Ideas and Opinions

Friday, March 03, 2006

Review : iMac Core duo 17"

So I bought an iMac core duo 17" a couple of weeks back and I thought I could write a review after playing with it a bit. First I would like to say that, it is a lot more fun with a Mac than a PC. A Mac is unique and it cannot be compared with a PC and so I don't want to make this review as a Mac Vs PC comparison any further than this and trigger a never ending flame war.

Audience: Mac/PC users looking to buy a new Mac. Anyone who wishes to get to know about the iMac. No Mac Vs PC debate please! If you really wish to do that, Please find some other place. There are a whole lot of places in the internet to do that.

First, Why a Mac ?(a little history) If you just want the review, you can skip this section.

       There are several reasons for this. I had liked Mac from the time when I saw those Lamp-style iMacs in 2002 when I was in California. It was during the time when the first iPod was released. I was one of those who said iPod was totally going to fail, liked that Lamp-style iMac but left empty handed from the store after a sticker shock. I didn't even have a Desktop/laptop PC during that time and wasn't even looking for one. So the initial reaction I had for the Macs was, it was a premium brand aimed at people who love elegance over the price. I then went back to India and owned a cheap hand assembled Athlon PC. It was good and it did its job and I didn't care a lot. The idea of buying a Mac came to me after seeing the Mac Mini in 2004, when I came back to the US ( I wouldn't have considered it if I were in India, It costs a lot more there). But for $499 it was just barebones, besides I had already bought a cheap laptop for home use, so I stalled my ideas of getting a Mac. This gave me some time to learn about Mac OS X and the iLife apps. I was pretty impressed with Mac OS X, from several visits to the Apple store and local CompUSA store. I also learnt about the iLife apps and they offered pretty nice features. Besides, Mac OS  was now Unix based so being a fan of *nix, I had one more reason to buy a Mac now. The power of *nix packaged in the elegance of a Mac was just tempting. Then came the intel transition announcement and a few months later came the iMac G5 with isight, which I really liked. I kept my hands tied with sheer will power to refrain from buying that, since Intel was just around the corner and luckily, the first intel Mac announced was the iMac. I waited for about a month to see the reviews and reactions from first buyers and then I bought one myself.

The Review:

Packaging:
It is as much important the way you present things as you would have put in efforts in developing the product. The iMac was packaged really well. The idea was to keep it clean and simple. It was easy to do the unwrapping and getting it out of the box and all the items were neatly wrapped. This was something that I loved about Apple, when I unwrapped my iPod Nano. Simple, yet beautiful.

Setup:
Is there a word that will emphasize the ease than the word "breeze" ? Well, yes it was very simple too. Just plug it in and switch it on, fill out your name, address and within minutes I was into Mac OS X. I liked the first video clip that intros Mac OS X Tiger.

Design:
This is perhaps the best and salient feature of the iMac, that has made it very popular. It is an All in one computer, meaning there is no separate tower for the CPU. It is all built right on the back of the LCD display. I think it is fantastic that one can pack so much processing power in a neat thin enclosure. It is called breaking the boundary to achieve beyond what you can. The front of the iMac has the 17 inch LCD display and at the top center is a tiny square that houses the Camera (iSight). Very close to that camera is a pin sized hole, which I originally thought was a manufacturing defect, after reading the manual I came to know that it was the Microphone. After a year of researching the Mac, I have to admit my folly of not understanding how a Mic was incorporated in an iMac. The power button is neatly placed behind the iMac on its left side and the ports are all on the right side, forming a neat line. The bottom center of portion of the iMac has the Apple logo on it and it hides in it an infrared sensor for a tiny 6 button remote that comes with this Mac. Now, all of this has to be staged and it was done by mounting it on a firm metal base. I guess the metal base is designed to be at the "Lightest heavy"ness so that it doesn't add much weight to the setup, yet acts as a firm base to the setup so that it doesn't topple. I bow to the Engineers who had worked on creating this Marvel.It was just phenomenal. To make it look good, the white polycarbonate material is coated witih a few mms of glassy finish and it just adds to the beauty. The iMac comes with a tiny 6 botton remote (of the size of a pack of chewing gum, but probably as thick as 2 or 3 sticks). You don't need to search for a place to keep your remote safely, you can just stick your remote to the right lower side of the iMac and it magnetically holds it. With the glassy finish of the iMac and the remote sticking to it magnetically, it looked as though it was magically standing in mid air without any support, when looked at from an angle. I don't know if anyone had noticed it, but I saw this on my iMac. The iMac also brings with it an Apple USB keyboard and a USB Mighty Mouse. The keyboard is again another way of showing how to shatter boundaries in design. The Mighty mouse has 4 buttons, but looks as if it has only one. It works by sensing the pressure to identify the left and right clicks. There is also a tiny scroll ball for fast scrolling on pages and it also understands clicking the scroll ball as a middle click. In addition to that, it has the sides which can be clicked and it defaults to a Mac OS option called Expose (The last e has an accent). More about Expose in software. Oh, and the bottom of the iMac has the RAM door, which you can open using a philip 2" screw driver and add RAM by yourself.

