Depending on your needs, the iMac might start to lose a bit of sheen when you compare its features. Of all the systems in our comparison, the iMac has the smallest capacity hard drive, and the least amount of RAM. Given that we've seen $700 desktops with 500GB hard drives, the 250GB model in the iMac feels especially skimpy. Apple offers 320GB and 500GB options as upgrades, for market prices, but we'd like to see 500GB come standard--in keeping with the competition.
The iMac's memory is a more specialized concern. Having only 1GB of RAM doesn't hurt the iMac's performance relative to competing Windows PCs, so, in practical terms, it's not an issue. But you might feel a slowdown if you were to install Windows Vista onto a second hard drive partition. We won't ding Apple for only including 1GB of RAM here, but we do take issue with the cost to upgrade. Apple charges $100 to go from 1GB of 800MHz DDR2 RAM to 2GB. Dell and HP each charge half that.
On the other hand, the iMac also offers integrated Bluetooth, fast, wide-bandwidth 802.11n wireless networking and FireWire 800 support--features which no other system can match at this price. Many people also find OS X itself a major advantage for Macs in general. You may already have a Mac or Windows allegiance, but between iTunes, Front Row, Spaces, Time Machine, and the bundled iLife suite, Apple's systems have a strong list of applications and tools that can make your computing life easier. Windows Vista is a powerful operating system in its own right, but OS X does a much better job of exposing the tools it comes with due to its well-organized icons, short cuts, and plain-language notification text.
Finally, the iMac does come with a wired mouse and keyboard. We like the look and feel of the trim, minimalist keyboard, and we hate the mouse for its imprecise scrolling nub and stubborn single-button design. If you'd like to preserve the clutter-free iMac design, Apple will sell you a wireless mouse for $20 and a wireless keyboard for $30, both of which are fair prices.
Apple's support remains the least exciting aspect of its products. The one-year, parts-and-labor warranty is on par with the rest of the industry, but, as always, the paltry 90-day phone support feels like an insult each time we read it. You can always pay for extra, but you shouldn't have to. Online, the Apple Community Forum is likely your best bet for problem solving, as the passionate fan base is also a wealth of useful information. You can find various manuals, FAQs, and other product information on Apple's Web site, too.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Apple OS X; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 1GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT graphics chip; 250GB 7,200rpm hard drive.
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E4600; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 8400M GS graphics chip; 320GB, 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive.
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300; 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9800 GT graphics card; 640GB 7,200rpm hard drive.
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5850; 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS integrated graphics chip; 500GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive.
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.5GHz AMD Phenom X4 9850; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards; 500GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive.