The iMac is widely credited as being the machine that saved Apple. While the Macintosh had a loyal following around the world, by 1998 its market share was dwindling thanks to relentless competition from machines based around Intel processors and running Windows. Macintoshes were seen as expensive and elitist.
CEO Steve Jobs, who had returned to Apple the previous year, attempted to change all that with the iMac, an affordable, all-in-one unit aimed at consumers. Attractively priced, the original iMac offered a good specification and took a few risks. For a start, Apple adopted USB as its single input/output protocol replacing both the serial port and the Apple Desktop Bus (which was used for connecting the keyboard and mouse). The biggest surprise was the abolition of the floppy disk drive. Many pundits doubted the iMac would survive. Seven years on and two generations of processor later, the iMac is still going strong.
Installation of the new iMac G5 is straightforward. Simply remove the computer from its packaging, place on the work surface and plug it in. The version under review was equipped with a wireless network card, Bluetooth keyboard and mouse so no further installation was required. Otherwise, the keyboard is plugged into one of the USB ports at the rear of the machine and the mouse is plugged into the keyboard.
Apple had provided a 20-inch model with 512MB of Ram. The main processor on this model is a 1.8GHz PowerPC G5 with a 600 MHz frontside bus, a NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 Ultra graphics accelerator and a Slot-load SuperDrive.
The 20-inch monitor can be a bit intimidating at first, but sheer convenience of the extra on-screen real estate becomes apparent very quickly. In Word, it is possible to work with two documents open side by side while in Excel the large screen is invaluable for viewing large spreadsheets.
The standard iMac comes with iLife, Apple’s digital lifestyle suite that includes iTunes, iMovie, iDvd, iPhoto and Garage Band. Apple also provided a copy of iWork, consisting of Keynote presentation software and Pages, its word processing application. It also provided a copy of Microsoft Office for Macintosh. These are not normally standard on the iMac. However, they did give the reviewer an opportunity to assess the power of the machine.
The iMac G5 also comes with a couple of games that really show off the processor, Nvidia graphics chip and the display to maximum effect.
The primary advantage of this new iMac over previous models is speed. Scrolling through long documents and searching for files is quite rapid. Similarly, looking through a large iPhoto collection is no longer a chore.
Sound reproduction is superb. The iMac has a set of stereo speakers on the underside of the screen so the sound bounces off the desktop. Similarly, playing a DVD is a joy.
The keyboard is satisfactory although the keys appear slightly smaller than some third-party keyboards that offer additional functions. The optical mouse works well on many surfaces, but performs best if placed on a white sheet of paper. Jobs insists that Apple’s mouse has only a single button and while this works most of the time, there are times when a second button and even a scroll wheel would be useful.
The 512MB of Ram that the test machine had was sufficient but you have to ask — and pay — for that when you order. The standard memory install is 256MB, that simply isn’t enough. Also, the lack of a wired mouse can sometimes be a problem. On one occasion, the mouse stopped working and I had no way of turning off the machine. The power button on the back of the screen only puts the iMac to sleep so this didn’t solve the problem. Fortunately, I was able to find my standard mouse, plug it in and restart the computer.
In summary, although it costs a little more than other entry-level desktops, the iMac has a considerably better specification and therefore can justify the premium pricing. One caveat is that the Ram is barely sufficient to power a number of concurrent applications and as a result you should seriously consider investing in more Ram so this should be factored into the buying decision.
The iMac is available from €1,319 incl Vat. The review model with 20-inch monitor costs €1,928.99 incl Vat.