Apple iMac Core Duo Review


Apple iMac Core Duo 2GHz Review
Specifications of review model
20-inch widescreen LCD 1680×1050 resolution
2.0GHz Intel Core Duo processor with 2MB L2 cache
512MB DDR2 667MHz RAM
250GB SATA hard drive
8x Dual Layer SuperDrive
ATi Radeon X1600 with 128MB GDDR3 memory
Airport Extreme and Bluetooth 2.0

Apple describes this machine as the only computer on the planet capable of working with photos, movies, music and the web so easily and seamlessly together and at a blazing speed.

I had high expectations of this machine before it even arrived. With the blitz of reviews on the web as soon as it came out and the media hype on top of Apple hype. The product I had in mind was a super cool computer that ran flawlessly. This product exceeded all of those expectations. It kicks every other products ass!

After only one days usage, comparing the performance of this art piece has stripped the ‘power’ from my PowerBook. It’s true what they say about the Core Duo processors. Everything is true. And as that may sadden the PowerPC and Velocity Engine crowd, this step forward for Apple is a welcome one in my books.

As I write this on the beautiful 20-inch widescreen LCD, surrounded by a classy white case, I sit in awe of the ingenuity and engineering talent that has gone in to making this product. Perfection only begins to describe it.

The package came complete with Apple Pro keyboard, Mighty Mouse and Apple Remote. It’s the first time I’ve used the new Mighty Mouse, and despite the general consensus that it was a poor product. I have to disagree. The Mighty Mouse is superb! The middle scroll wheel is the key feature for this mouse. It’s great for scrolling around web sites and windows and various other applications. Although it can be operated as a two-button mouse, I kept it on a single button click. Not because it was no good for it, but because I’ve grown accustom to operating OS X using a single hammer click. People complain about this, but I think you just have to understand OS X in order to be able to use it. The buttons can be customised using System Preferences. I’ve got the mini scroll wheel set to open Dashboard whenever I press down on it. The side buttons when clicked activate Spotlight.

First of all, I want to talk about the ergonomics of this product. The design as per iMac G5 has remained the same with the iPod white styling. Previous new additions such as the iSight camera remain and all ports are along the bottom of the back of the iMac.

If you want to tilt the display up or down, no problem. Just a single finger touch will allow you to do that. Want to pivot it from left to right? Again, it’s not a problem. The whole unit sits on an aluminium stand, which is smooth enough to allow for pivoting. I find it baffling how they managed to fit so much computer in to such little space. It’s incredible!

The screen dominates the landscape of this machine. With 20-inches of widescreen pleasure running at 1680×1050 resolution, you’ve got a lot of desktop to work with. We’re talking side by side documents, at least 8 MSN windows or just Front Row bliss! When watching DVDs on the iMac, not only do you get the sense of large-screen, the surrounding white bezel just adds to the viewing pleasure. Picture quality is very sharp, no ghosting and definitely no dead pixels. I believe LG Philips make these screens and what a job they’ve done. You definitely can’t fault them on the ergonomics. They have it right down to the last clean line.

Ok, so the looks are good, but what about the performance promise from Steve Jobs? Well he definitely delivered. All 2GHz of it. This machine is so fast that it blows the competition away and this is just the beginning. Wait until they really take the technology to its furthest stride.

Lets talk numbers. This iMac cold boots in under 30 seconds. Thats a whole 60 seconds less than my PowerBook G4 1.5GHz and probably quicker than many other desktop PCs running XP. It certainly leaves my desktop PC in the dust. Impressed? No? Ok. Well how about Rosetta emulation. I completely forgot about this. It’s probably one of the least talked about feature of the new Intel machines, and truth be told, there is a good reason for it. It runs seamlessly with all of your Power PC apps! I was running Office for Mac 2004 and MSN Messenger for Mac forgetting that these apps were being emulated under Rosetta. Purely because you just don’t notice it. The performance of applications like Word and MSN work just like they do on my PowerBook. The only thing that made me remember it was under Rosetta was when Word occasionally paused to think about things. These happened infrequently and barely interrupt your workflow. These are probably the main applications that I would ever be using under Rosetta. I’m not a Photoshop or Final Cut user so apps like that don’t concern me. iLife 06 and iWork 06 all run natively so the performance was as expected.

