With each iteration, Apple’s iMac becomes a worthier computer. The latest crop of iMacs not only offers faster processors, more-spacious hard drives, and–finally– a mouse and keyboard not designed for munchkins, but also does so without adding a single penny to the list price. We examined the two high-end models–the iMac DV+ and iMac DV Special Edition (SE)–and confirmed that, in nearly every respect, the new iMacs give you more for your money.
The iMac DV SE differs from the iMac DV+ in that it has a 500MHz G3 processor rather than a 450MHz one; a 30GB hard drive versus the iMac DV+’s 20GB drive; and 128MB of SDRAM, double the iMac DV+’s 64MB. The iMac DV SE is available in graphite and snow; the iMac DV+ comes in ruby, indigo, and sage.
Having a processor with an extra 50MHz and a hard drive half again as spacious as the next model down does make the SE feel more luxurious, but given today’s RAM-hungry applications–games in particular–128MB of RAM is quickly becoming a baseline standard. While it’s hard to imagine that Apple could equip the sub-$1,000 iMac and iMac DV with 128MB of RAM and maintain their attractive pricing, asking for 128MB on an iMac DV+ doesn’t seem unreasonable. Should Apple choose to improve these iMac models in the coming months with faster processors and roomier hard drives, we’d like to see them equipped with more-generous RAM as well.
Our benchmark tests indicate that these iMacs offer better performance than earlier models. In our SoundJam MP3-encoding test, the new iMac DV SE, with its 500MHz G3 processor, encoded our test file 35 seconds faster than the previous iMac DV SE (which had a 400MHz G3 processor). It also performed about 17 percent faster than the old iMac DV SE in our Speedmark test and pumped out an additional 8.2 frames per second in Quake III Arena.
The iMac DV+, at 450MHz, managed to top the original iMac DV SE’s performance in all our tests save Quake III, though not by a wide margin. The lower Quake III scores demonstrate how helpful an extra 64MB of RAM would be. The game requires more memory than the on-board 64MB can supply; on a 64MB iMac DV+ you must increase the amount of virtual memory, and that slows game performance.
What’s In and What’s Out
The most dramatic change in each of these iMacs isn’t the iMac itself but its accompanying peripherals–the keyboard and mouse. Apple finally relented, replacing the inadequate input devices bundled with previous iMacs with the Apple Pro Keyboard and Pro Mouse, each a vast improvement over its predecessor.
The Pro Keyboard restores full-size arrow keys, the forward-delete key, and the full complement of function keys. It also adds three volume keys–one for increasing the iMac’s volume, another for decreasing volume, and a third for muting the iMac’s sound altogether. Although we’re generally happy with the new keyboard, we mourn the loss of the power key (you can no longer switch on your Mac from the keyboard) and wish it shipped with a longer USB cable. Also, the keyboard retains the rubbery response of its Lilliputian predecessor; those accustomed to the feel of the old Apple Extended Keyboard may find the Apple Pro Keyboard a bit spongy.
The Pro Mouse is anything but spongy–it fits nicely in the hand and is very responsive–and you can adjust it to three different levels of resistance. With the mouse’s optical tracking capabilities, you can dispense with your worn-out mouse pads; this mouse tracks well on just about any surface. We do wish, however, that Apple would reconsider its commitment to the single-button mouse. An operating system that supports contextual menus screams out for a two-button mouse, and once you’ve become accustomed to using a scroll wheel, it’s hard to image going back to a wheel-less rodent.
Happily, DVDs play correctly on these iMacs, fixing the audio-sync problems of past models. Better yet, Apple has added a Theater mode, which increases brightness and color saturation in Apple DVD Player, iMovie 2, and QuickTime 4.1.2 and later.
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