Apple iMac 5th Generation review: Apple iMac 5th Generation

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The Good Industry-leading design; best all-in-one overall for its price; strong digital media performance; broad range of connectivity options; easy-to-use operating system.

The Bad Smaller screen than some newer all-in-ones; puny hard drive for its price; disproportionately expensive memory upgrades; lame 90-day phone support.

The Bottom Line Apple's smaller-scale iMac remains our favorite all-in-one. And while its looks, its ease of use, and its performance are all selling points, Windows PCs are starting to catch up (at least with the latter). A few components could also stand an update, but in general you'll find the 20-inch iMac a remarkable computer for its price.

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8.2 Overall
  • Design 10
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 5

We've already shown our affection for Apple's highest-end iMac, but with back-to-school shopping season in full-swing, the time felt right to fill in a gap in our review database by covering the lowest-end, $1,200, 20-inch model. What we find is that the most affordable iMac has the usual content-creation strengths we've come to expect from Apple. And, while some of its features stand out from the competition, we're disappointed by others. Overall, we recommend the 20-inch, 2.4GHz iMac if you have a budget between $1,000 and $1,500 for a desktop that you'll use for digital media editing.

By now, Apple's iMac design should look familiar. The 20-inch model is a scaled-down but otherwise identical copy of the higher-end, 24-inch iMac we reviewed a few months ago. Both use the revamped brushed silver and glossy black chassis that Apple rolled out last year to replace the all-white original design. The screen tilts with an acceptable range of motion on the stand, and you should be able to place the system comfortably in most standard desk-and-chair situations.

Depending on the kind of system you'd like, and whether you're operating system agnostic, the iMac competes with a handful of Windows-based all-in-ones. HP's revamped TouchSmart, Dell's XPS One, and the lesser-known Averatec All-in-One, all have similar prices and specifications, and they also have larger, 22-inch displays. If screen size is the biggest differentiator for you, the 20-inch iMac loses. But keep in mind that while it has a bit less real estate, Apple's display does have the same 1,680x1,050-pixel resolution as those other systems.

  Apple iMac Gateway FX4710
Price $1,200 $1,150
CPU 2.4GHz 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory 1GB of 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM 6GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 128MB ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT 512MB Nvidia Geforce 9800 GT (overclocked)
Hard drives 250GB 7,200 rpm 640GB 7,200 rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet; 802.11n WiFi; Bluetooth 10/100 Ethernet, modem
Operating system OS X 10.5.4 Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)

And if we say that the iMac's display accounts for about $200 of its price (based on the going rate for a standalone 20-inch LCD), it is then fair to compare the iMac with standard desktops that cost about $1,000. Desktops in that price range tend to offer large hard drives, decent midrange 3D cards, media card readers, and occasionally HD-optical drives; all things the default $1,200 iMac lacks. As always with all-in-ones, the iMac can't offer the same level of upgradeability as a desktop.

What the iMac can do, among other things, is dominate its competition on our digital content and multitasking benchmarks. First, it simply destroys the Windows-based all-in-ones across the board. The Averatec system makes a respectable challenge on our iTunes encoding test, but overall the iMac is the clear productivity winner among other all-in-one PCs.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Gateway FX4710
Maingear Prelude
Apple iMac
Averatec All-in-One
HP TouchSmart IQ506

The desktop to all-in-one comparison is a little different. The Gateway FX4710 is actually a bit more expensive than our $1,000 target, coming in at $1,150. It's the closest in price of system's we've tested, though, and it still shows some interesting points. It outperforms the iMac handily on Photoshop, but it also needed three times the RAM to achieve those scores. The Gateway also has a small edge on our iTunes test, and with the iMac's dual core CPU, we expected it would fall short of those quad-core desktop on our multithreaded CPU benchmark. Notice, though, that the iMac still surpasses the Gateway on our multitasking test. It also does much better against the $1,500 Maingear Prelude than it did against the Gateway. Overall we find these scores are a testament to the iMac's relative prowess as a desktop for editing and manipulating digital media.

Depending on your needs, the iMac might start to lose a bit of sheen when you compare its features. Of all the systems in our comparison, the iMac has the smallest capacity hard drive, and the least amount of RAM. Given that we've seen $700 desktops with 500GB hard drives, the 250GB model in the iMac feels especially skimpy. Apple offers 320GB and 500GB options as upgrades, for market prices, but we'd like to see 500GB come standard--in keeping with the competition.

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