my imac core duo review
As I have not purchased a new Mac in quite a while, it has been a long time since I have had the fun of writing a review! I have been around Apple long enough to know that buying the first revision of a new machine can be a dicey proposition, but hey, that’s part of the fun.
The computer itself is gorgeous. It’s slimmer than the first iMac G5s, and unlike some Macs, it looks well crafted from all angles, not just the front. It will take some time getting used to the widescreen aspect ratio, but I think it will be nice once it feels natural. I am curious to see how well the plastics hold up, as my four year old iBook now shows some scratches and dings, although that is largely due to the many trips on which it has accompanied me.
The power/sleep button is easily accessible around the back on the left, and the glowing light showing the computer is asleep is even more mesmerizing than the one in my laptop. The plugs in the back on the right are almost too good; they give such a firm hold that you have to grab the front of the monitor when plugging in USB and Firewire peripherals or you push the whole computer across your desk. The power plug seems to hold tight enough so that as you adjust the computer, you don’t accidentally pull out the plug in the process. It was very easy to start up the first time, answer some basic questions, and have the computer online ready to go. The only real question is that due to weight distribution between the stand and the monitor, it’s not immediately obvious what is the best way to pick up the unit. Fortunately, it seems solid all around, in both the elegant metal base and the Captain Picard Ready Room-like monitor. Two thumbs up.
The software that is Intel native is fast and responsive. It is difficult to say what is due to the Intel chips per se, and what is due to my point of reference, namely an iBook from 2002. Nonetheless, that’s partly the point. This machine is fast, not just in specs and benchmarks, but so much so in casual usage that I notice it. Freakin’ cool.
In fact, it’s so cool, that’s almost another feature in and of itself. It is quiet. I mean, nearly silent quiet. Ask somebody with a G5 desktop what they’d give for a little less noise.
An important point about the Intel iMacs is that for a lot of people like me who have been waiting to upgrade for a while, this is as much an upgrade to OS X 10.4 and iLife 06 as it is a jump to the Intel architecture (however much symbolic importance that may have for some of us). We frankly could care less about Photoshop and other pro apps; we spend our time in iTunes and iPhoto. And by golly, they’re fast. After you’ve spent years in front of a G3, it is pure joy simply scrolling through your iPhoto 6 library. I’ll let you think about that last sentence for a second.
However, this is where I ran into my first major problem. Apple does not design the experience for current Mac users needing to migrate their data to the new machines very well. The migration assistant is a joke for some specific needs. I am very familiar with Apple computers and software, but I had to spend a considerable amount of time on the internet looking for ways to import data and settings. Each application seems to handle things differently. If you simply copy your iTunes library, you lose comments you make (such as song ratings and playlists). The first time I imported my iPhoto library, I got every version of every photo I ever edited in the library (original, red eye, cropped, etc). With a little bit of time, I was able to address these two issues. But I could see this being frustrating for someone who isn’t as familiar with their computer or doesn’t like spending time tweaking and testing things (although, fitting with the larger theme here and other reviews I’ve seen, I wouldn’t recommend an Intel purchase right now if you don’t like tinkering and troubleshooting).
By far my deepest frustration was with Mail. There are no relevant articles in Apple’s knowledge base about transferring your email, particularly from 1.x to 2.x. Mail 1 apparently treats .mbox files differently than Mail 2. I tried connecting directly through Firewire Target Disk Mode and sharing files from my iBook through Airport. I tried Googling instructions for this transfer. All for naught. I ended up with about 50% of my email successfully transferred. For me, the whole value of Mail is that it has all of my email, there, on the computer. I don’t understand why there isn’t a one-click option that’s as easy as checking for software updates that finds all mailboxes for a user on another computer and imports them. Now, it’s possible this option exists technically; my point is that even for someone comfortable with computers, I had to look to find answers, and despite earnest searching, I couldn’t find them. Anywhere. I ended up resetting my original webmail accounts to act as if the email was never downloaded and redownloading years worth of email. If I had set the option to delete copies off the server after downloading to Mail on my iBook, I think I would have lost two or three thousand of my emails. (It didn’t seem completely random about which emails imported incorrectly, so I would be happy to post more specifically about what happened if anyone has encountered similar difficulties.)
