17-Inch iMac G4/1.25GHz
www .apple.com; $1,799; Apple Computer, 800/692-7763,
Apple's latest 17-inch iMac looks like its predecessor but sports numerous improvements. In addition to giving it a 250MHz bump in processor speed, Apple has increased the system-bus speed from 133MHz to 167MHz, throwing in faster RAM to go with it, and the company has upgraded the USB ports to USB 2.0 speeds (480 Mbps instead of 12 Mbps). All these improvements were apparent in our Speedmark testing: the 1.25GHz G4 beat the 1GHz model by 25 points -- a gain of about 19 percent. (To see the benchmarks, go to www.macworld.com/2004/01/reviews/imac125/.)
In processor-intensive 3-D–rendering and MPEG-2–encoding tasks, the new iMac topped the older model by roughly 17 percent, while it managed a 19 percent gain in our Photoshop tests. The iMac still isn't a powerful gaming system, but its new GeForce FX 5200 Ultra graphics chip improved Quake's frame rates by almost 25 percent.
This iMac comes with 256MB of PC2700 RAM (expandable to 1GB); an 80GB, 7,200-rpm ATA hard drive; a 4x SuperDrive; and support for AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth. It has three USB 2.0 ports; two FireWire 400 ports; VGA, S-Video, and composite-video output; 10/100BaseT Ethernet; and a 56-Kbps V.92 modem.
As with all iMacs, the flat-panel screen suffers from noticeable color shifting (colors change on the screen when viewed from different angles). But speed and improved performance make this a great all-in-one Mac. -- jonathan seff
www.asiva.com; $49; Asiva, 512/732-2886,
Adobe Photoshop includes a number of color-correction and-replacement tools, but invariably there comes a day when you just can't get any of them to do exactly what you want. Asiva's Correct+Apply Color plug-in gives you an alternative.
Correct+Apply Color has the same type of interface as Asiva's Sharpen+Soften plug-in, with three curves you can use -- one each for hue, saturation, and luminance -- to execute the precise color adjustment or replacement you want.
You can use the Correct Color option to replace a range of colors in your image, or the Apply Color option to adjust an existing color. The advantage of Asiva's curve-based approach is that you don't have to create selections to isolate your corrections to particular areas. So with a single command, you can apply varying degrees of correction to different color values -- a lot of correction to dark browns, for example, and little correction to bright reds.
Thinking in terms of hue, saturation, and luminance values can take some getting used to, but Correct+Apply Color's results can be very good. If you do a lot of color-correction work, the elegant interface might ease your chores. -- ben long
www.asiva.com; $69; Asiva, 512/732-2886,
As this plug-in's name suggests, Asiva's Sharpen+Soften for Adobe Photoshop adds sharpening and blurring facilities to Adobe's existing Sharpen and Blur filters. But while Photoshop's filters operate on an entire image uniformly, Asiva's plug-in lets you apply varying amounts of sharpening or softening to particular colors in the image.
In Sharpen+Soften, you limit your operations by using three adjustable curves to constrain the effects to pixels with particular hue, saturation, or luminance values. For instance, you can specify that you want to sharpen or soften only brown midtone pixels, thus limiting your operation to your subject's hair without affecting flesh tones.
With its well-designed interface, Sharpen+Soften provides a streamlined tool for creating targeted adjustments. However, you'll need to learn how to create curves that target the areas you're after. And you'll want a very fast Mac, because while you can speed through the interface, you'll likely be in for a wait while the program processes the image. -- ben long
FireVue FireWire/IDE SMART Hot-Swap Drive System
www.granitedigital.com; $279; Granite Digital, 510/471-6442,
The FireVue FireWire/IDE SMART Hot-Swap Drive System is a versatile drive enclosure that can do a lot more than turn your IDE drive into a zippy external FireWire 400 drive. The FireVue takes advantage of the Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART) built into many IDE drives; this technology lets a computer keep tabs on the hard drive's performance. To use the FireVue, you simply unlock the FireVue's drive tray, plug in your drive, and slide the loaded tray back into the FireVue. If your drive is SMART-enabled, you can wipe, partition, run diagnostic tests on, and benchmark your drive, using the buttons and the small LCD display on the FireVue's case, without ever connecting the drive to your computer. You can purchase additional trays to make swapping drives a breeze. This will be handy if you like keeping a backup drive off-site for security reasons. The FireVue may be overkill for some users, but if your data is important to you, it could be the easy and reliable backup device you've been looking for. -- james galbraith
www.macally.com; $49; Macally, 626-214-2770,
The Macally iceCAD is probably the tiniest pressure-sensitive graphics tablet you'll ever see. Measuring roughly 4.0 by 4.5 inches, with an active drawing area of 2.25 by 3.0 inches, the sturdy USB iceCAD is a good choice for space-conscious travelers.
The included OS X–compatible iceCAD application provides a simple control panel for changing the stylus's pressure sensitivity and tablet tracking. In addition, you can program the stylus's side-mounted two-way button to act as a double-clickable mouse, an eraser, or a modifier key.
The iceCAD has some shortcomings. The iceCAD pen requires a AAAA battery, which slides into its barrel. Though the iceCAD has a nice surface, it was a little too sensitive and difficult to control. And we found that the tablet didn't always work after we put our Mac to sleep; we had to unplug it and then plug it in again to activate it.
Finally, the device's small size, though a great convenience for portage, makes it slightly uncomfortable to use, because you can't rest your hand on the tablet surface as you draw. Nevertheless, if you need a tablet for travel, and if the Graphire is too big, the iceCAD will serve you well. -- ben long
www.sbook5.com; free; Simson Garfinkel,
SBook5 is a lightning-fast, free-form address-book database that's destined to replace any other address book you use. The beauty lies in the database itself. Unlike other apps, which require that you enter information into designated fields, SBook5 lets you enter data in any convenient order; the program figures out what it is. Enter a phone number anywhere, and SBook5 recognizes it and places a phone icon next to it. The same is true of e-mail, Web, and street addresses, each of which has an appropriate icon. Click on the icon next to an entry, and your Mac will dial a phone number, create a new e-mail message, go to a Web page, or print the entry on a label or envelope. The program's data lookups are intelligent and blazing fast. Type anything in the search field, and SBook5 will instantly display entries that contain what you've typed.
SBook5 is multiuser capable, which means that everyone in your company can access a single address database on a server. The program won't sync directly with your iPod or Palm-based device, but it does sync easily with the Address Book in OS X, which is nearly as good. -- jeffery battersby