Introduction"The day after we shipped the original iMac, we started working on this product". So spake Apple CEO Steve Jobs when he unveiled the latest generation of consumer desktops in October. "I’m in love with the new iMac - it’s the finest product Apple has ever created," Jobs added. So, is the current crop of iMacs really the ultimate vision of Apple’s personal computer for the rest of us? Or are they just faster, better-equipped iMacs? An iMac is still an iMac
Whenever computer manufacturers update or cut the price of a current product, existing owners cry foul. Early iMac owners will be jealous of the new consumer crew, but must remember that their old machine will still do all the things that it promised to do when they bought it. It was only last September (1998) that the first iMacs hit the UK. Then, the 233MHz G3 iMacs seemed perfect for Internet access, low-level office applications, and games. It still is. The 56Kbps modem hasn’t changed in the new iMacs. What was ClarisWorks is now AppleWorks, but functionality remains the same. And the bundled games are pretty much the same. And, of course, the iMac still uses the Mac OS - by the time you read this, it should be running the very latest Mac OS 9 (see feature). There’s the same sharp built-in 15-inch shadow-mask CRT monitor. The keyboard and mouse are unchanged. You network in exactly the same way, with the iMac’s built-in 10/100Base-T ethernet. And there’s still two USB ports for adding input devices (keyboard, mouse) and other peripherals (printer, scanner, etc) - although the new iMacs use USB more effeciently, as I’ll explain later. So, what’s new?
More oomph The new standard iMac is now a lot faster: with its 350MHz G3 processor, the new entry-level iMac beats the original by about 80 per cent but is just 8 per cent faster than the previous 333MHz models. The new advanced iMac DV and iMac DV SE (Special Edition) run even faster, at 400MHz. That’s over twice as fast as the original iMac; 16 per cent faster than the old 333MHz models; and 12 per cent quicker than the new entry-level iMac. That said, if you use your iMac mainly for Internet access and office apps (word processing, spreadsheets, etc), all that extra speed doesn’t make much difference. A faster chip doesn’t help you when the Internet drags - the modem’s the bottleneck. And do you really think that a faster computer will make you type or write faster? Less doshEven if speed was the only difference - and it isn’t by a long way - then the fact that the new standard model costs just £799 (inc. VAT) should be celebrated. Remember, the original iMac cost £999 a year ago. Va-va Video
For £999 today, you can afford the iMac DV. This is where Apple really starts thinking different. The DV stands for Digital Video, which Apple expects to be "the next big thing". iMovie - based on the company’s professional £699 Final Cut Pro video-editing tool, and originally developed by Macromedia - can transfer video in DV format from any digital camcorder to the iMac (and back) via newly installed FireWire ports. With iMovie, just about anyone can perform easy "drag-&-drop" editing to rearrange video clips; add special effects like cross-dissolves; add movie titles and rolling credits; and record voice-overs as soundtracks using CDs, AIFF and MP3 files. "This is going to be very, very big." said Jobs. He may well be right, as digital camcorders are set to be this Christmas’ hot home-tech sellers. The iMac DV, with free iMovie see our review, is the camcorder’s perfect partner. The key for DV is FireWire, and each iMac DV and DV SE has dual 400Mbps FireWire ports. Apple invented the high-speed connection standard several years ago, but it’s only now coming to prominence. FireWire is now an industry standard, and is known by various names: IEEE 1394 is its official title; Sony calls it iLink. You connect your Sony camcorder’s iLink cable to your iMac’s FireWire port. For more on FireWire, see our feature. iMac choices
As you see from our table ‘iMac family facts’, there’s more choice today in buying an iMac than there was a year ago. People who aren’t at all interested in the possibilities of making their own home movies or watching DVDs, and aren’t that bothered about owning the ultimate speed machine, will fall in love with the bargain-priced entry-level iMac. Those of us with aspirations above mere camera snaps and feel the need for DVD, will have to decide between the iMac DV and the iMac DV SE. For an extra £200, the SE offers double the pre-installed memory, a 13GB hard drive (3GB more than the DV, 7GB more than the entry-level), and an almost see-through Graphite-coloured shell. The extra 64MB of RAM would normally cost you about £60. So that’s £140 extra on your VISA bill for the added storage space and cool colour. 13GB is a lot of hard disk space, and DV eats gigabytes like rugby players drink beer. But the DV model’s 10GB hard drive, however, is no Calista Flockhart. Colour If I had to choose, I’d decide on colour issues: the DV iMacs come in all five ‘fruit’ colours (Blueberry, Tangerine, Lime, Strawberry, and Grape); the DV SE is available only in black (transparent grey Graphite, that is). Get colour-co-ordinating. Yes, choosing an iMac can come down to colour - a notion that would have seemed ridiculous less than a year ago, when computers were available in beige or Bondi Blue only. Refined design
