The iMac, Apple's iconic all-in-one desktop, is back. It's only been about half a year since the last upgrade, but we're pleased to see the inclusion of Intel's latest Core 2 Duo 'Penryn' CPU. It helps to make the insides of this attractive machine move much more quickly
Most of us are familiar with the iMac, Apple's iconic all-in-one desktop. It's designed for people who can't be bothered messing around with PCs with separate base units, monitors and half a kilometre of cabling. This latest model uses a much quicker graphics card and latest Intel Core 2 Duo CPU -- codenamed 'Penryn', as opposed to the older Core 2 Duo, codenamed 'Merom'. The new chip has 6MB of L2 cache and a faster 1,066MHz frontside bus.
We've reviewed the 24-inch, 2.8GHz model, which costs £1,149. The lower-end 20-inch iMac with 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo CPUs starts at £799, while the largest 24-inch, 3.06GHz version will put you out £1,389.
The latest iMacs look identical to their predecessors, which have been on the shelves for the past six months or so. That's no bad thing, however. The brushed metal chassis, curved edges and abundance of glass make it look miles more attractive than the white, plastic incarnations.
If there's one word to describe the new iMac, it's 'minimalist'. Whereas Dell's XPS One is festooned with all manner of lights, buttons and switches, the iMac's design is very clean. There's a webcam above the screen, and a slot-loading DVD drive on the right, but everything else is hidden from your immediate view.
All the other bits -- like the power button -- are round the back. The rear is also home to a single FireWire port, four USB ports, a mini-DVI video output port, plus headphone and line-in jacks. The location of these ports is slightly inconvenient, seeing as you'll have to physically turn the machine around or get up and peer round the back to connect or disconnect most of your peripherals.
Happily, most does not mean all -- the wired keyboard, which connects via USB, comes with two USB port of its own. One of these will permanently be dedicated to the accompanying Mighty Mouse -- which is nowhere near as good as a Microsoft mouse, by the way -- leaving the other free for connecting a USB key or digital camera. A wireless Bluetooth keyboard is also available, but that does not include any USB ports.
The 20-inch models use either 2.4GHz or 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo CPUs, while the 24-inch models use either 2.8GHz or 3.06GHz Core 2 Duos, depending on how much you're willing to pay. We've grown to love the new Penryn version of the chip, which have 6MB of cache memory -- compared to just 4MB on the old ones -- and a faster front-side bus, 1,066MHz instead of 800MHz. This allows them to transfer data to and from the computer's memory subsystem quicker than ever, resulting in faster operations.
Our 24-inch review sample shipped with the 2.8GHz E8300 and 2GB of RAM, though up to 4GB is available. Unfortunately, the price of upgrading the memory is quite extraordinary. At the time of writing, going from 2GB to 4GB of DDR2 800MHz costs an extra £120. By comparison, upgrading from 2GB to 4GB on a standard Dell costs approximately £50.
The same applies to storage. Our 24-inch iMac review sample shipped with an ample 500GB drive. However, anyone who wants storage will have to open their wallets -- wide. For our model, doubling the storage to 1TB will cost you £180. Doing the same on most other desktop brands -- again, including Dell -- should only cost you about £80. If you've ever wondered why Steve Jobs is such a rich man, now you know.
Graphics are a mixed bag on the new iMacs. The entry-level 20-incher
uses an entry-level ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT, while the second-tier
20-incher and entry-level 24-inch models get an ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro,
which is pretty average.
For £90, you can upgrade the entry-level 24-incher to the latest Nvidia GeForce 8800 GS card with 512MB of dedicated GDDR3 memory. This card comes standard on the most expensive 24-inch version. It's a good addition for anyone doing lots of graphics-intensive work or 3D modeling, but it doesn't really make the iMac a better choice for gamers, due to the comparatively small library of Mac-compatible games.
The iMac's display is generally very good, as you might expect.
The 24-inch model is especially nice to look at, thanks to its ample
1,920x1,200-pixel resolution. Our only gripe is the fact the display
has a glossy finish, which can be too reflective. It's best used in
rooms with perfectly diffuse lighting.
All iMacs ship with an 8x dual-layer DVD rewriter, an Airport Extreme wireless adaptor that supports 802.11b/g and Draft-N standards, Bluetooth, iLife '08 and a pre-installed copy of the OS X Leopard operating system.
We were impressed with the 24-inch iMac's showing last year, and this latest update showed marked improvement on CNET.com's multitasking test as well as with CineBench. We weren't surprised to see iTunes performance stay the same, since it's largely dependent on CPU clockspeed. What we didn't expect was a 22 per cent increase on our multimedia multitasking benchmark compared with that of last year's model.
On CineBench 10 -- a 3D rendering test that taxes the CPU and graphics subsystems -- the new iMac outpaced the older 24-inch model by 8 per cent, which is about the margin we'd expect between two systems released seven months apart. This iMac's faster frontside bus, faster memory and larger L2 cache each play a role in its improved performance over last year's model, as does the new version of Leopard (10.5.2), we suspect.
The iMac is still the best all-in-one PC on the market. We love the physical design of the system, and the new components on the inside make it very quick. Our only real gripe is the fact it's difficult to upgrade after purchasing, and upgrading at the point of purchase will cost you an arm and a leg. Overall, though, we think it's a better bet than an XPS One.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday