Design & Features
The 17-inch iMac may seem inadequate next to Apple's new 24-inch behemoth, but Apple's smallest all-in-one desktop still has a lot going for it. Priced at AU$1,549, it almost passes for a budget desktop. Along with the 24-inch iMac, it receives a processor from Intel's new mobile Core 2 Duo line. And it features the same great design that we've detailed before. What's missing that you'll find in the AU$1,849 model — other than a slightly faster CPU — is a SuperDrive, a full 1GB of memory, discrete graphics, and Apple's Remote. Though a few extra gigahertz, double the system memory, and 128MB of video memory would undoubtedly aid performance, the lack of a DVD burner is what we miss the most — and it's not offered as an upgrade option. If your budget does not allow for a comma in the cost of a desktop, the AU$1549 iMac still makes an excellent home PC.
The iMac has become a CPU trailblazer for Apple recently. Last January, it led the way to Intel processors with the Core Duo. Now, it's the first Mac — desktop or laptop — to feature a Core 2 Duo chip. Given the iMac's dimensions, it's not surprising that Apple chose to use a mobile (a.k.a. Merom) Core 2 Duo processor rather than the desktop (a.k.a. Conroe) version. The AU$1,549 model uses the 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo T5600, which is one rung up from the bottom of the mobile Core 2 Duo line. Rounding out the specs is 512MB of 667MHz DDR SDRAM, a 160GB SATA hard drive, integrated Intel 950 graphics, and a 24X combo drive (DVD-ROM/CD-RW). We can't compare its performance to the Core Duo-based iMac we reviewed earlier in the year because CNET Labs has since moved to a new suite of tests, but we can show how it stacks up against the 24-inch iMac and competing Windows PCs.
Not surprisingly, the AU$1,549 iMac trailed its bigger, more powerful brother on all of our tests. Each struggled with Photoshop (Adobe has yet to release a universal binary version, so you must run Photoshop through Rosetta, Apple's translation software for older Mac apps), but the 24-inch model completed the test in less than half the time it took the 17-inch iMac, a clear indicator of what added system memory and dedicated video memory, not to mention a faster processor, does for performance. Similarly, iTunes isn't a great app to compare PC vs. Mac performance since it was written for the Mac OS. Looking at the iMacs again, the 17-inch finished closer to the 24-inch here, trailing by 18 percent, because iTunes is a less demanding app.
We ran each system through CineBench 9.5, which is a universal binary and an excellent way to look at Mac vs. PC performance. We compared the 17-inch iMac with the Dell XPS 410 and the Velocity Micro ProMagix E2010. The 17-inch iMac turned in a respectable showing, finishing 13 percent slower than the ProMagix E2010, a system that enjoys 1GB of memory, GeForce graphics, and a slightly speedier Core 2 Duo E6400 processor.
In the end, the 17-inch iMac Core 2 Duo will suffice for the majority of home users. Definitely don't try to run Photoshop on it (unless you have a good book nearby), and you may want to run it only occasionally even when it's re-re-released for the Mactel platform. While the 24-incher's GeForce 7300 GT graphics give it some ability to play 3D games, you won't enjoy that privilege with the low-end 17-inch iMac. But the 17-inch model runs the included iLife apps — iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, GarageBand, and iWeb — with a skip in its step. (Sadly, you're out of luck with iDVD unless you choose a model with a SuperDrive.) Office tasks — e-mail, browsing, researching on the Web, and word processing — are no trouble either. And if the 20- and 24-inch versions give you screen envy, just know that the 17-inch iMac is no smaller than the biggest MacBook Pro, a laptop that uses a previous-generation Intel processor and costs nearly three times as much.
Service and Support
Apple's warranty remains the same. You get the industry-average one year of parts-and-labour coverage and an annoyingly short 90 days of free phone support. Online help is abundant: Apple's support pages, particularly the user forums, are helpful, and you can google practically any Mac-related problem and find hundreds of other Mac fans discussing and solving it.
NOTE: Products in this test are for comparative purposes only and are not necessarily available in the Australian market.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
||Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test|
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
||Apple iTunes encoding test|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
||Rendering single CPU||
||Rendering multiple CPUs|
Apple iMac Core 2 Duo 17-inch
OS X 10.4.7; 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5600; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; integrated 64MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 graphics chip; 160GB Western Digital 7,200rpm serial ATA hard drive
Apple iMac Core 2 Duo 24-inch
OS X 10.4.7; 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7400; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; integrated 128MB Nvidia GeForce 7300 GT graphics chip; 250GB Western Digital 7,200rpm serial ATA hard drive
Dell XPS 410
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6600; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7900 GS; (2) Western Digital 300GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA hard drive; Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 1)
Sony VAIO VGC-LS1
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo T2400; 2,048MB DDR2-SDRAM 533MHz; integrated 128MB (shared) Intel 945GM graphics chip; 250GB Western Digital 7,200rpm serial ATA hard drive
Velocity Micro ProMagix E2010
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6400; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7600 GS; 320GB Western Digital 7,200prm Serial ATA hard drive