Apple's 24" iMac: There's more to High End than Performance

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The 24" iMac is BIG. This wasn't apparent until we sat down in front of it and actually started using it, but it was big enough that we needed to sit back from it a bit to see the whole screen. The 1,920 x 1,200 pixel desktop leaves a lot of room for multiple applications, especially text-based ones where text columns typically occupied less than half of the screen's width. One small complaint that we had was that the high resolution made the mouse seem very slow. Even with the pointer speed turned up to maximum, moving the pointer across the screen required almost a foot of lateral movement with the mouse — too much to stay on a mouse pad without using multiple motions.

The 24" screen provides a lot of desktop area.

The thermal design is more or less the same as the 17" iMac that we looked at last April. A large intake vent runs along the bottom edge of the screen, while an elegant slit at the top of the back panel serves as an exhaust. There are undoubtedly cooling fans inside, but they spin slowly enough that hot air that escapes trickles out not much faster than the speed of natural convection.

The intake vent on the bottom is invisible unless you're looking for it.

The exhaust vent is also well hidden. (It's the white strip along the top).

Like the 17" iMac, the 24" model uses a slot-loading optical drive mounted into the right edge of the screen. We like the fact that it's well hidden, but it would be nice to have a physical button to eject the disc, as the eject key on the keyboard only works when the operating system is loaded. In fact, we ran into an interesting puzzle when we used Boot Camp to install Windows: Once Windows is installed, a separate disc is needed to install the iMac-specific drivers. This requires changing discs... but the eject key on the keyboard doesn't work without special drivers installed. The solution, of course, is to track down the software eject function, which is buried in a context menu — hardly an intuitive solution.

On the same note, it would also be nice to have some control over the LCD functions that aren't software based. The intensity of the backlight can be adjusted with a special option in System Preferences, but other common functions like contrast, color temperature and color correction must be done by adjusting the signal generated by the graphics card instead of fixing it on the screen itself. Admittedly, the disadvantages of this method are only likely to be noticed by a small portion of iMac customers, but it still seems an odd approach given Apple's popularity among visual design professionals.

The back is as stylish as the front.

The output ports keep things small and simple: One jack for sound output, one for sound input, three USB 2.0 jacks (plus two USB 1.1 jacks built into the keyboard), and one each for Firewire 400 and 800, ethernet, and dual link mini-DVI port. This is more than enough for everyday use, but users with lots of peripherals may find themselves shelling out for various adapters such as USB hubs, mini-to-full DVI dongles, and Apple's unusual optical mini plug for multichannel audio.

A neat line of external connectors, including one Firewire 800 port.

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