Review: Apple iMac 20" Core DuoRight ho then, this review is right on schedule. What I will try to do is to review this iMac as just a new computer and not like some 437th Mac that I've reviewed, because I'm a normal computer user and not a magazine editor.
First of all, here is the system configuration for this iMac (it's a slightly custom model):
- Processor: 2GHz Intel Core Duo (2 cores); 2MB L2 Cache at 2GHz; 667MHz Bus
- RAM: 1GB PC2-5300 (667MHz) DDR2 (1 SODIMM)
- Storage: 250GB 7200rpm Serial-ATA Hard Drive (Maxtor)
- Graphics Subsystem: ATI Radeon X1600 (PCIe) with 256MB of GDDR3 memory
- Display: 20" TFT LCD at 1680x1050 (16:10); Viewing Angles: 170º/170º
- Optical Drive: DVD±RW Drive; Writes Dual-Layer discs; 2.4x/8x/4x/8x/24x/8x/24x
- Communication Subsystem: 802.11g (54Mbps) Airport Extreme Wireless; Bluetooth 2.0+ (EDR); Gigabit Ethernet
- Audio: Built-in Stereo Speakers; Headphone/Optical Digital Out; Line Input; Built-in Microphone
- Expansion: 2 FireWire 400; 3 USB 2.0; 2 USB 1.1 (Keyboard)
- Misc: Built-in iSight Camera; Mini-DVI output port with support for DVI, VGA, S-video, and composite video connections; Support for external display in extended desktop and video mirroring modes
- Input: Apple Wired Keyboard, Apple Mighty Mouse, Apple Remote
OK, as far as setup goes, the iMac is really, really, really, really easy to setup. You open the box, remove the keyboard and mouse, then you see the iMac. Simply pick it up and place it on your desk. Take the power cable - which is just a cable, mind you, not a cable-power brick-cable combination. Plug one end of that cable into the iMac and the other end into the power point, attach the keyboard to the back of the iMac, the mouse to the keyboard, and you're done. Boot it up and you see a nice Tiger musical video introduction which then cubes out and takes you to a wizard where you can choose which country you live in and if you have an older Mac to transfer stuff from. For the first time I did have a temporary Mac to transfer stuff from. So, I followed its instructions, which were extremely simple, hooked a FireWire cable between the two Macs and data was flying away from the iBook to the iMac. Once that finished, the iMac was basically a mirror image of the iBook, with all the applications installed and all the data in its original place. So I had the same account name, password, preferences, &c. and when I logged in, I was in a totally familiar setting, with even the icon positions on the desktop being intact.
Start-up and Firmware
OK, so let's get to the good stuff. This thing takes 21 seconds from Apple logo to login window and 4-5 seconds from login window to usable desktop. Pretty fast. Also, since the switch to Intel processors, they've changed a bit of the firmware. When you press the Option (alt) key during start-up to see the boot menu, for example, that selfsame boot menu is now in 16-bit colour and is really sweet looking (with cool animations). Same with the FireWire Target Disk mode. Unfortunately, the Apple Hardware Test still looks like Mac OS 9. Lazy bastards! :-)
Also, may I mention that this computer is extremely fast. Everything launches in one or two Dock Bounces (standardized unit of course). Everything is instantaneous, there are no delays, no lags, no jitters, no stutters - everything is fast and fluid. This seriously is Mac OS X on afterburners. Also, since I have two cores on this thing, I've done DVD to DivX conversion simultaneously while doing anything else, i.e., high-performance gaming, without experiencing any kind of speed issues. For the curious, Handbrake conversion of a DVD movie into MPEG-4 goes at about 40-45fps, compared to 50fps on a Dual 2GHz Power Mac G5, and this is really respectable because Handbrake isn't even optimized for Intel processors yet, although it is Universal.
The Xbench results aren't all that spectacular and some of them are just counterintuitive. For example, the iMac scored a mere 15 where a Dual 2GHz Power Mac G5 scored a 100. So forgive me if I don't exactly trust them all that much because it looks like Xbench is not yet fully optimized for Intel. According to Xbench, the iMac scored a 76.43 on the processor test (all Power Mac G5 comparison scores are 100). On the Thread Test though, the iMac seems to blow the G5 away, scoring 199. I have posted the full test details here: http://db.xbench.com/merge.xhtml?doc1=155647&doc2=1. Maybe we'll have some better benchmarking with Xbench 1.3.
