I never dreamed I’d end up being such a fervent iMac fan. Though an admirer of the original (pre flat panel) iMac, it just wasn’t for me. It was too “consumer-y”; I wanted something that brought a little more oomph on my desktop. How times change.
As I write this, I’m using a 17-inch iMac in my home office. I’m using it mostly for word processing, checking e-mail and surfing the Net. iTunes is playing the Dixie Chicks’ great new “Home” album in the background and iChat’s open. All this is running seamlessly on Mac OS X 10.2 with no noticeable performance hits and practically no noise.
The 17-inch iMac is a computer that home users will love and all but the most demanding professionals will find plenty powerful. Sure, it’s not fastest or most expandable Mac you can buy, but the iMac is no slouch when it comes to speed.
I’ve been surprised to find that it’s an extremely usable machine for running graphics and design applications, especially with the improved graphics card. As part of a personal experiment to see just how well the iMac lived up to Steve Jobs’ billing as “the best Mac we’ve ever made,” I’ve run a host of new Adobe and Macromedia products (the latest versions of InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash MX, and Dreamweaver MX) on the machine with satisfactory results. The results would be even better with the RAM boosted up from the 256MB of memory that comes standard.
Would an even bigger screen be nice for such work? Certainly, since you can’t have too much display real estate for graphics work. And you’ll want an even faster Mac (probably the upcoming dual processor 1.25 GHz system) if you’re using Photoshop (or Apple’s own Final Cut Pro) all day long. But if you’re not a hardcore Photoshop user or aren’t grinding away at detailed graphics or video all day, the iMac is certainly worth consideration.
One of the most overlooked strengths of the iMac is the fact it is so quiet. Yes, it has a fan, but it hums so softly that it’s barely noticeable. And that’s important in a home or SOHO environment, especially for a computer positioned as a digital hub.
Everything good about the 15-inch flat panel iMac is still here in the new version, and there’s much more to love. The new 17-inch screen — comparable in viewing area to a 19-inch CRT monitor — not only sees two inches of physical real estate added, but the resolution bumped from 1024 x 768 to 1440 x 990. Apple says that, overall, this results in 65 percent more viewable area, and they’re not exaggerating. The screen images are crisp, bright and sharp. And the widescreen design makes it great for watching DVDs.
Hard disk space has been beefed up from 60GB in the previous top-of-the-line model to 80GB in the 17-inch model. Those extra 20GB come in handy for those dealing in digital photos, iMovies and music files. In other words, those living the digital lifestyle.
Also, the GeForce 2 graphics processor of the previous generation has been replaced by a GeForce 4 MX card in the new model. The better card, equipped with 32MB of dedicated fast Double Data Rate (DDR) memory, makes a noticeable difference in computer gaming. I’ve been able to tell no appreciable difference in gameplay on the 17-inch iMac and the new dual processor Power Mac that boasts a Radeon Pro 9000 with 64MB of DDR memory (which I’ll be reviewing later). Of course, I don’t qualify as a hardcore gamer; those who are may differ with my perceptions. And the downside to the Mac as far as high-end gaming goes is that you can’t replace the graphics card with the latest, greatest thing.
All the other attributes of the flat panel iMac line that have made it a work of art as much as a computer — the space saving design, the flexible display on the metallic neck, the excellent collection of bundled software — are still much to be admired. (See my
March 6 review, of the 15-inch model for details.) And in some cases they’ve been improved. Besides the resolution and size boost, there are no longer any visible screws on the “floating” monitor. And its translucent “halo” now covers more of the monitor’s real estate, making it even more “touchable.”
Mac OS X 10.2 is a big improvement for the operating system. Despite its power and beefed up features, it runs fluidly on the iMac.
So is the 17-inch iMac the “ultimate digital hub,” as Apple proclaims? Not quite, but it’s darn close. To bring it even closer, here’s Dennis’ Wish List for the next rev of the iMac: A headphone jack in the front (the other ports I can live with on the back, but this is just too inconvenient for the center of a digital hub). A 1GHz or 1.25GHz G4 processor. There’s no reason to keep the fastest PowerPC chip out of at least the top-end iMac model since the pro line is now all dual processor. A improved system bus (133MHz instead of 100MHz would be nice) and an L3 cache, for some incremental performance boosts. A two-button mouse. A graphics chip with 62MB of DDR — again, at least on the high-end model — for even better gameplay.
When (if?) such a spruced-up iMac comes, then it will be even closer to the ultimate digital hub. Meanwhile, the current 17-inch iMac offers a wonderful combination of power, practicality and design. As the old commercial said, try it, you’ll like it.
(The iMac used in this review was the US$1,999 model, which includes a 17-inch screen; an 800MHz PowerPC G4 processor with Velocity Engine; DVD-R/CD-RW SuperDrive optical drive; NVIDIA GeForce4 MX with 32MB DDR memory; 256MB SDRAM; 80GB Ultra ATA hard drive; and Apple Pro Speakers.)