iMac 800MHz full review

OK, we’ve probably said the same about countless Apple PCs – the first iMac, the PowerBook G4, maybe even the Cube… But the G4 iMac really is something special.

Like 1998’s Bondi Blue iMac, the new design turns PC expectations on their head. It’s not just that the new iMac looks super-cool. The new iMac is special because it works so naturally, takes up little desk-space, is incredibly powerful, and… yeah, it’s super-cool.

Apple hasn’t abandoned its all-in-one policy for consumer computers that it pioneered back in 1984 with the original Macintosh, but it has taken a polycarbonate hammer to the old solid-box design.

The original iMac also veered away furiously from the beige box, adding gentle curves and rainbow colours. The new iMac's design is a whole world away from even that leap.

The screen isn’t part of the box, as much as it’s attached to the box – which isn’t a box anyway… it’s a dome.

The LCD flat-panel display is linked to the dome via a sturdy-yet-elegant stainless-steel neck – which uses a four-bar linkage system and a counterbalancing spring that lets you move the screen up and down, tilt from minus 5 degrees to 30 degrees, or turn it 180 degrees from side to side.

With most PCs, you’d have to twist the whole computer or CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitor round for alternative views. With the new iMac, you can swish the screen around with just a fingertip touched to the clear ‘halo’ that surrounds the screen and protects it from finger-marks. Apple has done a great job in making the screen feel firmly held, yet easily movable.

The screen itself is up to Apple’s usual LCD display standards. Although only 15 inches, it has around a 25 per cent larger viewable area than 15-inch CRTs. What you get is the equivalent of a 17-inch CRT. Although its maximum resolution is still 1,024-x-768 pixels, the screen contents are now easier on the eye – with bigger icons and more legible text.

A real plus to using an LCD screen is the lack of any of the flicker associated with CRTs. No flicker, no headaches – just remember to blink occasionally.

The image quality is super-sharp because it uses an all-digital connection from the video processor to the display. This ensures a distortion-free image, even at the highest resolution. The display also houses a microphone and the AirPort antenna.

Designers and other people who require acres of screen space for their many palettes and huge windows will find the 1,024-x-768-pixel resolution constricting. These people are better off with a Power Mac or PowerBook with a separate screen. The iMac’s screen size is fine for the most common consumer tasks: word processing, email, Web browsing, iPhoto, Photoshop Elements, iMovie, iTunes, etc.

The innovative 11-inch diameter white-domed base unit holds all the components, including the power supply, so much desk space is saved compared to a Power Mac, old iMac or any desktop Windows PC. The only way to save more desk-space is to buy an iBook or PowerBook – and even then you’d have to add an external LCD display to match the screen real-estate.

Another improvement is in performance – this iMac runs a fast PowerPC G4 processor, and our tests show that it’s much meatier than the previously fastest G3 iMac. If you’re weighing up whether to buy the 800MHz G4 iMac or the entry-level 800MHz Power Mac G4, you should note that the pro-desktop is 12 per cent faster than the new consumer machine overall.

Although they both have the same G4 chip, the Power Mac boasts a faster system bus (133MHz compared to 100MHz) to carry all that data around the motherboard.

And don’t forget that the minitower offers more upgrade options for adding PCI cards and extra internal hard drives. Unlike the 800MHz Power Mac, the top-end 800MHz iMac features the DVD-R SuperDrive that, with the bundled iDVD 2, lets you to burn discs that play in domestic DVD players. This is the cheapest way to get your hands on this level of functionality – the least expensive SuperDrive-wielding Power Mac costs £400 more (including VAT).

The iMac is also quieter than the Power Mac, with a smartly designed convection cooling system that allows the fan to spin slowly as the temperature falls.

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