17" Apple iMac - The Official SPCR Review

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April 21, 2006 by Devon Cooke with Mike Chin

Product
Apple 17" iMac
Manufacturer
Apple
Selling Price
~US$1500 from the Apple Store

By now, most people are aware that Apple makes quiet systems, especially those based on Intel's Core Duo processors. We recently published a user review that said as much. However, until now we haven't been able to say exactly how quiet. An oft-repeated criticism of the user review is that the noise impressions were subjective and unquantified — not really a surprise for a user review, but a legitimate complaint for readers who wanted to know more about the product.

So, we pulled a few strings and managed to convince Apple Canada to send us a unit that we could measure and abuse in the comfort of our lab. On a rainy morning a couple of weeks later, a surprisingly small box showed up holding the most tightly integrated "desktop" system we've ever seen. In fact, with the exception of the full-size keyboard and mouse and the lack of a battery, the iMac might as well be a laptop, albeit a very full-featured one.


This modest-sized boxed holds a complete system, LCD monitor included.

Five minutes later, we had plugged the AC cord into the wall, hooked up the keyboard and mouse, and were happily surfing the internet courtesy of the internal wireless card. No drivers to install, no pop-ups asking if we'd like to purchase broadband access from a major Telecom, and no "friendly" reminder that we'd be locked out of the operating system if we didn't activate OS X.

Our impression was that the Core Duo iMac is very fast and snappy — much more so than the previous PowerPC Macs that we've used. We were pleased to notice that the operating system took very little time to boot (less than half of what we're used to), and the system didn't struggle at all with the heavyweight GUI that ships with OS X. Although detailed performance testing of the processor is beyond the scope of this review, The Tech Report recently did some extensive tests on the Core Duo and declared it the best Intel processor yet.

SPECIFICATIONS

For such a small package, the iMac is very fully featured. Wireless Internet, a webcam, and a HTPC remote control (and software) are all standard features. Things are the same on the software side of things. There is native support for .PDF files (and it's faster than Adobe's version for Windows), as well as GZipped archives and several common disc image formats. Apple's iLife suite of multimedia applications is more complete than Windows' offerings and, more importantly, is easier to figure out for first time users. It also comes with the ability to play (and burn) DVDs — something that requires bundled software on a Windows-based machine.

The complete system configuration is listed below, along with a cost comparison using the same or similar parts, priced as cheaply as we could find them using Froogle.

Apple 17" iMac Cost Comparison
Component
iMac
Equivalent PC Part
Lowest market price
Motherboard
Proprietary to Apple
Asus N4L-VM DH
$160
Case
Antec SLK3000B
$40
Power Supply
Seasonic S12 330W
$50
LCD Monitor
BenQ FP71G+ 17" LCD
$200
CPU
1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo T2400
$290
RAM
DDR2 PC5400 — 1.5 GB
$150
Video Card
ATI Radeon X1600 128MB DDR3 VRAM
Sapphire ATI Radeon X1600 Pro 128MB
$100
Hard Drive
Maxtor 6L160M0 — 160 GB
$70
CD/DVD-RW
SuperDrive 8x (Identifed as a Matsushita DVD-R UJ-846)
$110
Wireless Network Card
AirPort Express (w/ Bluetooth)
MSI Dual Net Card

$40

Webcam
Built-in
Logitech Labtec WebCam Pro
$30
Keyboard + Mouse
Keyboard & Mighty Mouse
Logitech Deluxe Desktop Keyboard & Optical Mouse Combo
$10
Operating System
OS X Tiger (10.4.2)
Microsoft Windows XP Home OEM
$80
Office Suite
iWork '06
Microsoft Works Suite 2006
$50
Total Cost
~US$1530
~US$1380

As configured, the iMac is only about 10% more expensive than the parts priced individually. Consider what you get for the extra $150:

  • A fully assembled system, with the OS and software installed
  • A very quiet system, with no tweaking required
  • A more energy efficient system
  • All components are purchased from a single vendor, and only one shipping bill needs to be paid
  • A much more aesthetic and portable form factor
  • A higher quality, 16x9 widescreen monitor
  • A remote control and home theater software
  • Built-in speakers

Apple's reputation for being expensive may be justified for some of their products, but the 17" iMac is not one of them. Time will tell, of course. Once big names like Dell and Gateway begin selling Core Duo-based systems, the cost of the individual components may drop, but for the time being the iMac is one of the cheapest way to obtain a system built on a Core Duo.

Although it is not the focus of this review, Apple's home theater software deserves special mention for being easy to pick up and figure out immediately. Anyone who has used an iPod should be able to figure out the interface in minutes. Surprisingly, the tiny Apple Remote, with just five buttons, is perfectly adequate for navigation. Its secret is tight integration with iTunes. Media is organized in iTunes (or iPhoto for pictures), where it can be sorted into playlists and identified by Title, Artist, etc.

Then, the home theater mode is activated by pressing any button on the remote. Icons and text are large enough to be seen at a distance, and selecting media to be played is as simple as navigating the menu system for the iPod.

Its biggest advantage over Windows MCE, iMon, etc. is its simplicity. It does not expect you to do everything by remote, and the options and everything else has been cut down to the bare essentials — making it simple to do what you want to do with a remote: Play media.



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