The other area, which I know about but is still frustrating in a nostalgic kind of way, is losing access to older programs. Because I have been in the Apple fold so long, I have a considerable software library from the days now referred to as Classic (and I’m not even sure what to call pre-OS 8.6 and heaven forbid Apple //e programs). I can handle them not working; after all, the iBook is still pretty perky running OS 9, and I’ve known this day was coming. But it is one of the things that makes me wonder more generally about commercial business models in the computer industry. Hardware manufacturers put so much effort into making better chips, yet so little seems to go into the software side. Sure, game developers spend considerable resources pushing the graphics, but generally speaking, it seems like software just gets sloppier and more bloated. There is so much computing power in even consumer machines like these iMacs, that I wonder why there isn’t simple emulation that just lets the software run, period. It seems like so much development effort goes into graphics these days, that arguably more important aspects like speed and story line get undervalued. Why can’t Apple simply write a program that lets essentially any old game run on new Macs? But I digress; that’s more a Mac OS X issue than an Intel one (after all, many of the programs I have are pre-PPC).
As far as the software Rosetta can emulate, namely PowerPC native Mac OS X applications, Rosetta works fantastically. If you’re doing things where you care about what percentage of native speed Rosetta runs an application, you don’t want to be making the switch right now. If you’re like me, and just want Office to work, then you’re in luck. Some programs do require a little bit of exploring before you get them to work. For example, I’m a Civilization addict, and I had to figure out that Macsoft Games no longer supports Civilization III, and the company that does support it still lists 1.21g as the latest version. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t work on the Intel iMacs due to a conflict with the widescreen display resolution (at least, I think that’s the problem). Undaunted, I eventually found a beta version of 1.29 on the internet, which isn’t available from the company, that seems to work just fine under Rosetta.
All this so far essentially addresses how to do what I was doing before. The last things I want to address are the gimmicks that quickly become more than just toys. I speak of the built in iSight video camera and the infrared remote with Front Row. In some senses they are both afterthoughts; the resolution on the iSight is lower than my several year old digital camera and the camera is immobile apart from moving the whole computer, while Front Row is limited to partial functionality in just four applications (iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and the DVD Player). IChat AV is so addictive, though, that despite the fact that it is inferior to AIM in both chat logging and the buddy list display, I essentially use it exclusively now. One night in front of a full screen video chat with a friend is enough to hook you. I now look longingly at my buddy list wondering aloud how all these friends of mine can possibly survive without a webcam. I am disappointed that one way video chats are limited to iChat AV users; hopefully that’s a technical issue Apple and AOL can address rather than a conscious choice by Apple to limit access to iChat AV. Meanwhile, it only took one day for the gorgeous little remote for Front Row to wander permanently from its neat magnetic holder on the side of the iMac to the nightstand beside my bed. Could it be that Apple can capitalize on the fact that entertainment has become so commercialized that completely abandoning advertisements is a plausible alternative? We’re obviously not there yet, but with considerable digital content available, and the trend, from TV shows on DVDs to the explosive growth of iPods and the iTMS, clearly pointing toward people’s frustration with advertisement overload, maybe Apple can realize a degree of choice and value never quite delivered by cable TV operators. Imagine paying $5 a month to download any ESPN programming one desires, commercial free. That’s what cable should be, anyway.
Again, I digress. But that’s partly what this machine makes you do. You feel at once that this is a monumental move for Apple, yet, at the same time, the point is things are basically the same. The machine is a little faster, a little sexier, and loaded with a little better software bundle than any iMac before it. Apple’s foray into the Intel world, the iMac Core Duo, is quite simply the best consumer desktop on the market. The question isn’t whether you should make the switch. The default choice, several months ahead of schedule, is this iMac. You should instead be asking, do you have a particular need to have a G5 computer? If not, it’s time to embrace the future. This is one of the few times where the computer will actually get better, for a time, as it ages.
Now here’s hoping Apple doesn’t pull a IIvx on us early adopters. They already pulled one business fast one: Amazon is now offering $125 off the 17” models and $150 off the 20” models. As annoying as that is, I figure that’s a good sign about the transition that my biggest gripe isn’t a technical one. Nonetheless, it does make one wonder why Apple essentially charged a price premium to those of us who ordered one the first week.