Consumer durables

Introduction

Look-away now if you were expecting a new-look iMac with flat-panel LCD screen, and maybe even a G4 processor. The iMac looks just like it did a year ago – its 15-inch CRT display encased in an Indigo, Snow or Graphite case. But don’t be disappointed – these new, faster G3 iMacs are still as easy to set-up and use as any LCD iMac would have been. With some of the finest consumer software available bundled for free with the iMac, no PC – whether even a 1GHz model – is as capable as the iMac at making novice computer users masters of the digital age. There’s not much difference between these new iMacs and the iMacs that preceded them, except in processor speed and case colour. The entry-level iMac now runs at 500MHz instead of 400MHz, and the top-end model at 700MHz instead of 600MHz. The crazy Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power patterned plastics have been given the heave-ho in favour of a return to the all-white Snow colour – which matches the new iBook released a month or so ago. Four models on offer
£799 The entry-level iMac costs £799 (including VAT). That’s a great price for a bundle that includes FireWire connections, as well as iMovie 2, iTunes 1.1, and AppleWorks 6.2 software – plus games, such as Cro-Mag Rally, Bugdom and Nanosaur. (See below for more on bundled software.) The 500MHz G3 processor is easily speedy enough for all those applications, and could also handle heavyweights such as Adobe Photoshop if you wanted it to. It does have limitations, but these may not matter to you, and can be eliminated later for a couple of hundred pounds-worth of third-party extras. First, the 64MB of RAM is stingy. It’s not enough to sensibly run Apple’s next-generation operating system, Mac OS X, and will soon annoy you if you use more than email. An extra 64MB of RAM from Apple will cost you £79 pre-installed, but you can buy it much cheaper from other outlets (such as the online www.crucial.com/uk) for as little as £11. For the sake of novices, Apple should have eaten such a tiny cost, and shipped with 128MB from the start. The £799 iMac also ships with a CD-ROM drive instead of a rewriteable (CD-RW) drive. If you’re never going to burn a CD, that’s fine – but I believe that the iMac’s ability to draft you into the boundless possibilities of the digital world will soon have you wishing you could burn CDs. Again, if it’s email and Web only that you want, the lack of a CD-RW is no biggie. And you can add a speedy external CD-RW for less than £200, if you find you want to later. There’s a little less video RAM with the £799 iMac. Internet and email users won’t notice the difference, and nor will those people who use the word processor, spreadsheet or database programs. Avid gamers, on the other hand, should consider at least the next model up. The only other limitation is the single colour option – the marvellous Indigo. You can’t chose a Graphite or Snow colour scheme at this price. £999 For an extra £200, you get one extra colour choice (Indigo or Snow), a CD-RW drive, 128MB of RAM for starters, and that extra squirt of video RAM that’ll speed-up your gaming. If you’re sure you don’t need a CD-RW, get the £799 iMac and buy the extra RAM separately (but not from Apple). If you do want to enjoy the benefits of burning your own CDs – for music compilations, data archiving, or sending files to other computer users – the built-in, slot-loading drive in most of the iMacs is neat and inexpensive. £1,199 Another £200 gets you the 600MHz iMac, with a hard drive twice as large as the £799 and £999 models, and a whopping 256MB of RAM. The extra 100MHz of processor power is welcome, but of little consequence to those who want an iMac for general email, Web use and word-processing. The larger hard drive, however, will make all the difference if you plan on editing your own digital home movies. The less-expensive models have a 20GB hard drive, which is plenty big enough for most people, but could get a little cramped when editing large projects in iMovie. This 40GB drive should be the answer for all budding Guy Richies. The big chunk of pre-installed RAM is great, as it’s often lack of memory that causes computer crashes. It means that you’ll be able to keep more programs open at the same time, and assign more RAM to each – allowing you to work faster and safer. £1,299 The top-of-the-range iMac notches the revs to 700MHz. This will speed-up activities such as encoding your iMovies to QuickTime, but the extra oomph isn’t going to be noticed by most consumers. As with the £1,199 iMac, hats off to Apple for pre-installing a healthy 256MB of RAM. The 60GB hard drive is simply capacity heaven, too. Software and extras
On top of the usual Web browsers, email clients, fax software and Palm utilities, the iMac comes with a bunch of great software. Apple’s iMovie is without doubt the easiest way to make great-looking digital home movies. As all these iMacs have FireWire connections, all you need to add is a digital camcorder to get underway. Buy a camcorder with FireWire (also known as iLink, or IEEE 1394), and both DV-In and DV-Out. Some cameras have only DV-Out, although there’s a £50 widget (www.datavision.co.uk) to add DV-In for most. You need DV-In so that you can keep your edited iMovies on MiniDV tapes or export to standard VHS. This makes showing your movies a lot easier, and will save having to keep all those big files on your hard drive. If you want your iMovies on DVD, you need one of Apple’s professional desktop Power Macs, with a DVD-R SuperDrive and the bundled iDVD (see pages 72-73). AppleWorks – which comes free with all the iMacs – is a suite of business applications, including a word processor, spreadsheet, database and low-end graphics tools. It’s fine for most people, but if you have to swap such files with Windows PCs, you’d be better off using Microsoft Office – which costs about £400 for Word, Excel (spreadsheet), PowerPoint (presentations) and Entourage (more powerful email client than the bundled Outlook Express). You can also buy Word and Excel separately for less. You’re also likely to want a printer, and other peripherals such as a scanner (see page 77) and maybe a digital camera. See Macworld’s Star Ratings Buyers’ Guide (from page 163) for our recommendations. One benefit that all these iMacs (bar the £799 model) enjoy over those available in the US is a special software collection, featuring a Tomb Raider game, SimCity 3000 and Escape from Monkey Island, as well as a whole bunch of reference and learning CDs.
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