Opinion: The top 10 standout Macs of the past 25 years

Not all of them were home runs, but they all made a big splash

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The Power Mac G3 (1997)

The Power Macintosh G3 represented a new beginning for Apple because it the first computer unveiled after the return of CEO Steve Jobs, who had immediately canceled Apple's cloning licenses with third-party computer manufacturers. He also slashed Apple's product line from dozens of models to just a few core products.

The Power Mac G3 was the beginning of Apple's steps toward the use of industry-standard components to cut costs, and Motorola Inc.'s G3 chip represented a performance improvement over earlier chip sets while using far less power.

The first Power Mac G3 came in beige, with chip speeds starting at 233 MHz. And the G3 chip set became the foundation for Apple's entire computer lineup until the introduction of the even faster G4 processor two years later. In fact, variants of the G3 would be used by Apple until 2003.

Power Mac G3

The Power Mac G3 (photo: Klodo6975)

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The iMac (1998)

The iMac is the computer most credited with reversing Apple's fortunes, its distinctive looks and playful colors instantly finding a place on consumer desks and in pop-culture history. In terms of specifications, the iMac featured the by-then-ubiquitous G3 processor, but unlike other Apple computers, it featured no legacy ports.

The iMac instead relied on Universal Serial Bus, a technology that offered plug-and-play ease for connecting peripherals and hot-swappable capabilities. Despite criticism about the lack of legacy ports, the USB market boomed around the iMac, and most early USB products came in white plastics and translucent colors that matched the iMac's style. (The translucent color craze didn't stop there; everything from USB hubs to George Foreman grills came in bright iMac-like hues.)

original iMac

The original iMac (photo: Masashige Motoe, cc-by-sa 2.0 license)

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Another controversial change was the iMac's lack of a floppy drive. It was the first computer to drop support for floppy drives as a standard feature, the same technology that the original Macintosh had boosted 14 years earlier. But it did offer a 4GB hard drive and a 15-in. color screen -- all for $1,299.

The original iMac's popularity had little to do with its specifications and everything to do with its cute, space-egg shape. Suddenly, the computer wasn't just a beige box relegated to the home office; it was a suitable for showing off in the living room as a design element. Apple used the compact, all-in-one design to its advantage, even releasing a "Simplicity Shootout" to entice potential owners who would not normally consider purchasing computers.

Although each later revision added new features and performance -- and a new palette of colors --the iMac's shape itself morphed into the flat-screen version available now. Throughout its life, the iMac has always retained its focus on ease of setup and groundbreaking good looks.

The PowerBook G3 "Wallstreet" (1998)

This sleek Apple laptop was the second generation of Apple's portable lineup featuring the G3 chip set, but it was also one of the first laptops to feature a then-huge 14.1-in. screen enclosed in a lighter, more aesthetically balanced package. Apple even distributed pinup posters of the machine.

PowerBook G3 Wallstreet

The PowerBook G3 "Wallstreet" (photo: Danamania, GNU FDL 1.2 license)

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Not only was it sleek and curvy, it was also one of the most expandable laptops Apple had ever shipped, containing not one, but two docking bays capable of holding batteries, optical drives or third-party add-ons such as Zip drives. While the left docking bay was designed specifically for batteries, the PowerBook G3's hot-swappable nature meant its configuration could be adjusted on the fly. It became an instant classic.

While the Wallstreet version was a high point of design, versatility and power for its time, this model reached its pinnacle with the Pismo version. Released in February 2000, the Pismo had all of the benefits and looks of its Wallstreet older brother, but it came in a lighter, thinner case, had AirPort wireless networking, a FireWire 400 port and much faster hardware. Because the Wallstreet design set the stage for the later Pismo release, it gets the nod for top 10 status.

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