Apple has finally launched the fully revamped version of its best-selling personal computer. The latest model incorporates many of the most-requested features, while retaining plenty of the best traits that are found in existing higher-end Macs.
The most obvious change is that the iMac is now built around an LCD (liquid crystal display) flat-panel monitor, instead of a CRT (cathode ray tube) display, so it is smaller, lighter and uses less energy. Rather than build the components into the back of the screen, they are housed in the bulbous base. This not only means that the flatness of the display is retained, but also that the hard drive and optical drives run at full speed, avoiding the performance hit they take when mounted vertically.
The screen is attached to the base by a sturdy chrome-plated arm, which allows it to glide up and down and rotate 180§. Its looks won't be to everyone's liking, but it's certainly as radical a rethink of computer design as the original iMac was nearly four years ago.
There are three models in the iMac range. The low-end system, at just under $3195, has a 700MHz G4 processor, CD-RW drive and a 40GB hard disk. However, it lacks the external Apple Pro speakers, instead relying on a mono speaker built into the base. The mid-range machine, at $3695, has the same CPU, a combo DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive and doubles the memory to 256MB of RAM.
Apple, though, expects the biggest seller to be its top-of-the-range $4395 machine, as it features a faster 800MHz G4 processor, 256MB of RAM and 60GB hard disk. Most importantly, this iMac offers a SuperDrive - Apple's combined DVD-R/CD-RW from Pioneer - which, with Apple's iDVD software, enables you to create DVD movies.
While you'll always be able to find a PC for less than a Mac, these iMac machines are unusually good value for Apple products - the price not only includes the LCD screen, but also a competitive set of features. In addition to the hardware specifications already mentioned, the iMac range offers a 32MB NVIDIA GeForce2 MX graphics card, three USB and two FireWire ports, built-in modem and built-in Ethernet.
The OS that comes with this updated iMac is Apple's latest, Mac OS 10.1. Versions of many leading applications - including Office - are now available for this OS, and it has been praised for its robustness.
The iMac also comes with an impressive software bundle, including AppleWorks and a range of 'digital hub' applications such as the afore-mentioned iDVD, iMovie and a package for digital photography called iPhoto.
Our benchmarks don't run in the Mac OS, so we can't give you direct speed comparisons with PCs. However, don't be fooled by figures. The 700MHz PowerPC G4 chip is no slouch, and will perform at roughly the same speed as a Pentium 4 with twice the clock speed. The 800MHz version in the top-of-the-range iMac is, in fact, faster than the entry-level Power Mac.
The new iMac is unlikely to fulfil Apple's dream of doubling its market share, for the same reasons that no other Mac ever has - it runs the Mac OS rather than Windows, and it's far from the cheapest "computer on the market. But its excellent screen, design and feature set, combined with the impressive software bundle, mean it's easily worth the money.
Price: M8672X/A $3195; M7677X/A $3695; M8535X/A $4395.
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