capsule review

Apple iMac

At a Glance

The 24-inch iMac (list price: $1799) is a refresh of the big boy of its all-in-one desktop line. Despite tweaks to the design and specs, this is a modest, nonradical iMac update. Even so, the striking system will make you look twice.

We tested the retail-store configuration of the 24-inch iMac: It comes with a 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 processor, 1GB of memory, a 320GB Serial ATA drive, ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro graphics with 256MB of GDDR3 memory, and a slot-loading SuperDrive DVD burner.

Online, you can configure the 24-inch iMac to carry up to 1TB of storage, 4GB of memory, and a 2.8-GHz Core 2 Extreme processor. Connectivity capabilities include gigabit ethernet, AirPort Extreme 802.11n (draft) wireless networking, integrated Bluetooth 2.0, and an infrared receiver for use with the included remote control. (All of these features were offered in the previous-generation iMac as well.)

PC World's Test Center used Apple Boot Camp 1.4 to load Windows Vista Home Premium onto the iMac. On our WorldBench 6 Beta 2 benchmark test suite, the unit turned in a respectable score of 82--about 20 percent behind the average power desktop score of 103. The performance number may, in part, reflect our iMac's use of a mobile processor. Still, during my casual use of the system,operations such as navigating photos in iPhoto and Web surfing felt swift.

The PC World Test Center put the iMac through our formal graphics tests. On our Doom 3 tests, the iMac pumped out 92 frames per second at 1280 by 1024 resolution, and 47 fps second at the same resolution with antialiasing enabled. On our Far Cry tests, the iMac churned out 86 fps at 1280 by 1024 resolution, and 41 fps with antialiasing enabled. Those results are average.

As for looks, this iteration of the iMac dispenses with the previous version's glossy kitsch in favor of glossy elegance. The kludgy polycarbonate plastic chassis of the earlier-generation iMac line is gone, replaced with a sleek anodized aluminum chassis; and the glass screen has a tasteful black bezel around it. The finish is in keeping with Apple's Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, and iPhone, all of which use aluminum and glass in their design.

Though the physical dimensions of this new iMac differ only slightly different from those of its predecessor, the changes make a tremendous difference in appearance: The new iMac looks sleeker, more stylish, and less squared off than the older, plasticized version. The design is both simple and seamless, with air vents at the back of the screen and beneath it to facilitate airflow (The unit does get a bit toasty after it has been on for a while, but according to Apple that's to be expected, given the aluminum chassis). The only screw on the entire chassis is beneath the screen; removing the screw gives you easy access to the memory slots. A 640-by-480-resolution Webcam and microphone are subtly built in to the screen.

Accompanying the new iMac is a redesigned matching keyboard with two USB 2.0 ports (the previous generation's keyboard had USB 1.1 ports). These new ports have enough juice to handle devices that draw up to 500 mA, including an iPod and some portable external hard-disk drives. Unfortunately, the ports are inset, one on each side at the rear of the keyboard; and the keyboard itself is so low-slung that only one out of six flash memory drives I tried--each in a different case--actually fit the USB port without affecting the keyboard's balance.

The keyboard's low profile hindered my typing, too. When I used the keyboard, I was surprised at how easily my touch-typist fingers adapted to the MacBook-like keys. Despite having a key height of 0.33 inch (versus 0.89 inch on the previous version), the keys were distinct and crisp to the touch, and they felt roomy enough to accommodate my fast-flying fingers. That said, I wish that Apple had raised the keyboard slightly farther from the desk surface, as many notebook keyboards are, and perhaps included a sculpted wrist rest.

The 24-inch, 1920-by-1200-resolution, glass-covered display significantly improves on the earlier version: The glossy glass gives images better contrast and sharpness than its plastic predecessor could support. Apple says that the glass is treated with antireflective and strengthening coatings that cut glare and make the glass scratch- and break-resistant. The black frame surrounding the display is painted onto the back side of the glass; this may have contributed to the improved image quality as well.

Though the new iMac doesn't come with a next-generation Blu-ray Disc drive, the integrated graphics on the 24-inch model we tested can decode high-definition (1920-by-1080-pixel) H.264, VC-1, and MPEG-2 video streams of the type used by Blu-ray. Consequently the iMac may be able to support an external Blu-ray Disc option, when a drive and playback software ship for the Mac.

Like its predecessor, this iteration of the 24-inch iMac comes with a FireWire 800 port, for faster data transfers between the iMac and devices that offer that interface, such as external hard drives. Apple's decision to include FireWire 800 on its latest line of iMacs indicates the company's continued support of the FireWire 800 interface over External SATA (ESATA), which many PC motherboard manufacturers are backing. On the back, alongside the FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 ports are three USB 2.0 ports.

A new, more compact, wireless Bluetooth keyboard sells for $30 extra; and the combination of this keyboard plus a wireless Mighty Mouse costs $50 (bump that price to $79 if you buy the combo on its own, without a new iMac). The wireless keyboard is closer in size to a typical notebook keyboard, and it lacks the multimedia playback keys, 19 function keys, and other display control buttons that the larger wired keyboard houses.

Regrettably, the unchanged, glossy white Mighty Mouse now looks out of place next to the new aluminum chassis and keyboard.

The system's integrated sound includes 5.1-channel audio support, with optical digital audio output/headphone-out and optical digital audio input/line-in jacks. A 24-watt digital amplifier gives the built-in stereo speakers surprisingly strong sound. But music aficionados may want to supplement the iMac with a dedicated set of speakers anyway: Music tracks lacked depth, and vocals sounded a bit thin.

The new iMac comes preloaded with iLife '08, a $79 value on its own. ILife '08 is the first major revision of Apple's digital life management software since iLife '06, and it has some new components, such as completely redesigned iMovie and Web Gallery elements (for use with a .Mac account). The iPhoto component has been improved as well.

Svelte and appealing though the new iMac is, with the Leopard OS slated to ship in October, I recommend against purchasing a new iMac right away. At some point Apple presumably will announce what, if any, plan it will offer to buyers of the first wave of new iMacs for upgrading to Leopard; and if not, you can just wait until Leopard hits in October--and buy a unit with the new operating system preinstalled.

Melissa J. Perenson

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At a Glance
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