iMac G5: Oohs and Aahs

I spent a little bit of last weekend in Santa Rosa, California, at the annual Mac Computer Expo. It's always a nice time, with a great group of Mac users. Two years ago, I had the privilege of unveiling Mac OS X 10.1 to the group, excitedly pointing out that, finally, Mac OS X was usable! Those were the days.

This year was better, because Macworld's Jonathan Seff and I brought along a 20-inch iMac G5 for a little show and tell. I believe ours was the only iMac G5 on display, and people were really fascinated by it.

A lot has been written about the iMac G5, and much more will be written in the forthcoming days. But even a first glance at the thing fills you with a million questions. Here are some of the questions I got over the weekend, with some brief answers.

How heavy is it? About 20 pounds. I can tuck it under one arm and carry it around, but it's not exactly light. The 17-inch model is, as you might expect, a little lighter.

Can you tilt and swivel it? Sure. The hinge the iMac is mounted on is placed right at the iMac's center of gravity, and so it tilts up and down with remarkable ease. The base swivels quite easily as well. If you want more motion than that, beginning in October you can buy a $29 VESA Mount Adapter Kit from Apple that will allow the iMac G5 to be used with VESA mounts -- so you can mount your new iMac on the wall, or on an articulating arm. Cool!

How loud is it? I've got one sitting right here, and I can't hear it. However, I've got a Power Mac G4 in this office -- and I can hear it. And my office building's HVAC system is right outside, and it being a warm day in San Francisco today, it's humming away. Put another way, in a silent room you could probably hear the iMac. But in this room, it's quiet as a mouse.

How hot does it get? It's a G5, so it's going to generate some heat. But the iMac G5 has been carefully engineered to get that heat out. It's got three different cooling zones with independently controlled fans. It's got exhaust areas at the top and along the back to let the air out. Apple has taken a lot of care with this product, it seems, to get both the heat issues and the noise issues right.

How does it sound? This new iMac doesn't come with external speakers. Instead, it's got two speakers along its bottom, pointed down at whatever you've set the iMac on so that the sound reflects back up at you. (Unless you invest in a VESA mount and hang it on a wall or float it in space on an arm -- oops!) The speakers in the new iMac aren't going to blow anybody away, but for a single user sitting in front of the computer, it puts out decent sound. And of course, you can use the audio-out mini jack to attach external speakers, a pair of headphones, or even a home theater system via the same mini-to-SP/DIF plug used by the AirPort Express.

Does that big empty white space below the screen look funny? Well, that's up to you. But I'm okay with it, mostly because most displays are too low. I've got one of the new Apple flat-panel monitors in front of me now, and it's actually a little low on my desk. In the interests of my health, I should put it on a riser. In contrast, the iMac's display is higher, because it's got that big white space behind which secret computer guts are hiding.

Gosh, it's awfully thick, isn't it? Yes, it's maybe twice as thick as my Apple flat-panel display, and far thicker than the iMac G4's display. But let's keep in mind that there's an entire computer tucked in there. I've seen other flat-panel all-in-one computers from PC manufacturers, and they're a horror show. Dainty flat-panel screens with hideous, Quasimodo-like humps sticking from the back. Not good. This iMac, while a little thick, is still quite elegant.

It ships with 256MB of RAM. Is that enough? Uh, no way.

Would you recommend one to your in-laws? Let's just say that their Apple Store order is already being processed as we speak.

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