Apple iMac (3rd Gen.) review: Apple iMac (3rd Gen.)

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.4
  • Design: 9.0
  • Features: 6.0
  • Performance: 5.0
  • Service and support: 5.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Low price; good looks; new Core 2 Duo processor; fantastic software bundle.

The Bad No SuperDrive; configuration options are almost nonexistent; phone support lasts only 90 days.

The Bottom Line The 17-inch iMac is missing a few features you might like--SuperDrive and a remote control, to name two--but it still makes a stellar home PC, thanks to its great design, new Core 2 Duo processor, and superior software bundle. Plus, its price makes it a borderline budget PC.

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The 17-inch iMac may seem inadequate next to Apple's new 24-inch behemoth, but Apple's smallest all-in-one desktop still has a lot going for it. Priced at $999, it's the first iMac to break the $1,000 barrier. Along with the 24-inch iMac, it receives a processor from Intel's new mobile Core 2 Duo line. And it features the same great design that we've detailed before. What's missing that you'll find in the $1,199 model--other than a slightly faster CPU--is a SuperDrive, a full 1GB of memory, discrete graphics, and Apple's Remote. Though a few extra gigahertz, double the system memory, and 128MB of video memory would undoubtedly aid performance, the lack of a DVD burner is what we miss the most--and it's not offered as an upgrade option. If your budget does not allow for a comma in the cost of a desktop, the $999 iMac still makes an excellent home PC.

The iMac has become a CPU trailblazer for Apple recently. Last January, it led the way to Intel processors with the Core Duo. Now, it's the first Mac--desktop or laptop--to feature a Core 2 Duo chip. Given the iMac's dimensions, it's not surprising that Apple chose to use a mobile (a.k.a. Merom) Core 2 Duo processor rather than the desktop (a.k.a. Conroe) version. The $999 model uses the 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo T5600, which is one rung up from the bottom of the mobile Core 2 Duo line. Rounding out the specs is 512MB of 667MHz DDR SDRAM, a 160GB SATA hard drive, integrated Intel 950 graphics, and a 24X combo drive (DVD-ROM/CD-RW). We can't compare its performance to the Core Duo-based iMac we reviewed earlier in the year because CNET Labs has since moved to a new suite of tests, but we can show how it stacks up against the 24-inch iMac and competing Windows PCs.

Not surprisingly, the $999 trailed its bigger, more powerful brother on all of our tests. Each struggled with Photoshop (Adobe has yet to release a universal binary version, so you must run Photoshop through Rosetta, Apple's translation software for older Mac apps), but the 24-inch model completed the test in less than half the time it took the 17-inch iMac, a clear indicator of what added system memory and dedicated video memory, not to mention a faster processor, does for performance. Similarly, iTunes isn't a great app to compare PC vs. Mac performance since it was written for the Mac OS. Looking at the iMacs again, the 17-inch finished closer to the 24-inch here, trailing by 18 percent, because iTunes is a less demanding app.

We ran each system through CineBench 9.5, which is a universal binary and an excellent way to look at Mac vs. PC performance. We compared the 17-inch iMac with the Dell XPS 410 and the Velocity Micro ProMagix E2010 . The latter systems, which cost more, are among the few systems that have completed our new CineBench tests, and at $1,299, the Velocity Micro system is in the 17-inch iMac's price range. The 17-inch iMac turned in a respectable showing, finishing 13 percent slower than the ProMagix E2010, a system that enjoys 1GB of memory, GeForce graphics, and a slightly speedier Core 2 Duo E6400 processor.

In the end, the 17-inch iMac Core 2 Duo will suffice for the majority of home users. Definitely don't try to run Photoshop on it (unless you have a good book nearby), and you may want to run it only occasionally even when it's re-re-released for the Mactel platform. While the 24-incher's GeForce 7300 GT graphics give it some ability to play 3D games, you won't enjoy that privilege with the low-end 17-inch iMac. But the 17-inch model runs the included iLife apps--iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, GarageBand, and iWeb--with a skip in its step. (Sadly, you're out of luck with iDVD unless you choose a model with a SuperDrive.) Office tasks--e-mail, browsing, er, researching on the Web, and word processing--are no trouble either. And if the 20- and 24-inch versions give you screen envy, just know that the 17-inch iMac is no smaller than the biggest MacBook Pro, a laptop that uses a previous-generation Intel processor and costs nearly three times as much.

Apple's warranty remains the same. You get the industry-average one year of parts-and-labor coverage and an annoyingly short 90 days of free phone support. Online help is abundant: Apple's support pages, particularly the user forums, are helpful, and you can google practically any Mac-related problem and find hundreds of other Mac fans discussing and solving it.

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test  

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iTunes encoding test  

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Where to Buy

MSRP: $1,699.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Environmental standards EPA Energy Star
  • Graphics Processor NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT
  • OS Provided Apple MacOS X 10.4
  • Video Memory 128 MB GDDR3 SDRAM
  • Monitor Type LCD
About The Author

Matt Elliott, a technology writer for more than a decade, is a PC tester, Mac user, and amateur photographer based in New Hampshire.