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Apple eMac PPC review: Apple eMac PPC

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MSRP: $1,299.00

The Good Excellent 17-inch CRT display; easy setup; inexpensive, updated models offer 1.25GHz G4s with 256MB of memory.

The Bad Limited expansion; only 32MB of graphics memory; meager documentation; mediocre warranty.

The Bottom Line The eMac delivers an attractive, adequately speedy, easy-to-use PC without the flat-panel iMac's relatively high price.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 7

06-17 eMac 17-inch 1GHz update

The CRT-equipped eMac was originally available only on the education market, but Apple soon started selling it to consumers. And despite its seemingly average value rating, the eMac is the cheapest G4--and one of the most affordable DVD-recording options--on the market. It combines the iMac's all-in-one design with a 17-inch display, a relatively low entry price, adequate processing speed at 1.25GHz, and ease of use. Of course, the eMac weighs nearly 50 pounds and won't let you add anything but RAM or a new AirPort Extreme card. Still, the original iMac market--Internet-minded consumers and students with few upgrade needs--will love this cheaper alternative. At first glance, the snow-white, tapered eMac might be mistaken for an older, Snow-model iMac. It features a bright and crisp 17-inch, flat, CRT display. The standard resolution is 1,024x768, but its maximum 1,280x960 also looks readable without appearing too tiny. The now familiar setup includes front speakers and a front-loading CD-RW, as well as Apple's full-size Pro keyboard and an optical mouse.

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Is it an old iMac? Nope, but it's close.

The eMac's larger display comes at a price not found in the updated iMacs: portability. The design is nearly an inch bigger in height and width (but the same depth) as the original iMac, and it weighs almost 50 pounds. However, Apple doesn't provide side handles to make it easier to lift or move; the original iMac at least featured a handle on top for convenient carrying. Carrying the eMac feels like a dangerous proposition; it's tough to find purchase on those slippery, rounded sides.

Though you can't expand the eMac much, Apple compensates with plenty of external connectivity: one modem, one 10/100 Ethernet, three USB 2.0, and two FireWire 400 ports, all in a neat little row along the right side. A video-out connector lets you hook up to an external VGA display. However, you'll need a $19 adapter, and even then, you can only mirror the first monitor, you can't expand your desktop. For audio, you get a headphone jack and an input jack.

We noticed a few awkward touches on the eMac's otherwise simple design. The power switch, which sits behind the ports on the lower-right side, nearly to the butt of the machine, is hard to find and difficult to reach. Also, you can't adjust the eMac's display. If you want to tilt or swivel the view for better ergonomics, you'll have to spring for an optional $59 stand. Selecting a configuration used to be a nonissue with the eMac, but the line is now up to two choices. The $799 base model (updated in May 2004) offers a 1.25GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 256MB of SDRAM, a 40GB hard drive, a combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) drive, a 32MB ATI 9200 graphics card, a 56Kbps modem, 10/100 networking, USB 2.0 and FireWire ports, and Mac OS X 10.3.3 Panther. The $999 model offers a 1.25GHz G4, 256MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, and a 4X DVD-recording SuperDrive (an internal DVD-R/CD-RW drive).

As with the iMac, the eMac's expandability is limited to a RAM upgrade (up to 1GB) or a new, 802.11g AirPort Extreme card. That makes the eMac a poor choice for gamers, who'll want better graphics performance, or for anyone who likes to add and remove components. But the eMac suffices nicely if you're just looking to get online, write some papers, send and receive e-mail, or balance your books.

The eMac ships with Mac OS X 10.3.3 Panther preinstalled, including the digital media suite iLife, plus the calendar application iCal; iSync for syncing up Palm OS devices and cell phones; Quicken 2003 and Word Book 2003; and the AppleWorks office suite. Application performance
Apple has brought the eMac up to speed with a 1.25GHz G4 processor, and our test system performed on a par with similarly configured iMacs. Of the two available models, the higher-end $999 eMac we tested compares favorably to both the 17-inch and 20-inch iMacs in terms of application performance. All three systems feature the same 1.25GHz G4 processor, 256MB of 333MHz RAM, 80GB hard drive, and SuperDrive. The eMac lacks the iMacs' LCD and employs a 32MB ATI Radeon 9200 graphics card, while the iMacs feature a 64MB Nvidia GeForce 5200 Ultra.

With only half the graphics memory of each of the iMacs, the eMac was still able to keep pace with the 20-inch iMac and actually outperform the 17-inch iMac, thanks to its more recent version of Mac OS X (10.3.3). All three systems performed equally well on our iTunes test, taking just less than one minute to encode a large audio file as an MP3. In the end, the differences in application performance were so slight that they're not likely to be noticeable in everyday use.

CNET Labs uses two different applications (iMovie and iTunes) to test Apple desktop performance. Through the use of a number of timing tests CNET Labs is able to roughly determine the performance of a given system.

Time needed to compress and export a QuickTime movie to e-mail

Time needed to convert AIFF audio file to MP3

Quake III  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Frames per second  
3D gaming performance

System configurations:

17-inch Apple iMac
Mac OS X 10.2.7; 1.25GHz Power PC G4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 64MB; 80GB 7,200rpm Ultra ATA/100

20-inch Apple iMac
Mac OS X 10.3.2; 1.25GHz PowerPC G4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 64MB; 80GB 7,200rpm Ultra ATA/100

Apple eMac G4 1.25GHz
Mac OS X 10.3.3; 1.25GHz Power PC G4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 9200 32MB; 80GB 7,200rpm Ultra ATA/100
As with most Apple PCs, the eMac sets up in record time--you just plug it in, turn it on, and follow a few wizards--but its documentation is sparse. A foldout brochure depicts the initial hookup process, and the 40-page, illustrated user guide covers the basics of the Mac OS and some simple troubleshooting. It also shows you how to add RAM or an AirPort 802.11b card, but if you need more guidance, you'll have to check the eMac's help menus or Apple's Web site.

If you need other assistance, you'll find yourself on the self-service road. Apple's service-and-support policy remains subpar compared to what you find in the rest of the PC world. The warranty covers parts and labor for the standard one year, but it includes only 90 days of toll-free technical support. AppleCare's three-year extension costs $149. Apple's &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Einfo%2Eapple%2Ecom%2F">Web site is the consolation prize, packed with FAQs, a knowledge base, technical support, and an active message board. The only drawback is that even after you've paid for your support package, you still have to register for the free, online AppleCare services to take advantage of all of the options. It's a minor hassle, but it's a hassle nevertheless. We found the eMac to be simple enough to use and set up, however, that you shouldn't have much need to consult tech support.

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