Review: Apple 24-inch iMac (aluminum)

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
The mid-2007 overhaul of Apple's iconic desktop is the first true evidence of a switch in Apple's design direction since the company's switch to Intel processors. But while it represents two steps forward in terms of ergonomics and performance, pro users may find the iMac taking one step backward.



Initial Experiences



The crown jewel in Apple's attention to detail since the return of its chief executive Steve Jobs has been the initial unpacking and setup of its devices. Few, if any, of its customers would disagree that the firm is determined to please first-time users before they've ever launched a program or played a song.



On opening the 24-inch iMac's (fairly large) box and setting up the computer for the first time, it's clear this recent tradition has survived well past the Intel transition of 2006. An almost feng shui approach to packing is still on display: Apple meticulously packs the accessories, software, and the computer itself in a layered fashion that lets you get and what you want and also feels like the reward it should be, instead of the bare minimum effort seen with some PC makers.



Setting up the iMac is also just about as trouble-free as it has been for past iMacs, particularly in the era of near-ubiquitous wireless. Were it not for our need to stop and take photos, we would have had our entire review system ready in just minutes. As with any modern Mac, the new iMac may only require as much as a power cable when it sits on your desk. Our first boot was extremely smooth and guided us through choosing languages, configuring our Wi-Fi connection, and setting up both a user account and registration information in just a few minutes -- though as usual, Apple tries to foist .Mac on its customers before the Mac OS X desktop will make its first appearance.







If there were a complaint to level against the company during the first few minutes, it would be the continued need for a FireWire cable to use the Migration Assistant that eases the switchover to a new system. The need to use a special target disk mode, with a cable the user likely doesn't have, isn't very justifiable when Macs have supported gigabit Ethernet and USB 2.0 for years.



Design, the Glossy Display and the Apple Keyboard



Whether or not you believe Apple's claims that the new iMac is more eco-friendly than the white plastic model it replaces, there's little doubt that the all-in-one computer "for the rest of us" has been taken upscale. Both the anodized aluminum and black plastic trim feel and look better-built than before without adding to the overall price -- and, conveniently, draw mental associations between the Mac and the similarly-styled iPhone. Some have already griped that the design is ugly, but in our impressions the new design's habit of polarizing opinions works in its favor; better to either completely love or hate the style than to be indifferent.







And whatever the reaction to the iMac's appearance, the change has done more to help and little to hurt actual usage. Choosing aluminum has lightened the system and makes both carrying it around and tilting its display just that much easier. Those prone to losing their Apple Remote or depending on the sleep light will be disappointed, however. The thick metal prevents the Mac maker from installing either a magnet or a light inside the case, eliminating two minor but appreciated advantages from the past.



Front-and-center in the design is the controversial glossy LCD display. How much you like the display is just as binary as the overall look. Like the 13.3-inch MacBook, the gloss is intended to produce bolder colors compared to the occasionally washed-out look of matte screens. For the average home user more interested in watching movies or presenting a slideshow, the effect is striking and (on a 24-inch model) could fool you into thinking it was a small, high-quality HDTV. In a properly-lit room, reflections are still a fact of life but are seldom distracting enough to overwhelm the positives of the new display. Still, we question the wisdom of a glossy display, especially for the large surface area of our test unit. But it's not the fatal blow some would have expected.







Ask a professional artist or video editor what they think, however, and you'll likely receive a very different opinion. The same vivid colors that make the screen "pop" also distort the perceived colors for producers trying to judge how well the image will translate to someone's print ad or DVD. Reflections play even more havoc with accuracy by hiding detail and blending into the on-screen colors. Using a fixed color profile mitigates the problem but just shouldn't be necessary for a system being marketed to both home users and pro customers alike.







The much-vaunted aluminum keyboard should be less contentious. In addition to being extremely compact -- a virtue in the small spaces where the iMac may sit -- the new design is actually easier to type with in practice. The MacBook-like flat keys have a larger surface area to strike and travel quickly enough that you can move to the next key sooner than you might with the older translucent case. Any doubts that the keyboard might be flimsy have also been erased: the thin slab of metal is absolutely solid. Users might be frustrated by the two extra USB ports, however, as both of them are tucked underneath the metal and require that you lift the keyboard before plugging in a camera or a mouse.



On Page 2: Performance and the Upgrade Question, and Benchmarks.



Performance and the Upgrade Question



Our first temptation in reviewing a new Mac is to compare its performance against the previous generation. But in terms of absolute performance, the new 2.4GHz, 24-inch model is only modestly faster than its 2.33GHz predecessor and gains mostly from the added bandwidth from the 800MHz system bus as well as the expanded 4GB memory cap, up from 3GB. Compared to the outgoing model, the new version is a much better value for money: at $1799, the new system is easier to rationalize than the model it replaces, which could only reach 2.33GHz through a build-to-order upgrade. A 2.8GHz version of the new iMac is also available, but whether its clock speed, 2GB of RAM, and larger 500GB hard drive are worth the $500 premium is outside the scope of this review.



