The New G5 iMac: A Reality Check

A few days ago Joe Carson weighed in with his
of the new iMac. Joe is as demanding
and ornery a consumer as you would hope to meet,
and for any product to be get a thumbs up from him
is no small achievement. The iMac looks good, and
clearly fits in neatly with the iPod and the new
Apple displays; it’s hard to imagine that Apple
won’t be updating the look of the PowerBooks and
G5 PowerMacs as well. But though it looks good,
I’m not sure that the new iMac is perfect, and in
some ways it is as compromised as the original Bondi
Blue iMac

So, before we all get carried away on the new
product bandwagon, let’s just take a quick reality

1. It’s comes with very little memory

Apple ships all three G5 iMac models with 256
MB of RAM. While this is adequate for word processing
and surfing the Internet, for gaming and graphic
design you are realistically going to need 1 GB
or more. The cheapest way to do this is to put two
512 MB RAM modules in its two RAM slots, and if
you do that as a build to order at the Apple Store,
that’ll set you back an extra $225. If you want
to keep one of those slots free, and use a single
1 GB RAM module for now, and maybe get some more
later, the price at the Apple Store rises a whopping
$525. Need to go the whole hog and fill the memory
slots completely? Expanding the memory of the iMac
to its full 2 GB potential adds no less than $1125
to the Apple Store price.

2. The hard drives are small

The base and middle specification iMacs come with
80 GB drives, and the top end model with one twice
that size. Make no mistake, modern operating systems
and applications are prodigious hard drive hogs,
and just installing Mac OS X and a few big programs
can easily use up 20 GB of disk space. Games are
especially bad in this regard, with many requiring
a gigabyte of space (for example SimCity 4 and Diablo
2). The full iLife suite including GarageBand needs
more the 4 GB, Virtual PC will takr another 2 MB,
Microsoft Office is upwards of 500 MB; it soon adds
up. Once you start creating videos using iDVD, then
the demands for empty disk space to store and edit
the video files runs into several gigabytes a throw.
So an 80 GB hard disk is definitely on the small
size, roughly comparable to what PowerBooks were
equipped with two years ago.

3. The wireless keyboard and mouse aren’t

Almost all the advertising Apple have released
for the iMac show it either without a keyboard and
mouse, or with the wireless Bluetooth ones. Certainly,
the G5 iMac can use these wireless devices, and
any other Bluetooth gizmo such as a cellphone, but
not without upgrading your iMac with a $50 Bluetooth
adapter. By the adapter along with the wireless
mouse and keyboard, and you can add $99 to your
Apple Store price.

4. Airport isn’t built in

No question, Apple popularised wireless networking,
and they are still ahead of the game when it comes
to giving users the tools to set up wireless networks
and configure laptops and desktops to use them.
But the iMac doesn’t have the Airport reception
card built in. If you want your iMac to connect
to your wireless network, you can add another $79
for the Airport Extreme card.

5. The video card is middling in performance

The 64 MB video card that comes in all three iMac
models is comparable to those in the base PowerMac
machines and hardly classes as leading edge. Serious
gamers will be looking for 128 MB cards, and of
course the video card of the iMac is non-upgradeable.
This isn’t to say the iMac isn’t a games machine,
but don’t expect it to keep up with the development
of games over the next couple of years.

6. The base models lacks a DVD writer

For a machine aimed at home users with the iLife
package (after all, iLife’04 is included), the lack
of a DVD writer on the base model renders it somewhat
flawed as far as home movie makers are concerned.
Sure, it has a CD writer, and it plays DVDs just
fine, but anyone using iDVD with a digital camcorder
is going to miss DVD writing capability. A FireWire
DVD writer can be added of course, at the cost of
another $100 to $250, with DVD-RWs costing rather
more than more basic DVD-R models.


The bottom line is that to really shine, the new
G5 iMac needs a lot of upgrades, and all this racks
up. Let’s take the base model, upgrade it’s memory
to 1 GB spread across both memory slots, take the
hard disk to an adequate but not generous 160 GB,
and buy the Airport card and the Bluetooth adapter,
mouse, and keyboard package. From a fairly competitive
$1299 our total has leapt up to a much more serious
$1802. This still leaves us with the slower processor
(1.6 GHz) and bus (533 MHz), a mediocre video card,
and no SuperDrive.

Power users looking towards the top end model
don’t see a story that is very much prettier. Max
out the RAM to 2 GB and double the hard disk capacity
to 250 GB, add the Airport card and the wireless
mouse and keyboard, and the Apple Store price is
a whopping $3302. For that you can get the best
part of a far more upgradeable G5 PowerMac and monitor.
Even the base model G5 PowerMac, at $1999, includes
dual 1.6 GHz processors on a bus almost twice as
fast as the base model iMac, as well as coming with
a SuperDrive as standard. The other specifications,
like memory, hard disk, and video card are similar,
and it also lacks Bluetooth and wireless connectivity
out of the box. But with large LCD displays going
for less than $500, the price differential between
the G5 iMac and the PowerMac lines is not nearly
as clear cut as it might seem at first glance.

Even the base model is considerably above the
sub $1000 price point that characterised the original
iMac line. Over the years, the iMacs have evolved
from low-cost, low-spec, home user machines into
mid-priced machines pitched at affluent home users
and business wanting something balanced between
power and price. Apple has to be very careful here,
the handsome but compromised G4 Cube exemplifies
the potentials and the risks to this, and it would
a shame if the G5 iMac had the same fate. My own
guess is the G5 iMac will be a success, but not
a stellar one. It’s pricey, somewhat limited, and
not really optimised at any one thing. Certainly
worth considering, but do your sums carefully.

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