One of the main apps I use in iLife 06 is Garageband, for my weekly podcast show. My shows often last as long as 1 hour (despite its limitations). It fights me on this time length sometimes but that’s a limitation of Garageband. So processing time for audio files is an issue especially when you’re running in to these kinds of time lengths. On my G4 PowerBook with 1GB of RAM, processing can take as long as 20 minutes for a one hour show and it locks up the whole machine so I can’t really do much else. Initial tests with the iMac are as quick as 10 minutes and I can still be doing other things such as working in iWeb. The two core Intel chip really comes in to its own when it comes to this scenario, bringing the reality of multi-tasking to the home user.

Front Row is one of the exciting features of the iMac. For those of you that don’t know, Front Row is a Media Centre front end for Mac OS X. One click of the Menu button from included Apple Remote and your Tiger desktop floats in to the distance and the Front Row interface swivels in to view. A very nice touch and boasts the graphical capabilities of OS X and associated hardware. This part of OS X was first introduced with the iMac G5 and later introduced to the MacBook Pro, Mac Mini and the iMac Core Duo. So far my experience with Front Row has been mixed.

The interface has been finished to a high standard and the text is large and sharp enough to be viewed from a distance. The transition stage from the OS X desktop to the Front Row interface is marvellous to watch and I could go on to press it over and over again all day long. However I’ve encountered some bugs. Maybe it’s just my connection but I’ve found that wireless video streaming is still painfully slow.

I tried loading up a streamed video podcast from the Front Row interface and after making the selection you’re greeted with a blank black screen for a several minutes whilst it buffers the picture and audio. I thought it had crashed because theirs no indication as to what’s going on and the buttons on my keyboard, mouse and remote did not respond. After a few minutes wait, the picture did eventually come up and the quality admittedly was very good. So a bit of a hit and miss with that, but if you’re going to be playing back local content then speed isn’t an issue and the quality is great.

Another bug/problem I encountered was with DVDs. I popped a DVD in and it progressed to load up and displayed the DVD menu screen. However I was unable to access any of the features. The remote, keyboard and mouse did not allow me to make menu selections. The only thing that seemed to work was the volume and menu keys. I found that incredibly annoying and possibly a problem with just having six buttons on the remote. I hope future updates will resolve these issues (Note: I had installed all available software updates). Despite these initial problems I think they can be forgiven and things can only get better from here on.

Having played some games on my PowerBook G4 out of curiosity and boredom on occasions, I was interested to see how the iMac would cope. With a dual core processor running at 2GHz and a Radeon X1600 with 128MB of dedicated graphics memory and DDR2 memory, I expected games to run at the very least acceptable frame rates. I did forget one thing though. And I’m probably not the only one who’s forgetting as well. Very few games if any have been ported to run on this new architecture. So the performance on the games that I tested weren’t the best although I was testing them on a limited range of games.

Sims 2 ran as slow as my PowerBook G4 did, Homeworld 2 was unplayable with higher settings but on lowest settings produced a very smooth and playable experience. Delta Force Black Hawk Down experienced intermittent problems with frame rates. In some scenes it was running at acceptable rates and then on other occasions it would drop to levels so jerky it was unplayable.

That’s the extent to the gaming performance tests that I could do unfortunately. To be honest I never really saw Apple as the ultimate gaming machines. For that I have an Xbox or my PC. Majority of the games on the Mac platform have been ported to it from Windows.

The new Macs are definitely going to make a difference when it comes to gaming performance as it moves forward in its graphical processing capability, but its not quite there yet and perhaps it may never be but to be honest I don’t care because that’s not what I use my Mac system for.

My final closing comments would be to go and get one of these if you’re running an older Mac system. A lot of people I’ve spoken to have said they’re going to wait for the next revision but to be honest there’s nothing missing from the current first release build.

In Apple marketing speak, they’re twice as fast and twice as amazing. OS X has been waiting in the wings for 5 years to get this performance boost. It’s time to turbo charge your iLife and experience twice as much wows in one go.

2006-03-19 Onwah Tsang

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