Other changes are helpful but often feel as though they fall short of what could have been. The Radeon HD 2600 Pro is a long, long overdue replacement for the GeForce 7300 GT in the last 24-inch model and an even longer-awaited replacement for the Radeon X1600 in 20-inch models. Informal 3D gaming tests have the iMac providing very playable frame rates in Quake 4 at 1024x768 resolution with all details on; while this may disappoint gamers looking to switch from a Windows PC, it's a definite improvement and should be good enough for semi-serious gameplay. We nonetheless wish Apple had taken absolute performance into account. NVIDIA's GeForce 8600 GT isn't significantly more expensive, but it's known to be significantly faster in most tasks.







Apple's continued insistence on installing 1GB of RAM in a top-end iMac is also baffling. At its price, most equivalent Windows PCs today will easily sell with 2GB or more, even with a 24-inch display in tow. Upgrading that memory is at least easier than for the previous model; the new iMac puts all 1GB in a single slot and frees up the second slot for a quicker and less expensive upgrade.



What may define the new iMac the most is its relation to far older systems than the late 2006 refresh, however. For existing Mac users who follow the typical two- to three-year upgrade cycle -- including your reviewer -- the aluminum model represents the first real opportunity to jump to Intel processors and a test of just how far Mac performance has advanced since the last PowerPC iMacs were on store shelves.



In our benchmark tests against the last 20-inch iMac G5, the new 24-inch Core 2 Duo is simply in a different class of performance. Most tests which focus on the CPU show that just one of the two 2.4GHz Intel cores can nearly double the speed of the 2.1GHz PowerPC chip; in tests aware of multiple cores, the newest Core 2 Duo is well over three times faster. Cinebench was especially impressive and saw 3D models render in just a third of the time. Quite simply, there's no more reason to cling to a PowerPC system except for very old or very specialized software that refuses to run in Apple's Rosetta environment.















On Page 3: Conclusions and Reservations, and Rating.



Conclusions and Reservations



Having to choose computers from only one vendor means that many buyers won't have much choice: for now, the iMac is still Apple's lone choice for a mid-range desktop. That said, most home customers will find a lot to like in what Apple has to offer. The speed-up is undeniable and is by and large competitive with conventional Windows PC desktops that even the lack of RAM is (somewhat) forgivable. Setting up the iMac is as easy as it's ever been, and the pseudo-professional look may help it infiltrate a few businesses where the candy-white plastic may have earmarked the iMac as a "toy" rather than a work system.







It's similarly easy to recommend the new keyboard bundled with the computer, though Mac users eager for that alone will only have to spend $49 at an Apple store for the privilege. That keyboard was used to write this review, and in hours of heavy typing it was at least as comfortable but slightly quicker for high-speed typing.



Unfortunately, there are signs that Apple is headed down a questionable path for its design choices. In his press event announcing the iMac, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs claimed that customers "loved" glossy displays; we respectfully disagree. The benefits it provides are useful primarily under controlled lighting and for marketing the system in a store. If your home has bright spot lighting that can't be moved or you're a professional who has to judge color accuracy on the fly, the gloss could be troublesome and a potential deal-breaker. Apple should have at least offered matte screens on some models or as a custom option.







We also wonder if the company is emphasizing CPU speed over a more balanced approach to performance. Most Mac users won't complain about the slightly underwhelming graphics; many will wonder about the low memory on such a large and otherwise fast system. These have both been problems in the past, but Apple today has fewer excuses for its old habits -- especially when the 24-inch iMac is supposed to bridge the gap between everyday consumer machines and the flagship Mac Pro.



Still, for most buyers, the new iMac is still an easy recommendation for Mac veterans and most switchers. It's just that a few key decisions may have robbed Apple of some potential customers who would have otherwise been within close reach.



Rating: 3.5 out of 5





Pros:

Slick new designScreen is gorgeous in specific circumstances.Very fast, especially for converts from PowerPC Macs.Keyboard is a tangible improvement over the old model.One RAM slot is finally free for an upgrade.Less expensive than the old model.

Cons:

Glossy screen can be distracting; no option for matte.Only 1GB of memory standard.Radeon HD 2600 Pro is underpowered versus its NVIDIA alternative.No Apple Remote magnet or sleep light.
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Comments

  • bacillusbacillus Posts: 313member
    1 GB of memory... geez, that was standard with others manufactures 2 years ago.
  • anappleadayanappleaday Posts: 2member
    As for the reviewer's observation on the glossy screen: having seen a 20 inch iMac in two stores on Saturday I do agree that colors are very lively and deep. The screen makes the icon's even more photo-realistic. Photos looked like very good slides, and movie trailers in HD looked stunning. The stores had different and far from ideal lighting circumstances, causing reflections in the screen, but this was not too disturbing. Don't know however how this would work out in a home environment. I'm in for one, anyway.
  • polar315polar315 Posts: 76member
    I no doubt will be pleased with my first experience with the iMac. But after seeing some many reviews have some hesitation.



