The educational iMac makes the grade

Apple’s iMac for Education can’t quite match the performance of the more full-featured Core Duo-based iMacs. But the 1.83GHz machine easily tops the PowerPC-based eMac in Macworld Lab testing. The desktop designed for classrooms also earns a passing grade by out-performing the MacBook that sports the same processor and integrated graphics set-up.

Apple closed the book on PowerPC-based offerings for educators earlier this month when it replaced the 1.42GHz eMac G4 with a 17-inch 1.83GHz iMac Core Duo. While similar to the rest of the iMac line in many ways, this particular model had a number of key differences—notably, a smaller hard drive, integrated graphics, and no built-in Bluetooth wireless networking capabilities. Of course, the iMac for Education also sported a significantly lower price tag—$899, compared to $1,299 for the full-featured 17-inch iMac.

Apple isn’t making this system available to individual buyers, only educational institutions. (Indeed, it took some doing on our part just to wrangle a unit for testing and review.) But we thought it would be illustrative to see how the iMac for Education compares to other Intel-based iMacs as well as the desktop machine it’s replacing in Apple’s product line for schools.

On that first front, the iMac for Education lags behind its Core Duo-based counterpart, but that’s to be expected due to some of the under-the-hood differences between the otherwise identical machines. The education iMac has a smaller hard drive (80GB versus 160GB) and a CD-burning combo drive (instead of a DVD-burning SuperDrive). It also uses the same integrated, main-memory-sharing Intel graphics you’ll find in MacBooks and Intel-based Mac minis; the regular iMac has an ATI Radeon X1600 graphics card with 128MB of dedicated memory.

Our testing in systems that use integrated graphics has shown how that can affect system performance, particularly in graphics-intensive applications such as 3-D games. Results for the iMac for Education were no exception, though we also found its smaller hard drive to be a bit pokier, with results in our folder duplication and archiving test slower than the retail iMac’s results.

iMac for Education Benchmarks

Speedmark 4.5 Adobe Photoshop CS2 Cinema 4D XL 9.5.21 iMovie 6.0.1 iTunes 6.0.4 Unreal Tournament 2004 Finder
OVERALL SCORE SUITE RENDER AGED EFFECT MP3 ENCODE FRAME RATE ZIP ARCHIVE
17-inch iMac Education Configuration/1.83GHz Core Duo 175 2:46 1:18 1:08 1:10 20.6 2:49
eMac/1.42GHz G4 137 1:45 4:31 1:59 2:15 19.9 3:38
MacBook/1.83GHz 155 2:52 1:26 1:11 1:33 17.5 3:17
17-inch iMac/1.83GHz Core Duo* 202 2:44 1:18 1:08 1:22 50.2 2:44
>Better <Better <Better <Better <Better >Better <Better

Best results in bold. Reference system in italics .

Speedmark 4.5 scores are relative to those of a 1.25GHz Mac mini, which is assigned a score of 100. Adobe Photoshop, Cinema 4D XL, iMovie, iTunes, and Finder scores are in minutes:seconds. All systems were running Mac OS X 10.4.7 (except for the retail 1.83GHz iMac which was tested with Mac OS X 10.4.4) with 1GB of RAM, with processor performance set to Highest in the Energy Saver preference pane when applicable. The Photoshop Suite test is a set of 14 scripted tasks using a 50MB file. Photoshop’s memory was set to 70 percent and History was set to Minimum. We recorded how long it took to render a scene in Cinema 4D XL. In iMovie, we applied the Aged video effect to a 1-minute movie. We converted 45 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. We used Unreal Tournament 2004’s Antalus Botmatch average-frames-per-second score; we tested at a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels at the Maximum setting with both audio and graphics enabled. We created a Zip archive in the Finder from a 1GB folder.To compare Speedmark 4.5 scores for various Mac systems, visit our Apple Hardware Guide.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith and Jerry Jung

Integrated graphics and a smaller hard drive may have contributed to the large performance gap we found in the iPhoto test in which we import 100 photos. We’ve seen before that this test is very picky about hard drives. (As a side note, while we believe the results above are safe to reference, though our full-featured 17-inch iMac Core Duo remains on the Disabled List, making it unavailable for retesting with Mac OS X 10.4.7. Once we have a chance to re-run these tests with the latest version of OS X, results could shift one way or another by a few seconds or points.)

To compare the educational iMac to the eMac, we loaded up the latter system with 1GB of RAM and OS X 10.4.7; we also updated the installed applications. Aside from non- Universal Binary apps that must run under the Rosetta emulation technology, students will have much to look forward to in terms of the iMac’s performance relative to the eMac’s. In processor-intensive apps, like Cinema4D XL, the educational iMac finished rendering a scene in less than one-third the time it took the eMac. In our iMovie and iTunes tests, the iMac finished in a little more than half the time it took the eMac while Unreal Tournament scores were nearly identical between the two systems. (Then again, it’s not as if gaming is a big priority at schools these days.)

We were also curious as to how this new iMac would compare to the MacBook, which has a 1.83GHz processor (same as the iMac) and integrated graphics (ditto). In this scenario, the iMac’s hard drive was faster than the MacBook’s, allowing it to post better results in drive-specific tests. The iMac also out-performed the MacBook on CPU-intensive apps like Cinema 4D, Photoshop, and iTunes encoding.

Check back for Macworld’ s complete review coming soon.

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