Apple iMac w/Intel Core Duo: A User's Review

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COMPARING THE TWO COMPUTERS

20-inch iMac

Intel Core Duo 2Ghz processor
1.5GB PC2-5300 memory
SuperDrive DL DVD/CD
Stock CPU and case cooling,
250GB SATA internal hard drive
iSight video/audio
3 USB2 ports on iMac, 2 USB2 ports on keyboard,
3 Firewire Ports
Gigabit Ethernet
802.11G
Bluetooth
Built in Speakers
320GB AcomData external Firewire/USB2 hard drive

Wintel PC

AMD 64 3000+ processor
Zalman 7000ALCU heatsink/fan w/ SpeedFan control
Antec case & power supply
Three 80mm Panaflo at 7V (one front intake, two exhaust)
1GB of PC3700 memory
200GB and 300GB Seagate 7200.7 hard drives
Fanless nVidia FX5200 video card
52X LiteOn CDR
USB 5 port card
FireWire 3 port card
modem for faxing
19" 1600x1200 CRT monitor
Microsoft Sound System 80 speakers

My Windows desktop is an open system allowing easy changes or additions of cards while the iMac is a closed system allowing you to only add memory. Everything else needs to be either USB or Firewire. Because the iMac comes so well configured I wasn't concerned about this. I could have opted for a Mac in a Tower Case like the G5 or its upcoming Intel successor, but didn't feel it was necessary.


iMac atop the desk; tall white Antec case houses Wintel PC.

PERFORMANCE AND AUDIO NOISE COMPARISONS

The iMac - with its dual core Yonah Intel CPU and multiple processor optimized OSX - is fast, noticeably faster than my XP/AMD 64 3000+ system. The speed difference is especially obvious when the CPUs are maxed out. In XP the overall system would respond slowly if a processor intensive operation like video encoding was going on. In OSX, even when both cores are maxed out the system still responds very quickly and always has a snappy feeling to it. This was a pleasant. [Editor's Note: To be fair, a dual-core XP / Athlon 64 machine would likely exhibit similarly improved multitasking speed under high load as the new Core Duo iMac.]

My Windows XP Machine case is underneath my desk, only a couple of feet from where I sit. When there is no noticeable ambient noise in the house, I can hear the power supply very clearly in the XP machine, but the noise didn't bother me much because it wasn't harsh or high pitched. When writing to the hard drive you can definitely hear the drives working away, the drive noise bothered me much more than the fans. I never got around to suspending my hard drives with rubber because of the cost of prefab solutions, and hassle factor of doing it myself. Overall I would have told anybody that it was a pretty quiet machine, definitely the quietest modestly-fast PC I had ever owned.

I knew from some online reviews that the iMac would be quiet, but I had no idea how quiet. The iMac is by far the quietest computer I've ever used. It isn't completely silent, I estimate the light hush from the fans to be roughly equivalent to an 80mm Panaflo at 7V from about a foot or 18 inches away. I don't hear the hard drive at all even when reading and writing many GB's. This was a very welcome surprise for somebody who highly values a silent PC! Apple has done a great job combining elegant design with extremely low noise and capable performance.

DRAWBACKS TO THE MAC

There were only a couple of drawbacks to the Mac for me. I find Quicken for Mac to be less than stellar compared to Quicken for Windows, and I use Quicken pretty extensively. This is the only big issue for me. There are a couple little programs I run which have no Mac version, but I could live without them. Luckily this wasn't much of an obstacle for me, I still have a Windows XP MCE machine that powers my home entertainment system, so I installed Quicken on it, and I operate it via Remote Desktop from my iMac. I find this a better solution for me than switching to Quicken for Mac.

Also, my HP Scanjet Scanner had no OSX compatible drivers, so I sold the HP on eBay and picked up a Canon CanoScan LiDE 60 which is well supported with OSX. This was a minor inconvenience, but only had a net cost of about $25 to make the switch. The font Anti-aliasing on the Mac took me some getting used to. On Windows XP I never used ClearType (Anti-Aliasing). The Mac OSX doesn't let you turn it off, allowing only light, medium and automatic settings for Anti-Aliasing.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Apple will continue to convert some Windows users to the Mac. Security on OSX is arguably better than on Windows, probably because Windows is far more often targeted by hackers than the Mac (rather than higher security in absolute terms), but the end result is the same. There is also the iPod Effect, Windows XP and Apple iPod users who may look to make the Mac their next computer.

I bought my new Intel 20" iMac because it is a beautiful machine which runs a very stable operating system with a lot of performance and software that appealed to me. But I felt like I really struck gold when I realized how incredibly quiet the new iMac runs.

If anything I've written about is intriguing to you, I recommend that you give the Mac, particularly the iMac your consideration.

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Much thanks to Randy Harris for taking the time and effort to share his experience with the 20" iMac with Core Duo.

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Articles of Related Interest

17" Apple iMac - The Official SPCR Review
Puget Delivers a Quiet Core Duo PC
Shuttle's Smallest Yet: XPC X100

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