17" Apple iMac - The Official SPCR Review

Complete|Mobile Systems
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The iMac glows with sleek glossy sex appeal, like a powerful, oversized iPod.

In comparison to a conventional desktop, the iMac is impressive for its small footprint and the lack of cable clutter. Only three cables need to be plugged in: The AC power cable, and the keyboard and mouse. Those who are willing to pay a little more can eliminate the cables for the keyboard and mouse by springing for Bluetooth-enabled wireless versions.

The small footprint is even more visible from the side: It's only slightly thicker than a standard LCD screen.

Apple has done a good job of disguising the fact that there's a whole computer bundled behind the LCD monitor. The front bezel is completely smooth, with no buttons or ports to mar the finish. The only functional parts are the screen itself and a tiny black spot that hides a webcam and an infrared receiver. One other functional feature shows up when the system is put to sleep: A hidden LED glows white under the surface of the bezel to indicate that the system is not powered off entirely.

So where are the functional parts hidden? Most of the ports for the peripherals are located on the back of the unit, where they are invisible under ordinary circumstances. Some users may object to the lack of front ports, but it really isn't too much trouble to reach underneath the screen to plug something in. If you can't do it by feel, the small form factor makes it easy to spin the screen around. This isn't a desktop box sitting underneath a desk. There are also two USB ports hidden on the top edge of the keyboard, but they are unpowered and would not recognize our USB flash drive (Apple's "Mighty Mouse" worked fine).

Apple is quite aggressive about dropping legacy ports, so the number and type of ports is quite reasonable. From left to right, the connectors are as follows:

  • Headphone / "Optical out" jack (accepts a 1/8" analogue jack or an optical mini jack for S/PDIF output)
  • Line in (not optical)
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x 6-pin Firewire 400
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • Dual link mini-DVI

A neat line of external connectors.

In comparison to most Windows-based systems, there is less variety and fewer connectors overall, but for most users there should be enough. After all, when was the last time you used all eight USB ports that your motherboard supports?

Power users may be annoyed by the ... unusual ... choice of connectors for the DVI and SPDIF ports. Here Apple is engaging in a bit of market engineering. Not surprisingly, the only other hardware that supports these kinds of connectors are Apple and a few traditional manufacturers of "Apple only" peripherals. Adapters are available, of course, but at a significant premium.

A slot-loading DVD drive is hidden in the right side.

One final bit of sleekness is the position of the DVD-burner. Only a thin slot along the right side of the screen shows that the iMac comes with any kind of optical drive at all. The slot feeds into a laptop-sized drive manufactured by Matsushita (better known outside Japan as Panasonic). Once again, power users may be annoyed that the drive cannot be replaced with a standard part, but by now it should be quite clear that this product is not targeted at that market. If nothing else, the unusual loading mechanism serves to enhance the image of sleekness and exclusivity — something that Apple is no doubt quite aware of. From an ergonomic point of view, we are quite in favor of the slot loading drive. Questions of reliability aside, a slot loading drive is both simpler to use and often quieter than a tray-based design.

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