Hands on: the Intel iMac

By Graham K. Rogers

I managed to borrow an Intel-powered iMac for a few days, courtesy of Maccenter. One of the odd things has been how so many people refer to it as a G5 iMac, perhaps adding "Intel" as afterthought. A local shop advertised it as a G5 with Intel chip, and several e-mails I have had, also included "G5".

The design is so closely identified with the G5 PowerPC chips that it will take time before the change sinks in.

Intel iMac Intel students

It may take a while. Intel and Apple have only previously been used as opposites in a sentence; but the change, when using the machine, is such a non-event that one wonders what all the fuss was about, or why it had not been done before.

I look forward to the MacBook Pro, and other releases, to gauge this better. Locally the first iMacs are on sale and I have seen them priced lower than the G5 iMacs. This may not last when the G5s cease to be produced.

I was lent a standard 17" iMac with the 1.83GHz Core Duo chip and 512MB of RAM, so I was not expecting to see "twice as fast" speeds claimed for the 2GHz chip. Although all Macs come with a fair amount of bundled software, there was no real graphics application, apart from iPhoto 06 in the iLife bundle.

PhotoBooth As part of the familiarisation, I took the iMac into my office for a couple of days to let interested students and staff try. The students loved Photo Booth: software that uses the inbuilt iSight camera to take (and modify) images of anyone in front of the screen.

Also a hit, unsurprisingly, was Front Row. This is software that comes to the fore when the included remote control is used and allows selection of music, photos, videos or DVDs. It allows the merging of the iMac with domestic appliances like (and perhaps to replace) TV and stereo. Effective as Front Row is, admiration was greater for the way, when finished, it moved to the background as the computer desktop came forward.

A colleague who specialises in audio-visual systems was particularly interested in the integration of the iLife suite. With the iSight camera, it is possible to record a "talking head" directly into iMovie and use that in other media. With the clips and some others already saved, he was able to make a movie in minutes: "That would have taken me ages with other software" he said.

A friend (also a Mac user) came for tea and she also was sold. She wants a desktop computer to go with her PowerBook. She is convinced this is the machine for her.

iMac rear panel

At home I set it up with ADSL within seconds of it coming out of the box. To be fair, I have done this before. What I did succeed in doing, however, was linking it to the PowerBook using WiFi. With Macs it is possiblle to create a network and then share the connection: Ethernet in, Airport out. It is necessary to open firewall ports if certain functions are needed (for example ports 25 and 110 for e-mail).

All of the applications are "Universal": ready for the Intel chips and the PowerPCs. I installed a number of PowerPC applications, including one of my favourite games, SimCity 4. With SimCity I also made a copy of the CDROM to save inserting the install disk every time I ran it.

Such PowerPC software uses the Rosetta code translator and there is allegedly a performance hit. Viewing this subjectively, I did not notice. It felt the same.

Apple made its performance claims after using test software which I do not have. In an attempt to include some objectivity, I used Comic Life (I enthused over this some months ago) now part of the software bundle.

Identical images on the iMac and my own PowerBook were exported as tiff files with a 1200 dpi resolution. On the PowerBook the file created was 17.4MB (10666 x 7999). On the iMac it was 33.2MB (again 10666 x 7999). The times taken were 14 min 30 secs for the PowerBook and 11 min 53 sec for the iMac.

Unexpectedly, the iMac was faster. I am unsure why the file sizes were different. All Universal applications are larger as well, so there may well be some overhead for the newer software/hardware combination.

While the iMac was with me, an update to OS X was released. The update for the Intel Macs is different (as is the OS X build number), so with the change and the Extended Firmware Interface (EFI) the way OS X operates under the hood may not be identical.

This did not make one whit of difference to me.

Made on Mac

For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.

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