When talking about running PowerPC applications on these new MacIntels, the translation engine has to be taken into account. This thing actually converts blocks of code from PowerPC to Intel and then caches them in RAM so that it doesn't need to reprocess them. In computer science, as probably know, there is always a balance between processing time and memory usage, known as time complexity and space complexity respectively. So, to reduce the time complexity of Rosetta, Apple went for a slight hit in the space complexity region, the result being that if an application usually takes 128MB of RAM, it will take up 192MB under Rosetta - an increase of 50%. This extra bit of RAM is where the cached code goes. Basically, applications which repeatedly use the same chunks of code will get less of a performace hit in Rosetta than others which don't; and another reason as to why Warcraft III performs so well might be because it depends heavily on the graphics subsystem.
As for games - yeah, now we're rubbing our hands in delight - I got Unreal Tournament 2004 to test it out and patched it with the recently released Universal Binary update. It really runs like a champ. I maxed out all the settings - oh yeah and when you do this, the game says "Holy Shit" in the same voice that you're probably familiar with for saying "Megakill" &c. I played all the campaigns and I have to say that the game runs incredibly smooth. No slowdowns ever, not even close. I don't know how to enable the framerate display in the game but it's probably more than 30fps. The only other game I've tried on this is Warcraft III, which runs under emulation, but surprisingly it runs really fluidly and I haven't noticed any performance glitches in it, although it's probably not as smooth as UT2004.
Display & Front Row
One of the best ways to show off this computer is its enormous 20" display and Front Row... enhanced, of course, by the Apple Remote which looks a lot like an iPod Shuffle and also works exactly the same way - keeping the Play button pressed for 3 seconds puts the iMac to sleep. I also get kicks out of telling people that the infrared sensor is located behind the Apple logo on the front. Meanwhile, Front Row is really one of the coolest things most people have seen on a computer (including me). It takes the iMac from being just a computer to a complete home entertainment system. A 1680x1050 display also gives me ample space to do a lot of things at the same time because there's simply more space. 1024x768 feels positively cramped now.
Regarding its speakers, although I was skeptical at first, I needn't have feared, because the speakers on this machine are quite awesome. They're not loud enough for any kind of serious party, but they're just the right loudness for a music lover who lives in a dorm. The other reason why they're so cool is because they're tucked away neatly at the bottom of the computer where no one can really see them and so the music seems to be coming out of the screen.
Keyboard and Mouse
Although the keyboard that ships with this computer is excellent in both looks and working, the mouse is only good in the former department. I'll tell you this - if you play Warcraft with the Mighty Mouse, you will lose! Here's the fundamental problem - although it's the most elegant looking mouse, to perform a right-click, you have to lift your finger off the left-click, as it determines which button you want to click by a touch-sensing method. If you have both your fingers on the mouse and you click, then it defaults to a left-click. Basically, I'm using my Microsoft Starck mouse, which is pretty, silver and shiny not to mention it's two distinct left and right clicks. The Mighty Mouse has been relegated to my Windows laptop.
If you have a Bluetooth headset lying around, like I do, it makes something really convenient. For example, you can start an audio conversation on iChat and not be restricted to sitting in front of the computer. There's a convenient Bluetooth button in every iChat Audio and Video Chat window which instantly switches input and output to a Bluetooth device.
Apple's claim is (and it's quite realistic) that the only cable you'll need with the iMac is the power cable. Internet is through Wireless, you can buy an Apple (or a non-Apple) Bluetooth Keyboard and Mouse and you're all set. Since the iMac comes with a 250GB internal drive, most people won't require an external hard drive. Plus, you can custom order the iMac with a 500GB disk as well, if you need to.
Most people would probably hate to be right in the middle of a transition like this one, but I love it, because everyday, more and more software becomes Universal Binary and I try it out. Like Delicious Library, which now runs fantastically on the iMac, but was literally unusable under Rosetta.
If I have missed out on something important that you'd like to hear about, drop me a line in the comments and I'll add more stuff.