The iMac brand is a venerable institution. It first gave its name to Apple’s series of multicoloured all-in-one systems in 1998 and, more recently, the name has been co-opted by the minimalist, integrated chassis seen here. Now, the range has been upgraded to Intel’s Core 2 Duo CPU and, for the first time, Apple has introduced a striking 24in model.
When it comes to sheer wow-factor, the iMac impresses on a number of fronts. As an example of integration and design it’s streets ahead of any Windows PC we’ve seen and the price impresses as much as anything.
Crucially for an all-in-one system, the iMac’s LCD is simply superb. Viewing angles befit a system that Apple wants to sit at the heart of a living room, and colour accuracy is good enough to make the system the centre of a keen photographer’s studio. The native resolution of the panel is an enormous 1920 x 1200, which makes working with high-resolution photos in Photoshop a pleasure. Alternatively, you can open multiple browser windows at once and run video in a corner of the screen. If anything, our only complaint is that the screen is too bright. Using it in anything less than a well-lit room may result in tired eyes. The upside to this brightness is that the screen can be seen clearly from across a room — it even provides a useful light for the bezel-mounted iSight camera.
At just over 2in thick, the screen of the iMac is a remarkably sleek, self-contained system. The front and sides are totally smooth, with all the ports located at the back. The placement isn’t enormously convenient, particularly given that the two USB ports built into the Apple keyboard are unpowered, but it does make finding a rough edge on the iMac exceptionally difficult.
The ports themselves are a slightly underwhelming set: only three USB, one of which is immediately taken by the keyboard, along with FireWire 800 and 400.
Storage is taken care of by a neatly integrated slot-loading, dual-layer DVD writer, hidden away on the right-hand side of the chassis, and a 250GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 hard disk.
A spin speed of 7200rpm and 8MB cache aren’t astonishingly high-end specifications, but there’s enough capacity on offer for most. Opt for an external TV tuner, though, and you’ll quickly wish that you’d gone for a larger disk. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that while the SODIMM DDR2 RAM modules are user-accessible and replaceable, the hard disk — and this is the case for the rest of the iMac’s components — is not. The disk itself is buried within the system, which is well and truly sealed, presenting a frustration for anyone who expects a PC to grow with them. The situation is nudged from frustration to full-blown annoyance by the cost of official Apple upgrades — upgrading from the 250GB disk to a 500GB disk will set you back $320 at the time you purchase the system, and upgrading to a 750GB disk costs an extra $650 — more than some 750GB disks cost by themselves.
Good performance is assured by 1GB of RAM and an Intel Core 2 Duo T7400 running at 2.16GHz. In Apple’s OS X, this means lightning-fast startup and a responsive OS and, once we’d installed the beta Boot Camp software (soon to be a full feature within Apple’s next OS, Leopard, due out in early 2007), our Windows-based benchmarks returned an overall score of 1.23. The display is driven by an Nvidia GeForce 7300 GPU and, while games are fairly few and far between under OS X, you’ve far more choice under Windows — our tests of Far Cry and Call of Duty 2 at their lowest settings returned modest but usable average frame rates of 32 and 37fps respectively.
The near-total lack of upgradability is an annoyance, particularly given how easy hardware upgrades are on virtually all other PC systems. It’s slightly lacking as a media centre too — Apple’s Front Row software has fewer features than Windows Media Center, and the lack of an internal TV tuner hampers the iMac’s ability to replace your TV. But if you can live without the TV tuner and want a PC that actively resists tampering and upgrading, not to mention runs both OS X and Windows, the iMac is an attractive package.