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iMac Education Configuration

At a Glance
  • Apple iMac Education Configuration

    Macworld Rating

With the $899 iMac Education Configuration, Apple has a good chance of regaining some of its former glory with school systems by offering a powerful yet low-cost all-in-one computer that can facilitate cross-platform operation. This special model replaces the eMac as Apple’s main school offering, and is available only to educational institutions. Other education customers—college students as well as K-12 and college staff, for example—can purchase the standard 17-inch and 20-inch iMacs at a discount. (See this machine from an educator’s perspective.)

What’s inside

Apple’s education iMac is much the same as the $1,299, 17-inch widescreen iMac (   ) the company sells to the general public. Like the more expensive model, the $899 iMac includes a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo processor with 2MB of shared L2 cache, 512MB of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM (expandable to 2GB), built-in AirPort networking, Gigabit Ethernet, a built-in iSight camera, mini-DVI video output, analog and digital audio input and output, a multibutton Mighty Mouse and Apple Keyboard, two FireWire 400 ports, three USB 2.0 ports (plus two USB 1.1 ports on the keyboard), a security slot for locking the computer down.

Unlike the standard 17-inch iMac, the $899 iMac has an 80GB 7200RPM SATA hard drive instead of 160GB, a Combo drive instead of DVD-burning SuperDrive, and Intel’s GMA 950 integrated graphics processor (which borrows its RAM from the system memory) instead of an ATI Radeon X1600 graphics processor with 128MB of dedicated GDDR3 RAM.

And speaking of RAM, the $899 iMac includes the same 512MB of RAM as all other iMacs. But unlike the other models, which ship with a single 512MB SO-DIMM and have free a RAM slot, this iMac has two 256MB SO-DIMMs. Apple does this with every Mac that uses the GMA 950, since those Macs run most efficiently with matched pairs of DDR RAM. The big downside to this approach is that you can’t simply add RAM to this iMac, but must instead replace both SO-DIMMs in order to upgrade—making RAM upgrades potentially expensive.

And completely missing from this iMac are Bluetooth connectivity and the Apple Remote—which is probably just as well, since you don’t want students wirelessly transferring files to a cell phone or kicking back with a remote control (one that could just as easily activate another iMac’s Front Row software) to watch a DVD.

And while it comes with the iLife ’06 suite of multimedia applications and other software, there’s no included word processing, spreadsheet, page layout, or database software, such as the AppleWorks suite included with previous education models—potentially an additional expense for any school that wants to add such apps.

Goodbye eMac

The $899 iMac brings an end to Apple’s previous education computer—the eMac —and with it an end to Macs with CRT displays and G4 processors. This iMac improves on the eMac in terms of processor (1.83GHz Core Duo vs. a 1.42GHz G4), bus speed (667MHz vs. 167MHz), weight (15.5 pounds vs. 50 pounds), resolution (1,440 by 900 pixels vs. 1,280 by 960 pixels), and more. The eMac, however, had a 4X AGP ATI Radeon 9600 graphics processor with 64MB of dedicated DDR RAM, and an optional SuperDrive configuration (although now that iDVD supports inexpensive external DVD burners, that shortcoming is easy to get around).

Performance

The Macworld Lab tested the $899 iMac with our standard suite of tests, and the results were impressive. The composite Speedmark score for all tests was 175, which compared very favorably to the eMac (137) and the MacBook with the same processor (155). The standard 17-inch iMac, however, beat out the education version by more than 15 percent (202).

Processor-intensive tasks such as a Cinema 4D render, iMovie filter, and iTunes MP3 encoding showed huge improvements over the G4-based eMac—71 percent, 43 percent, and 48 percent, respectively—and scores equal to or better than the standard iMac. And playback of HD movie trailers from Apple’s Web site was smooth, although I did notice a few stutters when playing clips in iMovie that have several transitions and effects applied to them.

The $899 iMac definitely suffered in 3-D game play—getting 30 fewer frames per second than the standard iMac and only about one half a frame more per second than the eMac—due to its integrated graphics, but that’s a sacrifice Apple seems willing to make for a computer meant only for the classroom (and I was able to play Unreal Tournament 2004 and Nanosaur 2 quite enjoyably).

And as with all Intel-based Macs, performance suffers when running non-native applications—it took an extra minute (58 percent longer) to complete the Photoshop CS2 test suite, for example—but the $899 iMac was a little faster than the MacBook and only a few seconds slower than the standard iMac at the Photoshop tests. But I found using the non-native Microsoft Office applications on this iMac worked very well.

Macworld’s buying advice

For the most part, the features that Apple removed from the standard iMac to make this one more affordable are good choices given the target market. However, the lack of included software for word processing, page layout, and spreadsheets may be a calculated risk on Apple’s part. But for schools that can live with that potentially extra expense, the $899 iMac Education Configuration should be hard to pass up.

[ Jonathan Seff is Macworld ’s Senior News Editor. ]

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Good features for education market
    • Impressive performance
    • Attractive price
    • Big improvement over eMac in most areas

    Cons

    • No SuperDrive option
    • No included word processing, spreadsheet, or page layout software
    • RAM upgrades require matched pairs
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