Education desktop

Introduction

For more than three years, everyone’s been screaming at Apple to bring out a 17-inch iMac. Almost as soon as the Bondi Blue original appeared to popular acclaim in 1998, people were looking askance at the screen, shaking their heads, and whispering dark words about the built-in 15-inch monitor. Year after year, Apple kept updating the iMac – adding a rainbow of see-through colours, FireWire ports, faster processors, larger hard drives, enhanced video-cards, and all sorts of consumer-friendly software. The whisper grew into a roar: “Make the screen bigger, Apple – you’re letting your lead slip in the market you’d only just recovered”. Apple stuck to its 15-inch CRT guns until January of this year, when it unveiled the all-new iMac – with G4 processor and, wait for it… 15-inch screen. This 15-inch screen was a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) flat-panel display, and so offered about the same viewing area as a 17-inch Cathode Ray Tube (CRT). But the pixel-resolution remained at 1,024-x-768. With a larger viewing area than the 15-inch CRT, the LCD screen is easier to read, no doubt – but its display capabilities aren’t extended. The whispering began again – this time demanding a 17-inch LCD iMac. So what does Apple do? It releases a new 17-inch CRT Mac; not an iMac, but an eMac – designed especially for the education market. Whatever the name, the eMac is a larger-yet-smaller version of the original iMac. It’s larger because of the yearned-for 17-inch screen, but smaller as it amazingly takes-up less desktop space. One of Apple’s original knock-backs to the 17-inch iMac mob was that the 15-inch iMac was perfectly formed for domestic and classroom furniture. A 17-inch iMac would be just too big. Now, Apple engineers have squeezed all that extra screen-space into a physically smaller footprint. The old iMac took up 44.2cm of desk space while the eMac uses up 43.3cm. That’s not a big space save, but is pretty incredible considering the larger screen size. The best thing about the eMac’s display is that it breaks-out of the maximum 1,024-x-768-pixel resolution of the iMacs. Indeed, it can handle five resolutions at acceptable screen refresh rates: 640-x-480 at 138Hz, for the severely short-sighted; 800-x-600 at 112Hz, so that the kid at the back of the class can see what teacher’s doing; 1,024-x-768 at 89Hz, for iMac traditionalists; 1,152-x-864 at 80Hz, for most of us; and 1,280-x-960 at 72Hz, for people who need to fit tons of stuff on screen and don’t mind sitting quite close to the glass. The iMac G4’s swinging slim-line (LCD) is a beauty, and will find favour with many consumers and educators because of its flexible neck. But LCDs are a lot more expensive than CRTs, and ‘more expensive’ doesn’t go down well with consumers and educational customers. The larger-screened eMac, then, is Apple’s long-awaited nod that bigger is sometimes better – and that CRTs do still have a place in the world of personal computing. Face-on, the eMac is a slab. Its 17-inch CRT is surrounded by a chunky all-white polycarbonate face. It’s here that the eMac is at its most vulnerable. Schoolkids with pointy fingers and pokey biros are likely to attack the delicate speakers, which are protected only by some easy-to-remove grilles. Teachers will need to keep their canes handy during lessons… From the side, the eMac resembles the CRT iMac only by its bump. But the bump is less bulbous, and more angular– like a giant lump of white-chocolate Toblerone. It’s less curvy than the CRT iMac, and won’t win any awards for beauty. Apple let educators decide what they wanted – and spent its time and money answering those demands, rather than hoping to win gongs in design competitions. However, when you consider that it’s up against dreadfully dull beige Windows desktops, even the eMac starts to look rather fetching. It’s not that ugly; it’s just a bit of a Plain Jane. It does bear a slight resemblance to Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ urinal. But it’s saved by its sheer whiteness – if Apple had offered us purple, blue and lime-green eMacs, the whole effect would have been over-powering. Because the eMac’s sides are flatter than the CRT iMac’s, there’s no need for the older model’s cable cave-network to hook the wires out of harm’s way. The eMac’s ports are close to the front, on the bottom right-hand side. The presence of three USB slots is welcome, and we can expect the next Power Mac design to feature at least this many – as an increasing number of peripherals and Digital Hub devices require connection. Handily, the headphone and audio-in jacks are closest to the front – you don’t want to yank-out FireWire cables while reaching round to plug-in your microphone. For reasons of hygiene, students are likely to bring their own headphones, and so this proximity to the front is a good idea. Unlike the CRT iMac, the eMac requires a fan to cool off its powerful components. The 700MHz G4 processor, for instance, runs a lot hotter than a G3. The vents at the back are as aesthetically pleasing as they are practical. The bump’s rear-end reminds me of a Good Grips salad spinner. The eMac is more noisy than the old CRT iMac in a silent room – but isn’t going to disturb anyone in a normal classroom environment.
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