Red Letter Day

Sunday, October 21, 2007

iMac 24 inch review

It certainly has a pretty face, but like it's celebrity brethren, does the new iMac have some brains behind her good looks?

Apple recently introduced their newest revision of the venerable iMac line of MacOS computers. The iMac is Apple's mainstream home desktop computer, designed to cover a wide variety of consumer needs. It truly is the computer for the masses, but how does it stack up? I recently purchased a new 24 inch aluminum iMac and after using it for nearly a month, I believe Apple has definitely scored another winner.

The iMac comes in two screen sizes, 20 inches and 24 inches, the latter being as large as Apple's 23 inch cinema display (remember how big those looked a couple years ago -- now that resolution is available on a relatively inexpensive consumer Mac!). All the iMacs have the same processor, Intel's zippy Core 2 Duo, with the only differentiator being your choice of 2.4 or 2.8 gigahertz speeds. Mine came with the 2.8 chip. Unfortunately, in an effort to shave an extra $50 off the price, Apple still shortchanges the iMacs with RAM, only shipping them with 1 GB standard. Luckily it is cheap, and easy to add additional RAM. You will want to put at least 2 GB if not more (up to a maximum of 4 GB) if you plan to do any more then basic web surfing.

The first thing anyone notices about the iMac is the screen. Controversially, Apple added a glass panel over the LCD itself, resulting in bright eye-popping color, but also introducing a possibly-annoying glare. I haven't noticed any glare myself, but still, perception of glare is a very personal thing, depending on your own eyesight and the lighting in your office or room. I would recommend finding a friend (or traveling to the Apple store) and spending a half hour using the iMac before making your decision. Unfortunately, Apple doesn't provide an option for a matte screen, although I expect eventually there will be third-party "enhancements" (the glass panel comes off easily, although I wouldn't try it at home!) Ironically, my own iMac arrived with a distracting speck of dust caught between the glass and the screen, necessitating a trip to the Apple Store in Kansas City.

So how is the iMac in day to day use? Very fast and very nice. It seems zippier then my "old" 2 ghz Mac Pro, and benchmarking tests bear this out, showing the iMac to be about 20% faster. Web surfing, using email, listening to music in Tunes, and editing photos in iPhoto are extremely fast, and the perception of speed is palpable. I also was very pleased with how fast Parallels ran on the iMac. Watching movies and TV shows on the huge screen, especially sitting back with the included Apple Remote is a pleasure as well. I use an Elgato EyeTV to record live television and combined with the iMac, this gives you a legitimate home entertainment center.

One unique feature of the new iMacs is that they come with a very different Apple keyboard (also available separately) which looks (and types like) the keyboard on the Macbooks. I have found the keyboard to be very pleasant to use, but like with the screen, I recommend trying out yourself first. Of course, if you don't like it, you can plug in any USB keyboard.

Other nice touches in the iMac include a firewire 800 port (new to this generation of iMac, and very useful for adding fast external storage), extra fully-powered USB ports on the keyboard, and built-in Wi-Fi and bluetooth, and of course the video camera, useful for iChat as well as fun with Photobooth.

What is the iMac missing? For a consumer machine, very little. The only obvious oversight by Apple is the continuing omission of a built-in card reader for the most common digital camera memory cards. Attaching an ugly external reader ruins Apple's clean lines, and given the design attention paid elsewhere, seems like an oversight. I also would like at least one USB port tucked away on the side of th iMac rather then the back, to make it easier to quickly attach a removable device. The workaround for this is, of course, a hub, once again, cluttering up the view! I should also note that, other then memory, the iMac has no user-upgradeable parts (most previous iMacs were this way too); if you ever think you might want to upgrade processors or hard drives, go with a Mac Pro.

In summary, despite some minor quibbles, the aluminum iMac is a winner. A powerful, fast consumer Mac that has long legs and will make a great Leopard machine for several years to come. Anyone in the market for a new Mac who doesn't require the portability of a laptop should consider the iMac.

Aluminum iMac
$1200 - $2300 depending on configuration and screen size

- Extremely fast and powerful mainstream desktop Mac
- Gorgeous screen and all-around good looking machine
- lots of built-in extras

- Standard RAM is barely adequate
- No built-in memory card reader

Best for: General consumer and home/family use, students, office use, public-facing areas, consumer-grade digital photography or video editing
Consider a laptop instead if you require portability
Consider a Mac Pro instead if you do commercial-grade video/graphic design work or engineering

(this post cross-posted to the LAUG blog)



  • You can upgrade the hard drives, done it myself on my iMac last year. Just make sure they are SATA. Good review.

    By Blogger SmedRock, At 5:45 PM  

  • 1GB is sufficent unless running 3D modelling. 90% of users wont need 2GB not to mention 4GB.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 7:29 AM  

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