Hands on: The 24-in. iMac -- talk about a wow factor

I haven't seen this much in-house attention to an Apple product since the Mac Mini

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Indeed, the new iMac feels subjectively faster in terms of surfing the Web with Safari, editing photos in iPhoto or working with other universal applications that have been updated to run natively on Intel-based Macs. Startup times from the familiar Mac chime until the desktop appeared averaged about 20 seconds; the iMac also runs a different version of Mac OS X 10.4.7 -- in this case, build No. 8K1123. Running Xbench, the iMac 24 clocked in with a speed rating of 135.17.

By contrast, the current 17-in. MacBook Pro -- with 2GB RAM, a 2.16-GHz Core Duo processor and a stock 120GB 5,400-rpm hard drive -- clocked in with a start-up time of 35 seconds and an overall Xbench score of 90.36. The major differences, not surprisingly, were in the CPU test, graphics tests and hard drive speed. The Core 2 Duo processor in the iMac, for instance, zipped to an Xbench score of 118.26, while the laptop clocked in with a rating of 74.92. And I thought my MacBook Pro was fast!

In addition to the new Intel processor, this particular iMac comes with the more expensive graphics card offered by Apple, the Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT, with 256MB of video RAM. While the upgrade costs an extra $125, that extra bit of money not only doubles the amount of video RAM, but it also give buyers "the fastest we've offered in an iMac," according to Metz. "It's a very significant bump." Given the size of the screen and the fact that upgrading video RAM down the road is well-nigh impossible, it's an expense I'd definitely make if I were buying.

As for the 24-in. display, other than the 30-in. Apple Cinema Display -- which is in a league all its own -- I've never seen a screen showed off videos, slide shows and photos as nicely as this one. According to Metz, it's 40% brighter than earlier iMac displays, and that extra brightness shows here in the office, where I'm surrounded by windows and bright light from outside. In fact, it makes my 17-in. MacBook Pro look downright dim when the two are placed side by side.

I did note that the resolution, while high, could be even a bit higher given the overall size of the screen. Apple has long been known for trying to keep its screen resolutions to about 100 pixels per inch (PPI). The higher the PPI, the sharper things look -- although they also appear smaller. This particular screen has a PPI of 94. So Apple could safely bump the resolution up on future models and still be in its preferred 100 PPI range. (Hey, I can dream, right?)

For now, Apple officials are focused on the model at hand, which Metz said is aimed at keeping with a "faster is better" theme. Bigger is better, too, she said.

"All users, whether it's me at home working with photos or reading Web pages, [or someone else], we're all multitasking now," she said. "We're doing more. A lot of pros even add a second monitor to have an extended desktop, so the concept [is] that people want more display size. They want more real estate to work with."

iMac ports

The iMac offers a variety of ports for peripherals, including a FireWire 800 port.

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