Computer design is now a major player in the consumer market - although, whatever they tell you, Mac professionals will always go for performance over slick looks. And even the iMac, which started the whole movement, is evolving its shape and ease-of-use body features. The new iMac has been "refined", to use Apple’s terminology. It’s an inch shorter than previously, giving you a little extra desk space - but don’t expect to notice. It’s also a wee bit rounder, most apparent in the front-mounted speakers. This slight makeover subtly changes the iMac’s personality. Its face now looks rather morose - think Hitchhiker’s Guide’s Marvin the Paranoid Android: "I’m just a robot and I know my place/A metal servant to the human race". Big design difference #1: With the metal casing around the screen’s cathode ray tube removed, the iMac’s shell is virtually transparent. "It looks like a bubble," said Jobs. Bubble or not, I’m not convinced on the new see-through case. The fruity colours are slightly milky in appearance, as opposed to the older iMacs’ more opaque translucency. Again, it’s really up to the individual - and, as the old style is now banished, it’s either milky fruit or the tinted see-though Graphite of the SE. The entry-level iMac comes in Blueberry only. Big design difference #2: Many iMac owners complained that adding extra memory was a real hassle. You had to virtually take the machine to pieces to add a RAM card - a simple enough procedure on any other Mac. Apple clearly didn’t want people rummaging around inside its consumer desktop, with the end result that many iMac owners are still cramped by the feeble 32MB of RAM that came with the first iMacs. While that base RAM has now been upped to 64MB (128MB on the DV SE), new iMac owners can now add their own extra RAM with ease - thanks to a discreet door (above) on the iMac’s bottom. No jokes, please. AirPort This is also where you would add an AirPort Card (£79, including VAT) if you want to join Apple’s wireless revolution. Yes, nearly all Macs can now enjoy 11Mbps wireless ethernet networking and Internet browsing without any wires tethering you to the phone line or hub. Up to ten iMacs (iBooks and high-end G4 Power Macs, too) can share a single AirPort Base Station (an extra £239) to connect to the Internet, and can be anywhere within 150 feet of the Base Station. Every connected user can visit different Web sites simultaneously, exchange files, or play the latest network games with each other - without getting tangled up in a snakepit of wires. With AirPort, you can put your new iMac wherever you want, a promise no other non-Mac PC can truly make. The future of the Internet has definitely arrived. (For more details on AirPort, see Macworld, September 1999). CD/DVD
Easier to applaud than the ‘refined’ case colours are the new CD/DVD drives - see photo, below. Is the DVD-ROM drive an improvement on the CD? Yes, the DVD-ROM drive is compatible with CDs, and it’s more future-proof. More and more games will be coming out on DVD, which carries nearly seven times more data than a CD. And, via software, the DVD drive can play movies on your iMac. However, if watching movies is your aim, you’re better off buying a £200 DVD player for your TV - bigger screen, remote control, comfier chairs. Sound and silence
Apple’s refinement means ‘less’ as well - less noise. The iMac was no foghorn, but, like most PCs, it did add to a room’s ambient noise levels. Most of the racket comes from the computer’s internal fan, which keeps all the PC’s hot bits cool. Apple engineers have been clever enough to remove the need for a fan in all the new iMacs. As a result, the iMac is now the quietest computer on the block. The last Mac to have no fan was the original, back in 1984. The reason? It was so slow (its 68000 chip running at 8MHz!) that none of its bits got hot enough to warrant a fan. "We’ve made the iMac beautiful to look at, and now we want to make them beautiful sounding," said Jobs when he launched the new range. He wasn’t just referring to the virtual silence of the machines. A new hi-fi audio system has been designed in collaboration with audio specialists, Harman Kardon. This month, Harman Kardon is to go even further, introducing the £70 USB-based iSub - a futuristic, transparent subwoofer, designed to work exclusively on Macs. Its Odyssey sound system uses Spataliser technology to provide "true 3D sound". There are also two headphone jacks in front of the new iMacs. The new iMacs sound noticeably better: sharper and fuller. iBoosts aplenty
Graphic equalizer Like the Power Macs, all the new iMacs feature an 8MB AGP 2x Rage 128 VR 2D/3D high-end graphics accelerator chip, making gaming and graphics-heavy applications faster, and possibly richer. Link think USB is the principal connection standard, linking your mouse and keyboard as well as your printer, Zip drive, and scanner, etc. Like the original, all the new iMacs boast two USB ports. Only now each port is independent of the other, making the connections much faster. Previously, the two USB connections shared a single USB controller. As mentioned earlier, the iMac DV and DV SE also include super-speedy 400Mbps FireWire ports for linking digital camcorders and hard drives. In the future, scanners and other peripherals may be offered via a FireWire link. See sleep When the new iMacs are in sleep mode (saving electricity when not in use for a certain length of time), the Power button pulses like the iBook’s sleep-light indicator. Mac OS 9 At the same time that Steve Jobs unveiled the new iMacs, Apple also announced that Mac OS 9 will be available by the time you read this. Until Mac OS 9 ships, all iMacs ship with OS 8.6 - with a £15 p&p update to OS 9 within 90 days. Probably worth waiting, then.