iMac Education Configuration

Apple’s new 17-inch iMac for education is much the same as the £879 17-inch widescreen iMac the company sells to the general public. This special model replaces the eMac as Apple’s main school offering, and is available only to educational institutions.

This iMac shares most of the specifications of the more-expensive standard iMac. However, the price reflects some differences. It has an 80GB hard drive instead of 160GB, a Combo drive instead of a SuperDrive, and Intel’s GMA 950 integrated graphics processor (which borrows RAM from the system memory) instead of an ATI Radeon X1600 graphics processor with 128MB of dedicated RAM. Also, it has two 256MB SO-DIMMs while the other iMac models ship with a single 512MB SO-DIMM and have a RAM slot free. Apple does this with all Macs that use the GMA 950, as they run most efficiently with matched pairs of RAM. The downside to this is that you can’t simply add RAM to this iMac, but must replace both SO-DIMMs to upgrade – which is more expensive.

Playing truant
Completely missing from this iMac are Bluetooth connectivity and the Apple Remote. This is probably just as well, as you don’t want students wirelessly transferring files to a mobile phone or kicking back with a remote control to watch a film.

While it comes with the iLife ’06 suite of multimedia applications and other software, there’s no included word processing, spreadsheet, page layout, or database software, such as the AppleWorks suite included with previous education models – potentially an extra expense for any school that wants to add such applications.

Exam time
This iMac improves on the eMac in terms of processor (1.83GHz Core Duo versus a 1.42GHz G4), bus speed (667MHz versus 167MHz), weight (15.5lbs versus 50lbs), resolution (1,440 x 900 pixels versus 1,280 x 960 pixels), and more. The eMac, however, had a 4X AGP ATI Radeon 9600 graphics processor with 64MB of dedicated RAM, and an optional SuperDrive configuration (although now that iDVD supports inexpensive external DVD burners, that shortcoming is easy to get around).

In our tests the education iMac’s results were impressive. In terms of speed it was faster than the eMac and the MacBook with the same processor. The standard 17-inch iMac, however, beats the education version by more than 15 per cent. Processor-intensive tasks such as a Cinema 4D render, iMovie filter, and iTunes MP3 encoding showed huge improvements over the G4-based eMac – 71 per cent, 43 per cent, and 48 per cent, respectively – and scores equal to or better than the standard iMac. And playback of HD movie trailers was smooth, although we did notice a few stutters when playing clips in iMovie that had several transitions and effects applied to them.

The education iMac suffered in 3D gameplay due to its integrated graphics. But that’s a sacrifice Apple seems willing to make for a computer meant only for the classroom (and we were able to play Unreal Tournament 2004 and Nanosaur 2 quite enjoyably).

As with all Intel-based Macs, performance suffers when running non-native applications, such as Photoshop CS2, but the iMac was a little faster than the MacBook and only a few seconds slower than the standard iMac at the Photoshop tests.

OUR VERDICT

Overall, the features Apple removed from the standard iMac to make this one more affordable are good choices given the target market. However, the lack of included software for word processing, page layout, and spreadsheets may be a calculated risk on Apple’s part. But for schools that can live with that additional expense, the iMac Education Configuration is hard to pass up.

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