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

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.

Matt Elliott
Matt Elliott Contributor
Matt Elliott, a technology writer for more than a decade, is a PC tester and Mac user based in New Hampshire.
5 min read
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.


Apple iMac (3rd Gen.)

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.

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  

CineBench 9.5
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering single CPU  
Rendering multiple CPUs  

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Apple iMac Core 2 Duo 17-inch
OS X 10.4.7; 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5600; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; integrated 64MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 graphics chip; 160GB Western Digital 7,200rpm serial ATA hard drive

Apple iMac Core 2 Duo 24-inch
OS X 10.4.7; 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7400; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; integrated 128MB Nvidia GeForce 7300 GT graphics chip; 250GB Western Digital 7,200rpm serial ATA hard drive

Dell XPS 410
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6600; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7900 GS; (2) Western Digital 300GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA hard drive; Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 1)

Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo T2400; 2,048MB DDR2-SDRAM 533MHz; integrated 128MB (shared) Intel 945GM graphics chip; 250GB Western Digital 7,200rpm serial ATA hard drive

Velocity Micro ProMagix E2010
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6400; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7600 GS; 320GB Western Digital 7,200prm Serial ATA hard drive


Apple iMac (3rd Gen.)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 6Performance 5Support 5
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