The Desktop Muse
The New iMac: Where Does it Fit in?
Remember the old iMac? Remember when it broke the $1,000 barrier, though just barely at $999? Even after a major, and long overdue, redesign, the iMac was Apple’s consumer desktop. Until now. The new iMac, complete with 20" display, is the first iMac to move above the $2,000 mark with a retail price of $2,199. So is it a pro desktop? It’s certainly priced like one.
The Pro iMac
If Apple intends to aim the iMac at the pro market, it’s important for pro users to compare the iMac with Apple’s comparably priced desktop systems, the 1.6 GHz G5 and the 1.25 GHz G4. And since more and more pro users are buying PowerBooks as their primary computers, one must add the 15" PowerBook to the mix.
|Model||20" iMac||PowerMac G5||PowerMac G4||15" PowerBook G4|
|Display||20" LCD||20" Cinema Display (add $1,299)||20" Cinema Display (add $1,299)||20" Cinema Display (add $1,299)|
|Processor||1.25 GHz G4||1.6 GHz G5||1.25 GHz G4||1.25 GHz G4|
|System Bus||167 MHz||800 MHz||167 MHz||167 MHz|
|Memory||256 MB (1 GB max)||256 MB (4 GB max)||256 MB (2 GB max)||512 MB (2 GB max)|
|Hard Drive||80 GB||80 GB||80 GB||80 GB|
|Optical Drive||SuperDrive||SuperDrive||SuperDrive option (add $200)||SuperDrive|
|Graphics||GeForce FX 5200 (64 MB RAM)||GeForce FX 5200 (64 MB RAM)||ATI Radeon 9000 (64 MB RAM)||ATI Radeon 9600 (64 MB RAM)|
|Ports||FireWire 400 (2), USB 2.0 (3), USB 1.1 (2)||FireWire 800 (1), FireWire 400 (2), USB 2.0 (3), USB 1.1 (2), FireWire 800 (1)||FireWire 400 (2), USB 1.1 (4)||FireWire 400 (2), USB 1.1 (1)|
|Audio||Headphone, stereo mini jack, line-in||Optical in/out, analog in/out, stereo mini jack, headphone||Analog in/out, stereo mini jack, headphone||Line-in, headphone|
|Networking||10/100 BaseT, 56K modem||10/100/1000 BaseT, 56K modem||10/100/1000 BaseT, 56K modem||10/100/1000 BaseT, 56K modem|
|Wireless||AirPort Extreme ready, Bluetooth option||AirPort Extreme ready, Bluetooth option||AirPort Extreme ready||AirPort Extreme ready, Bluetooth built-in|
|Open Bays||None||Hard drive (1), optical (1)||Hard drive (3), optical (1)||None|
|PCI Slots||None||3||4||PC Card Slot|
The iMac vs. the G5
There’s no question which of these systems is the most powerful, but is the difference in price worth giving up some power? Add a 20" Cinema Display to the G5 and the package totals $3,098. What does an extra $899 add? Besides a more powerful processor, the G5 also holds four times as much RAM (4 GB vs. 1 GB, though both ship with 256 MB installed), has three PCI slots, gigabit Ethernet, and, most importantly for audio pros, optical digital audio inputs and outputs. These optical jacks can carry both SPDIF-formatted stereo audio and encoded Surround Sound.
The iMac vs. the G4 Desktop
These two systems are much closer together. Both have 1.25 GHz G4 processors, 80 GB HDs, and ship with 256 MB of RAM. And the stock G4 only comes with a combo drive. A SuperDrive adds $200 to the price. Add a 20" Cinema Display as well, and the total comes to $2,798. What does an extra $599 add? PCI slots, more space for RAM (2 GB vs. 1 GB, and again both ship with 256 MB installed), and, most important for audio pros, an OS 9-bootable system. Anyone with a lot of income invested in legacy hardware and software will appreciate the transition time provided by a dual-boot system.
The iMac vs. the PowerBook
There are a couple of directions one can go here. The system closest to the iMac in terms of hardware specs is the 15" SuperDrive-equipped model ($2,559). The 17" model ($2,999) has a faster processor (1.33 GHz), but the display still falls short of the 20" iMac. For purposes of comparison, I’ll stick with the 15" model, adding a 20" Cinema Display and a Apple Keyboard and Mouse for home use. The total price tag comes to a whopping $3,996. What does an extra $1,797 add? Portability, and not much else. A 12" PowerBook with a SuperDrive costs $1,799, so get the iMac and the laptop.
After writing this article, I can see where the iMac fits in. If PCI expandability, OS 9 compatibility, or pro-quality digital audio jacks aren’t worth paying extra for, then the iMac is worth a look. For those of us who’ve been in audio for any length of time, though, and have accumulated hardware that requires PCI slots, or software that only runs in OS 9 (that list has dwindled considerably, but upgrades cost money), the iMac is not an option. So for those who need OS 9 a little longer (like me), get the G4 desktop. For those completely upgraded to OS X, and salivating over the optical ports, get the G5. For those who absolutely need portability, get a 12" PowerBook and live with the smaller screen. And for those who have no need for PCI slots, no need for OS 9, and don’t know what SPDIF stands for, give the 20" iMac a look. It’s the most affordable new Mac with a 20" display you’ll find anywhere.
Also in This Series
- Robert Moog: A Tribute · September 2005
- Convergence · February 2005
- Getting More Out of Your GarageBand Loops · December 2004
- This Song Belongs to You and Me · September 2004
- Sitting in on the Jam · April 2004
- The World’s Biggest Jam Session · March 2004
- The New iMac: Where Does it Fit in? · December 2003
- A New Computer, a New Column, a New Life · November 2003
- Complete Archive