Apple iMac (Winter 2009) review:

Apple iMac (Winter 2009)

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The Good One of, if not the, most affordable 24-inch all-in-one PCs; twice as much hard-drive space as older models; fast Nvidia graphics chip makes the iMac a capable gaming system; best-in-class multitasking performance; iLife digital media suite comes standard.

The Bad Fewer interesting hardware features compared with recent Windows-based all-in-ones.

The Bottom Line Apple made a number of changes to this $1,499 iMac, but making a 24-inch screen available at this price is the most impressive. The rest of the updates are welcome, and Apple's multitasking capability remains unmatched. Provided you like your all-in-ones best as straightforward desktop computers, the iMac will meet your expectations with speed and elegance.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.8 Overall
  • Design 10.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Support 5.0

Editors' Note: As of October 20, 2009, the iMac reviewed here has been replaced by

You may find Apple's new $1,499 iMac attractive, if only because it's one of the most affordable 24-inch all-in-one PCs on the market. Otherwise, Apple's latest update to the iMac line mostly serves to keep it competitive with its Windows-based competition. As usual, you get more flexibility for your money by way of a traditional desktop and monitor combination at the same price. You can also find a few all-in-ones from the Windows world with functionality the iMac can't match. Overall though, we find that Apple's formula for this product line still works, and we'd recommend the iMac to anyone in need of a fast, feature-rich all-in-one.

The most significant change to the $1,499 iMac is its 24-inch display. In addition to providing more desktop real estate, the screen can also scale up to its native resolution of 1,920x1,080, better known in home entertainment parlance as 1080p. Apple has not added a Blu-ray drive to the iMac, so you cannot take advantage of its HD resolution that way (Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously referred to Blu-ray as int="">"a bag of hurt"). Still, it opens the door for watching and editing other HD video content at its proper resolution.

Cosmetically, little else has changed with the iMac. Its industrial design remains the best in the PC industry, with no excessive branding, case detail, or other visual distractions. Indeed, the only changes to the outside of the case come to the row of ports on the back of the iMac. Apple added an additional USB 2.0 port, and also replaced the Mini DVI output with a Mini DisplayPort jack.

Apple added an extra USB port and a Mini DisplayPort to the back of its new iMacs.

Apple is currently the only vendor selling Mini DisplayPort hardware, both on its new iMacs and Mac Minis and Mac Pro desktops, as well as on its new LED Cinema Display. As you might imagine, you can connect the desktops to the Cinema Displays via a Mini DisplayPort cable. You can also purchase an adapter for either VGA ($29), single-link DVI ($29), or dual-link DVI ($99) outputs if you want to connect an older monitor. Thankfully VESA, the computer display standard body, has plans to incorporate Mini DisplayPort into its future specifications, so we don't anticipate that it will be unique to Apple for long. Still, anyone with an existing DVI-based 30-inch will likely cringe at having to pay an additional $99 for the necessary dual-link adapter.

  Apple iMac (24-inch, 2.66GHz) Sony Vaio LV180J
Price $1,499 $1,999
Display size 24-inches 24-inches
CPU 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 3.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
Memory 4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9400M 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9300 GS integrated graphics chip
Hard drives 640GB, 7,200rpm 320GB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 n, Bluetooth Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n wireless
Operating system Apple Mac OS X 10.5.6 Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)

Although the outside of the iMac received relatively few changes, Apple gave the internal hardware a fairly extensive overhaul. The 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo is actually the same as in the previous int="">$1,499 iMac, but the default hard drive, the graphics chip, and the memory have all been upgraded. With 4GB of RAM and a 640GB hard drive, especially, the iMac's specs are now more or less in line with Windows-based all-in-ones in the same price range.

You would be right to raise a concern, though, that while the iMac's core features have improved, Apple hasn't evolved the iMac to match other all-in-ones, particularly Sony's 24-inch Vaio LV line. Those living-room-oriented systems are wall-mountable and have a dedicated button that lets you switch between the desktop and an HDMI video input signal (perfect for connecting a game console or an HD camcorder). The iMac also has no touch screen, as with HP's TouchSmart series; we've already mentioned Apple's feelings toward Blu-ray; and even the highest end of the new iMacs lacks a quad-core CPU option.

As useful as we find some of those features on other all-in-ones, the new iMac is also most definitely a computer first, as opposed to a walk-up household kiosk, like HP's TouchSmarts, or a dedicated digital entertainment system, like Sony's Vaio LV series. With the iTunes ecosystem of connected and networked devices, the iMac can certainly serve up digital media as well, but it's perhaps indicative of Apple's vision for the iMac's role in your home or office that Apple hasn't implemented any features that might significantly alter the way you actually use an iMac.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
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Dell Studio XPS-122B
Apple iMac (24-inch, 2.66GHz)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
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Apple iMac (24-inch, 2.66GHz)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
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Rendering multiple CPUs  
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Dell Studio XPS-122B
Gateway FX6800-01e
Sony Vaio LV180J
Apple iMac (24-inch, 2.66GHz)

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