Apple’s update to the iMac desktop computer line is just that – an update, almost entirely internal. While it gives the popular all in one system a decent speed boost, it’s arguably not enough to get recent iMac buyers to upgrade just because, although the upcoming Snow Leopard OS might change that.
It hasn’t been terribly long since Apple last upgraded the iMac line, and so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to note that the most recent revision of the computer line is is almost entirely internal, comprising a jump in processor speeds, graphics solutions, storage and memory. There is one significant external change to the iMac line, and it’s the single and only thing that would enable you to pick a new iMac from an old one looking at it from the front. Putting it simply, Apple’s put the iMac keyboard into the wash for too long, and it’s shrunk. By default, the keyboard that comes with the iMac now lacks a number pad, and the arrow keys have been shrunk into the main keyboard array. It’s essentially the same kind of keyboard that now comes with the unibody aluminium Macbook and Macbook Pro. You can opt for the older, larger keyboard at the time of purchase for no extra cost, and we can’t see why you wouldn’t do so. The new tiny keyboard is dwarfed by the iMac anyway, so you don’t gain significant desk space out of the smaller board, just cramped wrists.
Aside from that, and the addition of a fourth USB 2.0 port and switch from MiniDVI to MiniDisplayPort out the back, all the changes within the iMac are internal. Like most computer manufacturers, Apple sells the iMac in a variety of configurations, starting with a $1,999 20" model up to the top end $3,699 24" model, which is what Apple sent us to review. That system comes with a 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of RAM, a meaty 1TB of onboard storage and a fully HD-compatible 1920×1080 display screen. Not that the iMac comes with a Blu-Ray drive, but it does make it capable for other HD content.
We hated the new keyboard, but you probably guessed that. Users will put up with cramped keyboards on netbooks and notebooks because there’s realistically not much option in space terms. On a desktop, however, small is just small for the sake of it, and we often found ourselves mis-keying strokes, even though we’re quite happy with the older iMac "full" keyboard.
On the performance side the new iMac flew past our tests with aplomb, which you’d expect out of the top of the line system. We ran the very generalised Xbench benchmark over the iMac, and then over an older 2008-era 2.8GHz iMac with 2GB of onboard RAM. The newer iMac edged out the older iMac with a score of 199.34 to 169.98, but that’s not quite the whole story, just an indicative figure. The onboard dedicated graphics solution, for example, makes the iMac quite a compelling gaming or graphics rendering solution, and this could be more marked when Apple’s next operating system, OS X 10.6 ("Snow Leopard") launches later this year. Snow Leopard, through various trickery, will be able to use graphics processor power as (in simple terms) general processing power, which means that a newer iMac could get a significant speed boost under that operating system. For now, it’s fast, but it does have the prospect (on paper, at least) of being that much quicker.
Value’s always a tough proposition, and it’s even harder in the Australian marketplace. While Apple in the US was touting the fact that most iMac prices went down with this revision, the reverse is true in Australia, presumably owing to the bargain-basement status of the Australian dollar right now.
As such, prices went up a little over most iMac lines. This makes the entry level 20" iMac not much of a contender; the $500 price difference between it and the first 24" model is more than subsumed by the extra screen real estate, doubling of memory and doubling of hard drive space. If you’re after an iMac, and you don’t need the extra graphics grunt that the higher models offer, that’d be the one to buy. Our review model, at $3,699 is significantly more expensive, but if you’re keen on gaming, video rendering, or just want an elegant all in one solution with as much power as Apple will sell you, it’s a reasonable option as well.