The Apple iMac has seen a speed bump with this release, but its physical design remains the same. The 22.8-pound iMac consists of a half-dome base that contains the SuperDrive (CD-RW/DVD-R) and external expansion ports. Around the dome's base, you'll find three USB 2.0 and two FireWire 400 ports, as well as ports for Ethernet, modem, speakers, headphones, line-in, and video. Above the base, via a sturdy steel arm that acts as a handle, floats the LCD panel. The clean white design is striking, perfect for a stylish den or the receptionist's desk at a creative agency.
Made for DVDs: the 17-inch wide screen found on the higher-end iMac.
Using the steel arm, the iMac screen is easily adjusted. The arm also doubles as a handle, should you want the iMac always by your side.
The wide-screen, 17-inch display is this iMac's best feature, offering generous desktop work space and a 16:10 aspect ratio that practically cries out for DVD viewing. We popped in a copy of the wide-screen Spider-Man and enjoyed the LCD's rich, precise image. If you don't plan to run through your DVD collection on the iMac, you can save $500 by choosing the 15-inch model, though you will sacrifice some features, too).
The only gripe we have with the iMac's all-in-one design--and this is true of any all-in-one--is its limited upgrade options. iMac owners can add an AirPort wireless card or more RAM, but sadly, that's it.
The 17-inch iMac adds a DVD-burning SuperDrive.
The 17-inch iMac now offers a 1.25GHz G4 processor, handing down its old 1GHz processor to the 15-inch iMac. Along with the faster processor, the iMac uses speedier memory compared with the model it replaces (333MHz, up from 266MHz), and it boasts a faster, 167MHz system bus (up from 133MHz). The standard memory allotment, however, remains 256MB. Our test system ran like a champ in real-world conditions: playing video, encoding CDs, and scrolling through pictures all at once with no visible graphics problems.
The drives remain unchanged on the 17-inch iMac; it still comes standard with an 80GB hard drive and Apple's DVD-R/CD-RW SuperDrive. Since you don't get the option of adding a second hard drive, if you plan to store lots of large video files, we suggest you customize your configuration with the 160GB hard drive, the largest that Apple offers on the iMac.
The iMac's array of ports.
The iMac certainly isn't a gaming machine, but Apple has upgraded its graphics. Although the 15-inch model is still saddled with Nvidia's older 32MB GeForce4 MX graphics card, the 17-inch iMac's graphics are rendered by Nvidia's latest budget card, the 64MB GeForce FX 5200 Ultra. The system ships with Apple Pro speakers but lacks Bluetooth and AirPort out of the box. For a system approaching $2,000 in price, we'd like to see these extremely useful networking systems come standard.
Apple usually delivers great software bundles with its machines, and this iMac is no exception. You can start working or playing immediately with the iLife suite, which includes iMovie 3.0, iDVD 3.0, iTunes 4.0, and iPhoto 2.0, as well as Mail, Safari, and AppleWorks. For non-Apple software, there's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4.0, Deimos Rising, SoundStudio, Quicken 2003 Deluxe, and World Book 2003. If you decide on the iMac, be sure the recently released Mac OS X 10.3 Panther comes installed; our test system was running Mac OS X 10.2.7.
Apple's high-end 17-inch iMac now runs on a 1.25GHz G4 processor, up from the 1GHz G4 processor that last year's 17-inch model used. (The 15-inch iMac moves up to the gigahertz realm, exchanging its old 800MHz G4 processor for the 1GHz G4.) The memory speed and system bus have increased as well; the iMac uses 333MHz of memory (PC2700) instead of the 266MHz variety, and the bus speed bumps up from 133MHz to 167MHz.
These upgrades offer performance improvements that, while not overwhelming, are palpable in the everyday use of common applications. On CNET Labs' two Mac application benchmarks, the 1.25GHz iMac showed the expected improvement compared with the 1GHz model it replaces. On our iMovie benchmark, the system took 2 minutes, 28 seconds to combine and compress three video files totaling 623MB, which is 26 seconds faster than the 1GHz iMac we tested last year, a 14 percent increase. On our iTunes benchmark, the 1.25GHz iMac took 55 seconds to convert a 10-minute-plus CD track to MP3, which is 11 seconds faster than the old 1GHz iMac, an 18 percent improvement. It should come as no surprise to see that the iMac trails the dual-processor Power Mac G5 by a healthy margin.
iMovie test (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Note: Time needed to compress and export a QuickTime movie to e-mail.|
iTunes test (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Note: Time needed to convert AIFF audio file to MP3.|
CNET Labs uses two different applications (iMovie and iTunes) to test Apple's iMac G4's performance. Through the use of a number of timed tests, CNET Labs is able to roughly determine the performance of a given system.
The largest performance increase we saw from last year's 17-inch iMac to this year's model occurred on our 3D gaming benchmark. The new 17-inch iMac uses Nvidia's latest budget graphics card, the GeForce FX 5200 Ultra. At 73.8 frames per second (fps) on Quake III, our test system offered a 26 percent increase over last year's iMac, which used Nvidia's previous-generation budget card, the GeForce4 MX. Though any game is playable at anything above 60fps, serious gamers will want a more advanced card, such as the Radeon 9600 Pro found in the Power Mac G5.
Quake III (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Note: 3D gaming performance.|
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena for OS X. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool.System configurations:
Apple iMac (1GHz G4)
Mac OS X 10.2.3; 1GHz PowerPC G4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 64MB; 80GB 7,200rpm Ultra ATA/100
Apple iMac (1.25GHz G4)
Mac OS X 10.2.7; 1.25GHz PowerPC G4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra 64MB; 80GB 7,200rpm Ultra ATA/100
Apple Power Mac G5
Mac OS X 10.2.7; dual 2GHz PowerPC G5; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9600 Pro 128MB; 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Apple is far from generous with its one-year parts-and-service warranty and its 90 days of free phone support. If you believe in the maxim that it's better to be safe than sorry, you can extend the terms of the warranty to three years by opting for the $149 AppleCare Protection Plan. Apple offers an online support section that's abundant with technical articles and message-board advice.