EIDE
The aging Apple eMac is available only to institutional purchasers. You might find some remnants of the consumer supply still in the retail channel, but Apple issued a statement
back in May indicating that it would no longer be selling the eMac to individuals. The eMac, with its cost-effective, all-in-one design, is still a reasonable purchase for schools, but its clunky design is no longer in line with the streamlined aesthetic of Apple's current consumer products.
- Price range: $649 to more than $1,200
- CPU: 1.25GHz to1.42GHz PowerPC G4
- Memory: 256MB to 1GB of 333MHz DDR SDRAM
- Graphics: integrated ATI Radeon 9200 to integrated ATI Radeon 9600
- Hard drive: 40GB to 160GB 7,200rpm EIDE