Tuesday, September 15, 2009

iMAC Design and Memory

Skeptics have already pointed out that the new iPod-influenced iMac is hardly a new concept, even from Apple. The 20th Anniversary Mac was a computer in a screen too, and while it was curved and black rather than flat and white, the overall concept is the same: put everything in the screen.

The screen itself is amazing. We ordered the 20-inch model, and it's sharp, bright and colorful. At a native resolution of 1680 x 1050, you have a very large work area - large enough to display two browser windows side-by-side and happily read both at the same time. Those of us with failing eyesight might find small text sometimes a little hard to read, but both our testers found the pixel size comfortable.

We're also impressed with the quality of the image when set to magnified resolutions, although we see little general need for them. Previously, we've found LCD displays don't look so good when you use other resolutions, but though there's some softening of high-contrast elements, the various other image sizes are still very useable in the iMac G5, offering a choice between letter-boxed and stretched formats in several cases.

This iMac has finally convinced us that CRT monitors will go the way of the dinosaur. Previously we'd found the price difference too high and some visual artifacts unappealing, and while price remains a concern, the remarkable quality of this screen made us want to throw out all our CRTs. The image on this LCD is bright and colorful, and the small footprint reclaimed much workspace. And if that is not enough, a widescreen display just seems to work better with applications like Final Cut Pro, Motion, and so on. We used to think that the solution was to have two monitors side-by-side, but a widescreen display is much easier to work with.

In addition to its size and aspect ratio (ideal for many applications with multiple tool windows) the iMac G5's screen is incredibly bright. Neither of the CRTs could hold a candle to it, in terms of brightness. Color reproduction seemed very good. Comparing photographic images on multiple monitors, the iMac always looked brighter and more colorful.

Using a Calibrate Your Monitor page, we attempted to compare the LCD with the CRTs. While this is a limited test, it provides a simple way to see any major problems in monitor calibration. We could distinguish the shades of gray, and the color swatches were similarly displayed (on both the LCD and the CRT, the yellow swatches blended at about the 70% level).

Finally, by going into Displays and dropping the brightness down considerably we were able to get a similar display to the CRTs we were comparing it to. This screen is bright.

Of course, we've so far omitted any mention of the heart of the beast, a G5 processor running at 1.8 GHz. Just a year ago we reviewed one of the first G5 Power Macs - the middle-of-the-line 1.8GHz model at that time. In the tests we performed for this review (see Benchmarks) the iMac G5 performed almost identically to that Power Mac, which is a fast computer, indeed. If you don't need the expandability of the big Power Mac (or the dual processors of the current model) the iMac G5 can handle the same workloads with aplomb.

One caveat: the basic configuration includes only 256 MBytes of memory. While this might be acceptable for a few people, it hobbles the computer in typical applications, and we strongly recommend that you at least install a second 256-MByte memory module, which only costs about $55. The computer performs better with matched pairs of memory, as Apple documents and our benchmarks demonstrated.

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