In a brief, hands-on encounter with the new iMac, we found a lot to like about its different design. The crystal-clear LCD screen swivels, tilts and lifts with a smooth, easy motion -- yet it stays put. The white base loses the slot-loading optical drive of the previous model in favour of a regular pop-out tray, which, when you examine it head-on, looks as though it's smiling at you. Apple dresses up the familiar Pro keyboard and Pro mouse in matching white.
The base is topped with large cooling vents. The power switch and all connection ports sit at the rear. The base sports three USB ports (up from two in the previous model), two FireWire (IEEE 1394) ports, plus Ethernet and modem connections. Aside from attaching external devices, the only possible user upgrades are increasing the amount of system memory and adding the optional AirPort 802.11b wireless networking card. You can open the case by removing four screws and a cover plate at the bottom of the unit.
Beyond radically redesigning the iMac, Apple has finally updated the G3 processor to the G4 and upgraded to the nVidia GeForce2 MX graphics chip. During our session with the new model, performance seemed quite snappy. The G4 processor and the nVidia graphics card combine to make Mac OS X feel fast and fluid. The LCD is bright and ultra-clear, and is reminiscent of Apple's regular 15in. Studio Display.
The new iMac will be available in three configurations. The top-end model, at £1,360.85 (ex. VAT), comes with an 800MHz G4, 256MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive and the SuperDrive, a CD-RW/DVD-R combo drive previously available only on Apple's Power Mac line. This model is expected to ship at the end of January. The mid-range model, due in February, carries a £1,105.53 (ex. VAT) price tag and includes a 700MHz G4, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive. The cheapest iMac, which won't be available until March, will cost £977.87 (ex. VAT) -- like the original Bondi blue iMac. This model will include the 700MHz G4, 128MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a CD burner.
Bundled software includes Mac OS X 10.1.2 as the default operating system, plus Mac OS 9.2.2 for older Mac software. Productivity software includes AppleWorks 6, iPhoto, iMovie 2, iTunes 2 and iDVD 2.
Although we await a complete labs-based evaluation, the new iMac appears to have great potential for both home and small-business users -- that is, of course, if buyers can embrace the daringly different design.