Gamers have had a skeptical eye trained on the iMac ever since Apple delivered the first Bondi Blue-colored model in 1998. Originally saddled with a video subsystem that was too slow to render 3D graphics with any reasonable level of performance, the iMac was viewed by gamers as a curiosity, but little more. Subsequent revisions attempted to provide iterative increases in specifications, CPU and graphics performance, but never enough to make gamers jump out and say “Wow!” That changed this month when Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the wraps off the new hemispherical, flat-panel iMac.
A look at the hardware
The shell of the radically designed iMac hides a G4 processor and a graphics subsystem based on the Nvidia GeForce2 MX-based graphics chip. Those together provide a huge boost in gaming performance compared with this iMac’s predecessor, which sports a slower G3 processor and less capable ATI RAGE 128-based graphics.
Certainly, hardcore gamers will want more performance and expandability in their systems than they’ll get with the iMac, but regardless, Apple’s new consumer desktop line has taken an important step forward. For the first time, all consumer desktop machines from Apple are shipping with graphics hardware capable of rendering 3D graphics using a technique called hardware transform and lighting (T&L). Hardware T&L makes it possible for graphics to be more detailed, displaying more realistic lighting, shadowing and texturing effects than ever before.
Bus speed remains the same as the new iMac’s CRT-based predecessor, but one of the most important overall performance improvements is the replacement of the aging G3 processor with a snappy new G4 processor. Operating at speeds of up to 800MHz, the new iMac provides processing performance not far off the mark set by Apple’s Power Mac G4 line — though the bus speed is lower, at 100MHz.
Although the iMac has been reinvented from top to bottom, one important change is in the software — Mac OS X is now the default system when you first boot the iMac. Mac OS 9 is still there and you can restart easily enough, but Apple fully expects people to use the new operating system. Games have been increasingly made available for Mac OS X by third party vendors in the past few months and there’s been a definite increase in commitment since the introduction of Mac OS X 10.1, which improved performance and compatibility for games in key areas.
This new iMac sports a 15-inch LCD display, and it’s great for gaming. The display is crystal clear from almost any viewable angle, and with a native resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, it shows enough real estate for any game on the market today.
If you find 15-inches is a bit small, you can hook the iMac up to a larger screen, thanks to a built-in VGA interface. Bear in mind, though, that you won’t be able to span between the iMac’s LCD and an external display. The iMac will mirror the internal images only. Still, if you want to play your games on a 19-inch or larger monitor, there’s nothing stopping you.
The new iMac sports four different ways of getting rich sound content to your ears. First off, it has a built-in speaker. If you’re looking for something a bit more immersive, there’s an integrated 18-watt amplifier and a dedicated Apple speaker minijack to accommodate a pair of Apple Pro Speakers, which have been updated to a white accent to match the color of the iMac. It also features a headphone jack, which you could use to output to a set of third-party computer speakers. Also, there’s three USB ports available, so you could use a set of SoundSticks from Harman Multimedia if you choose.
But what of the games?
The new iMac includes a game called Otto Matic. It’s the latest top-shelf offering from Pangea Software, which has maintained a relationship with Apple to bundle its 3D action games ever since the introduction of the first iMac. When iMacs were introduced, Pangea’s Nanosaur was bundled. Later iMacs included Pangea games Bugdom and Cro-Mag Rally. Apple’s Chess game for OS X is also included, of course.
Mac gamers interested in adding new titles to their new iMac will find a wealth of games from every major Mac game publisher right now. Almost all new games released in the past several months have been Carbonized and run well both in Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X, and some have been released exclusively for the new operating system. One of the major announcements from the recent Macworld Expo was the news from MacPlay that going forward, all of its new projects will be ready for Mac OS X only.
The iMac’s continued support of USB means that you’ll be able to attach a variety of game controllers to it and get them to work easily with your games; additionally, now you’ll gain an extra port that didn’t exist before, so you don’t have to clutter up the spare port on your keyboard with a game controller. Most modern Mac games support game controllers on Mac OS 9 using a technology called InputSprocket, and Mac OS X has HID Manager, a nascent technology that should see some adoption going down the road in new games crafted for the new operating system.
An ideal game machine?
No general purpose computer is an ideal game machine, and few video game consoles are, either. But there’s little question that Apple has put a lot of thought and time into this new consumer system, and they’ve solved a lot of the problems that plagued earlier versions of the iMac. Buyers of the new iMac will find it to be a fine all around computer with excellent gaming value, too.