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 iBook (1999)

Jobs unveiled the iBook G3 -- there's that G3 chip again -- in July of 1999, thus filling what became known as its four-quadrant product strategy. Taking cues from Apple's consumer desktop, the recently announced iMac, and designed to be thrown into a backpack, the polycarbonate-clad iBook featured a distinctive clamshell shape, a tough plastic exterior, and a bold blue- or orange-colored rubber trim.

Like the iMac, the iBook ditched all legacy ports in favor of USB, and -- again like the iMac -- it featured a handle. This was also the first Apple laptop without a latch, a feature still being touted as a plus in 2008 models. It was the first to ship with Apple's circular wireless charger, around which the power cord could be wrapped without tangling.

original iBook

The original iBook (photo: Jared Benedict, cc-by-sa 2.0 license)

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Most importantly, it was the first-ever mainstream consumer device that showcased wireless networking, something Jobs nonchalantly debuted during the 1999 Macworld Expo & Conference. Dubbed AirPort, Apple's implementation of Lucent's wireless technology quickly allowed wireless networking with a minimum of fuss. Wireless technology had arrived. Jobs' debut of consumer wireless networking on the iBook comes at about the 5:30 mark in this video.

The Power Mac G4 Cube (2000)

This little number was one of Apple's more controversial releases, but it easily deserves mention as one of Apple's product highlights. The Cube was only sold in 2000 and 2001, but during its brief tenure, it not only accumulated numerous design awards; it also found itself on display at the Museum of Modern Art.

Power Mac G4 Cube

The Power Mac G4 Cube (photo: Steve Shaner, cc-by-sa 2.0 license)

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The Cube was literally an 8-in. cube of technology suspended in a 10-in. clear acrylic enclosure. The Cube relied on a vertical optical drive and featured a touch sensor that pulsed with white light when it was pressed to turn the unit on. Internals were cooled through the ingenious usage of convection currents, as warm air escaping from the Cube's top vents actually pulled cool air through the bottom and rear openings in the acrylic.

The Cube was also Apple's most compact desktop to date, using the G4 processor from its tall-tower cousin in a design a quarter the size. Unfortunately, the Cube's high price -- it went for $200 more than Apple's tower lineup, without the expandability -- made it an item most people looked at but never bought, and reports about cracks in the acrylic case marred the Cube's reputation early on.

Even so, the Cube showed Apple's fearless pursuit of cutting-edge design that also showcased engineering savvy. Cube fans still abound.

The (Intel-based) iMac (2006)

Six months before this iMac hit the market, Apple did the until-then unthinkable and announced that it was leaving behind the PowerPC architecture for good and moving to Intel Corp.'s Core Duo processor platform. Citing performance and power-efficiency improvements, Apple said the shift would allow it to engineer thinner, more powerful computers that would otherwise be impossible to do. Dreams of the oft-rumored PowerBook G5 vanished overnight.

Intel-based iMac

The Intel-based iMac (photo copyright © Apple Inc.)

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On Jan. 10, 2006, during the Macworld Expo, Apple announced that its new iMac would be the first Apple desktop to feature the Intel chip set. In an effort to prove that a Mac was still a Mac despite the internal system changes, Apple left the iMac's features, price and case, which had incorporated the guts of the computer into the flat-panel display in 2004, unchanged. Performance, however, was touted as being two to three times faster than previous iMacs.

Oh, and buyers could run Windows on the machine, either virtually with third-party software or natively with Apple's Boot Camp software, giving users and businesses a safety net if they were switching from PCs to Macs.

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