iMac G5: The all-in-one computer redefined

Editor's note: Last month, online news editor Ken Mingis snagged one of the first iMac G5s and offered an early look at Apple's latest desktop (see story). Here, Yuval Kossovsky weighs in.

Like many of you, I heard the iMac G5 announcement several weeks ago, and when I saw a picture of the new desktop computer on the Apple Web site, my first reaction was: "I want this -- now!"

I recently had the pleasure of taking delivery of the top-of-the-line 20-in. iMac G5 -- provided by Apple for review purposes -- and I can honestly say that I still have that same visceral reaction every time I see it anywhere in my house.

I asked the folks at Apple about their design goals and philosophy in creating the new iMac and came away with this: The design of the new iMac G5 is based on the consumer using the machine (yes, they made this for you) and redefining the consumer desktop for the 21st century. They want to do for the desktop and home computer what the iPod did for music.

Generally, only the screen, mouse, keyboard and media drive of any computer are regularly accessed, and the rest of the parts are considered necessary evils. Moreover, the box itself is usually considered ugly and intrusive -- not something you would want in your living room, kitchen, office or anywhere else it might be seen.

The iMac G5 changes that by hiding the computer inside a 2-in.-thick flat-panel LCD. The clean design and neutral white coloring ensure that the device will complement any decor. The keyboard and mouse can be tucked into the foot that supports the panel/computer, keeping the iMac's footprint to a minimum. The iMac tucks away anywhere, but it looks so good, you won't want to hide it.

I want to stress that the iMac G5 is truly a "family computer" and was designed as such. For those who need to do intensive 3-D renderings, genome sequencing or other compute-intensive tasks, Apple's Power Mac dual-processor G5 machines are more appropriate. However, if you're just surfing the Internet, getting e-mail, processing photos, editing home videos, making music, doing home banking and studying, the iMac G5, with either a 1.6-GHz or 1.8-GHz G5 chip, is more than enough computing power.

iMac G5
iMac G5
There are a few other design and operational touches I discovered that, again, show how Apple engineers made this a family machine inside and out. The screen has a tilt range from -5 degrees to +25 degrees, ensuring that viewing is comfortable for all, from the tallest to the smallest member of the family. Opening the computer requires only the loosening of three screws, and those screws are "captive," so they can't fall on the floor and get lost.

The inside of the machine is clean and easy to access. Adding memory or an AirPort wireless card is so simple that the instructions are printed inside the back cover of the machine (not in the manual), so you never need to open the manual. And there is a self-diagnosing process that consists of several LEDs. When you call Apple's tech support, just tell them which LED is lit, and they will know which part your machine needs. And since most of the machine is easily user-serviceable, you might never need to take your iMac G5 into the shop.

The technical details

The iMac G5 offers a speed jump (not just a bump) over the previous iMac, which used a slower G4 processor. The lowest end of the new line is more than 60% faster than the previous generation. There are three Universal Serial Bus 2.0 ports, two FireWire 400 ports, a video/VGA out, modem and Ethernet (10/100). The audio out is both a 1/8 in. minianalog port and an optical out for those with an optical-capable sound system.

The iMac G5 is whisper-quiet, literally. It makes less than 25db of noise in standard operations (a whisper is around 30db). My experience with it was that I couldn't tell by listening whether it was on or off. And those who like to webconference, take note: The top of the machine has a magnet built in to support the new iSight magnetic stands.

Being a technojunkie, I was skeptical that 64MB of video RAM would be enough to drive the screen; and the Nvidia card Apple uses has come under fire from would-be gamers who want something more powerful. But with the bus optimization engineered into the system, I wasn't disappointed with video performance in any way. As for RAM, the iMac ships with only 256MB. That's enough for basic use, but I think all computer manufacturers are guilty of putting in the minimum necessary to keep prices low. I would suggest doubling that to at least 512MB if you are going to do photos. And if you can afford it, put in the full 2GB of RAM the machine will accept. Do that, and you'll still be enjoying the machine five years from now.

The configuration sent by Apple came with 512MB of RAM, and I was initially concerned that it would underperform. So I tested it using something designed to push the system harder than most folks would. I hooked up a Digidesign mBox and ProTools and did some professional quality audio mixing. (I was a sound engineer in a previous career.)

The iMac G5 handled 24 tracks with compression on each, and there were no skips, stutters or slowdown in screen or mouse response. This machine rocks.

For PC users tempted to switch platforms, Detto Technologies makes a product called Move2Mac that simplifies the migration process from Windows to Mac OS X. I will be covering that very issue in my next article, because my wife (a lawyer and longtime PC user) decided when she saw this machine that it was time to try a Mac.

Apple is promoting the elegant look and use concept through the ability to configure the system with integrated Bluetooth, wireless keyboard and wireless mouse as a build-to-order (BTO) option at time of purchase from the Apple store online. You can get the Bluetooth module, wireless keyboard and mouse all for $100. Normally, the keyboard alone is $70. I highly recommend going wireless. It's elegant, and if you have a 20-in. screen, you don't need to be directly in front of the computer when using it.

I should mention a few other touches. A new migration tool built into the new iMac G5 asks if you have another Mac you are migrating from. If so, you hook up a FireWire cable to your old machine (booted in FireWire target mode), and the migration software will copy over your accounts and applications with settings to the new computer. It's easy and simple. Combine that with power and elegance and you have the new iMac.

Did I miss something? Do you have feedback? Send your questions, comments and curses to

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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