Hardware:
It houses the latest generation of Intel's low power dual core processor - The Intel Core Duo. It is one chip with 2 cores (2 processors) and they are said to be the next versions of Intel's Pentium M processors. Their power consumption is very less and so they heat up very less. According to Intel, it is supposed to be the next generation Mobile processor. So why did Apple enclose it in a desktop? The main reason is power conservation, which also means it will be environment friendly by dissipating less heat and consuming less of electricity (that saves wattage needed to be generated by your local electrical company... if you know what I mean). The processor speed is 1.83 GHz, but there are 2 of them and they share 2 MB of Level 2 cache and  it just screams.  The standard model comes with 512MB memory, which is what I had and it was quite adequate for lot of tasks but upgradeable to 2GB. The graphics card is a dedicated ATI Radeon x1600 with 128 MB vRam, which is really good. Harddisk - 160GB, upgradeable to 250GB. It has a superdrive so you can burn DVDs and CDs. For all the rest of the hardware features, please visit http://www.apple.com/imac
It is incredible that such a thin enclosure can have all this , flawlessly assembled. Above all, It emanates 0 noise. Completely quite. Zen buddhist temple. Silence. Even the hard disk access is quiet, I have to get really close to hear it.

Software:
Mac OS X (read as Mac OS Ten) Tiger (version 10.4.5), hailed as the most advanced operating system is based on BSD unix kernel (Open source Darwin) and has several features. Along with iLife, it forms a neat multimedia processing platform. I am not going to list all the features here as you can find it in Apple's website - http://www.apple.com/macosx , but here are few that I liked the most, not in any order( I liked all the features but this is the list of the best).
Best OS Features:
1. Automator: This is a workflow manager application and you can use it to automate several monotonous tasks, like naming your photos in an album, importing music to iTunes from Garageband library, perform disk backup and much more. I have created simple workflows myself and they work great. I guess I will find a lot of use with this.

2. Dashboard: All the little apps on one imaginary screen. Press the centre mouse button and it zooms in. You can check weather, sun dial, use the dictionary, check currency rate. This is similar to Konfabulator (Yahoo widgets) in windows. Very handy indeed.

3. Spotlight: A lightning fast search utility, that constantly indexes your files in the background. Just start typing what you want to find and before you finish typing your results will appear. No explanation needed for how useful it will be. Just fantastic.

4. Speech Recognition: Yeah, I can walk from the kitchen towards my Mac and speak "Mac! Get my mail" and it would recognize my command and pops out my Mail application. Pretty neat, works most of the times.

5. Expose: It doesn't take long to open several windows. How do you switch between them? Well, just squeeze the mouse side buttons and ta da , you will see all the open windows and then you can pick where you want to switch to. This is a neat little feature and I use it very often.

Best of iLife:
6. iPhoto: In just under 30 seconds, you can turn your digital photo into a holiday postcard. Best of all - You can do full screen editing, Unbelievable performance.

7. iMovie: You can edit your movie Frame by Frame and add effects and transitions. It's just perfect.

8. Garageband: This is my hobby these days, I sit and compose music using Apple loops for my home movies or just create music tracks with themes like Winter evening, Dream, Magical moments.

And let me stop here, otherwise the list will go on for ever.


Minor concerns:
1. Since all the Mac app base have not yet been ported to intel, you may not be able to run your favourite Mac app yet. But for a new Mac user like me, it shouldn't matter unless one wants to run some Pro apps like Adobe photoshop.

2. When returning back from sleep, If your mouse is connected to the keyboard USB port, then either of them doesnt respond. This doesn't happen often , probably twice or thrice a day. But dont worry, it looks like a software problem that will be fixed. Apple has a discussion forum on its site and it seems a lot of them are having this trouble, so this issue is known to Apple and it will be fixed.

Overall, The iMac is a great buy for consumers looking for a new computer to do all their multimedia work. It's the ultimate consumer desktop Mac.

Updated: The lamp style iMacs were 2002 Jan, That's about the time I saw Macs in the Apple store and liked them.

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