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.
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.
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|
|Apple iTunes encoding test|
|Rendering single CPU||Rendering multiple CPUs|
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
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)
Sony VAIO VGC-LS1
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