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Apple iMac (Winter 2009) review: Apple iMac (Winter 2009)

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The Good Best-in-class design; competitive performance in its price range, especially for multitasking; capable mainstream gaming performance.

The Bad Windows all-in-one vendors offer 20-inch or larger all-in-ones for less; not as well-suited as a dedicated digital entertainment system as some other all-in-ones.

The Bottom Line A few other all-in-ones make this 20-inch iMac look expensive on a dollars-per-screen-inch basis, but none are as attractive or as capable juggling multiple programs. With a fast dual-core CPU and a strong array of features, Apple's updated all-in-one will slide seamlessly into a variety of roles at home or at work.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 10
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Support 5

Editors' Note: As of October 20, 2009, the iMac reviewed here has been replaced by

One of the things we appreciate the most about Apple's new 20-inch iMac is that it has almost the same core components as the more expensive 24-inch model. Sure the screen is smaller, and the $1,199 default configuration reviewed here has a smaller hard drive and less memory than its linemate. You can also find more affordable 20-inch all-in-ones that offer similar sets of basic features. But thanks to its 2.66GHz dual-core CPU and its lean OS X operating system, the 20-inch iMac is perhaps the best deal going for day-to-day multitasking. If you want an all-in-one PC and, like many people, you spend most of your computing time swapping between programs, the 20-inch iMac is a very strong option at this price.

We won't belabor the design of the new iMac too much, as almost nothing has changed since previous models. It's still one of the prettiest computers on the market. Major additions to the outside include a fourth USB 2.0 port and a mini DisplayPort video jack in place of the old mini DVI output. Mini DisplayPort works natively with Apple's new LED Cinema Display monitors. You can also purchase various adapters from Apple to connect the iMac to standard VGA, DVI, and dual-link DVI-equipped monitors. Because the iMac's all-in-one design doesn't lend it to your living room, we don't miss HDMI as much here as we did on the new Mac Minis.

  Apple iMac (20-inch, 2.66GHz) Sony Vaio JS290J
Price $1,199 $1,299
Display size 20-inches 20-inches
CPU 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7400
Memory 2GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9400M 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS integrated graphics chip
Hard drives 320GB, 7,200rpm 500GB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 n, Bluetooth Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n wireless
Operating system Apple Mac OS X 10.5.6 Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)

Apple is no longer alone in the all-in-one PC category, and Dell, HP, and Sony all sell all-in-one computers with 20-inch or larger screens for less than the default 20-inch iMac. HP's TouchSmart IQ500T might be the best all-around deal at $1,149 for a 22-inch touch-screen PC, and Dell's 20-inch XPS One starts at a remarkable $749. We find Sony's 20-inch Vaio JS Series offers the best combination of form and function among Windows systems at this price.

We reviewed a souped-up $1,499 JS190J most recently in July 2008. Newer JS 200-series systems are available now for as low as $999. To compare the 20-inch iMac's default features with those of its primary competition, we've opted for the $1,299 Sony Vaio JS290J. They each have a 20-inch screen and 802.11n wireless networking, but the Sony also has a larger hard drive, and a Blu-ray player. Those advantages give the Sony an edge over the iMac as a dedicated digital media player for a den, a dorm, or the kitchen. Performance is a different story.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (20-inch, 2.66GHz)
123 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (20-inch, 2.66GHz)
159 

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac (20-inch, 2.66GHz)
388 

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Dell XPS 430-121B
10,701 
2,983 
Gateway LX6810-01
9,545 
2,731 
Sony Vaio JS190J
6,857 
3,646 
Apple iMac (20-inch, 2.66GHz)
5,864 
2,997 

We should be clear that we did not review the Sony listed in the features chart above, and the Sony in our performance chart refers to a model we did review, but that's no longer available. The Vaio JS190J was also more expensive than the newer version, at $1,499, and came with a faster CPU. We would expect the slower, $1,299 Sony in our features list would lose a step across the board on performance, and Apple could very well close the gap with that model on our Cinebench charts.

Overall, though, the test results are better for the iMac than on our other recent reviews of Apple's new desktops. The $900 Dell and $779 Gateway PCs in our charts are less expensive than the iMac, but throw in stand-alone 20-inch displays and the price disparity gets smaller. And while both the Dell and the Gateway have quad-core CPUs, that only benefits them on our Photoshop and multicore Cinebench tests. The 20-inch iMac is very competitive on our iTunes tests, and it also has an amazing advantage on our multitasking benchmark. We would recommend this iMac to anyone who wants an all-in-one for general productivity and light-duty digital media manipulation at home or at work.

As with the 24-inch iMac, we also found the 20-inch model a very capable 3D gaming system. Quake 4 has no 1,680x1,024 resolution setting to match the 20-inch model's native resolution, but at 1,280x1,024 with all the detail settings turned up and 4x antialiasing, the game looked great and was extremely smooth. If you were to dual-boot this system and load more demanding Windows games like Crysis or Far Cry 2 on the Windows partition, it might give you trouble, but our gaming experience was a significant improvement compared with that of the older iMacs. We suspect the iMac will let you play the majority of both Mac and PC gaming titles with relative smooth frame rates and at least acceptable image quality.

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