iMac G5: First Impressions

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Some random thoughts on Apple's newly unveiled iMac, which features its ports on the back of the enclosure no matter how much some sleep-deprived fool insists otherwise:

* Going Tilt: One of the things I liked about the last incarnation of the G4 iMac was its adjustability. If you wanted to move the flat-screen monitor up-and-down or side-to-side, all you had to do was adjust it with the touch of a finger. I liked that flexibility so much, in fact, that I recreated it with my PowerBook G4. When I'm in the Macworld office, I hook my PowerBook up to an Apple Studio Display that floats iMac-like above my desk thanks to a StudioLift arm from Innovative Office Products.

The new G5 iMac certainly offers up-and-down flexibility -- it tilts from 25 degrees to -5 degrees, according to Apple's Web site. But there doesn't seem to be a way to move the screen from side to side, short of shifting the entire base. At any rate, I'm eager to get my hands on a new iMac specifically to see just how adjustable the display is.

(My boss, Rick, tells me that Apple's latest Cinema Displays -- which the new iMacs more or less resemble -- swivel pretty easily. He's as unsure as I am, though, as to whether that feature made it over to the new iMac design.)

* Speed Demon: We won't be able to say exactly how fast these new models are compared to the older iMac until Macworld Labs gets a crack at them, but I'd assume we're going to see a significant performance improvement. Apart from the fact that clock speeds have been boosted to 1.6GHz and 1.8GHz (depending on configuration) from 1GHz and 1.25GHz and that the system bus has been upped to 600MHz from 167MHz, the iMac now runs on a G5 processor as opposed to a G4 chip. Back when Apple first add the G5 to its Power Mac line, Macworld explained how differently the two PowerPC generations perform. That September 2003 article gives a detailed explanation (just skip down to the "A Chip's Story" section), but the Cliff's Notes version is basically: faster clock speeds, 64-bit processing, and a more efficient system architecture boosts performance even further.

* Comparison Shopping: While we're stacking up the new iMacs to their older G4-power counterparts, consider this. Just a few weeks ago, $1,299 bought you a 15-inch iMac with a 1GHz PowerPC G4 chip, 256MB of RAM (with the option to add up to 1GB), an 80GB hard drive, an Nvidia GeForce4 MX graphics processor, and a CD-RW/DVD-ROM Combo drive. Today, that same $1,299 gets you a 17-inch model with a 1.6GHz G5 chip and an Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra graphics card. The hard-drive capacity, optical drive, and installed RAM remain the same (though the new models support up to 2GB of memory). I'd call that a pretty fair upgrade.

While the low-end iMac keeps its $1,299 price tag, prices have dropped on the other two configurations. You now get a 20-inch iMac with a DVD-burning SuperDrive and a 1.8GHz G5 processor for $1,899; the 20-inch flat-panel G4 iMac cost $2,199.

* Desktop, Schmesktop -- Where's My Music Player?: If you're uncertain as to where Apple is making its money these days, the marketing blurb on the front page should erase any doubt. It's there that the iMac is billed as "from the creators of the iPod." Not the creators of the original Mac or from the company that revolutionized personal-computing -- Apple is now positioning itself as the iPod company.

Although if you stack an iPod and a new iMac next to each other and stare at them from the side long enough, they do sort of look alike.

Anyhow, those are my initial impressions of the iMac, after sifting through assorted reports. What are yours?

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