    Looking at the 24" with 2 Gig RAM and will up to the 750 gig disk. Still going to have to wait for the wireless keyboard. Debating if I should order now or just wait until Sept when they should be in stock. Perhaps at that time I will get a free upgrade to Leopard. Not sure how close I would need to be for the upgrade.



    Question - since many seem to be iffy on the new iMacs would I be just as well off with the previous model considering I will be using it for some movie production. Hope to transfer old movies from VHS/8mm/PC avi files. Don't see the older iMacs dropping much in price....



    -----------------------------------------------

    ikea is Swedish for "Out of Stock"
  • anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 17,384member
    <Quote>In his press event announcing the iMac, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs claimed that customers "loved" glossy displays; we respectfully disagree. <Unquote> [Emphasis mine]



    (Someone might mistake this for nitpicking, so I want to say that I am posting this comment only because I am concerned there may be some slight symptoms of sycophancy here):



    Why don't you just simply/plainly disagree?
  • broadbeanbroadbean Posts: 105member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    If there were a complaint to level against the company during the first few minutes, it would be the continued need for a FireWire cable to use the Migration Assistant that eases the switchover to a new system. The need to use a special target disk mode, with a cable the user likely doesn't have, isn't very justifiable when Macs have supported gigabit Ethernet and USB 2.0 for years.



    I beg to differ. Target Disk Mode is still the best and most straight forward way. I doubt you could do it via USB 2.0 at the moment, and gigabit means the older Mac will need to have a working OS that can do file sharing - rather messy.



    If TDM supports Firewire 800, even better!
  • backtomacbacktomac Posts: 4,579member
    Hmm. Those cinebench scores are a bit odd.



    The scores are higher than one forum members scores with a 2.4 ghz quad Core 2 machine.



    They're out of line in comparison to scores posted here.
  • mattfmattf Posts: 1member
    If you've been making a backup of your HD on an external drive you can use the backup volume as the source for the Migration Assistant-- no firewire target mode necessary.
  • cpecpe Posts: 7member
    Could it be something silly like the Radeon 2600 HD Pro actually having better OpenGL support in OSX than in Windows, where most of the current benchmarking has taken place?



    Which might a boon to dedicated mac gaming, while still cutting it short to Bootcamp gaming?



    Quick note though, I have very little understanding of what makes games tick well so to speak, hardware and software wise, in OSX.
  • aegisdesignaegisdesign Posts: 2,914member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by backtomac View Post


    Hmm. Those cinebench scores are a bit odd.



    The scores are higher than one forum members scores with a 2.4 ghz quad Core 2 machine.



    They're out of line in comparison to scores posted here.



    He was using Windows. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that OpenGL on Windows sucks ass whereas the ATi cards on OSX running OpenGL are significantly faster because Apple's OpenGL stack doesn't suck ass.



    Apple have been investing a LOT of time in getting OpenGL working superfast on OSX including writing new compilers and re-implementing the OpenGL stack using LLVM.



    The ATi card in the iMac seems to be turning in way better scores than that guy's 8800GTS too, which goes to prove it's not just about the hardware. In fact, the previous X1600 on OSX gets pretty close to outclassing the 8800GTS on Windows.
  • backtomacbacktomac Posts: 4,579member
    Cool Aegis & CPE, I learned something.



    I find those cinebench scores to be very impressive now that they are likely legit.



    Anyone with a g5 iMac needs to give these a serious look.



    I hope someone with a last gen 24" iMac and the 2.33 ghz C2D will take the cinebench 10 test and post their results. I think it'll be interesting to see how they stack up.
  • gregalexandergregalexander Posts: 1,344member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    Quite simply, there's no more reason to cling to a PowerPC system except for very old or very specialized software that refuses to run in Apple's Rosetta environment.



    So you're saying that even if you're running under Rosetta, it's worth the upgrade? My wife needs to upgrade her current PowerMac G4 MDD (867Mhz x 2) machine, but uses Photoshop & CS2 extensively - which would run in Rosetta.



    I've been trying to work out what kind of speed change she would receive by migrating. Best I can come up with is that if she bought the base model (2.0 Ghz) she'd be slightly faster (20%?). 2.4Ghz would be proportionally faster of course.



    (Naturally, when she upgrades to CS3 she'll see a performance jump).
  • mimicmimic Posts: 72member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by polar315 View Post


    I no doubt will be pleased with my first experience with the iMac. But after seeing some many reviews have some hesitation.



    Looking at the 24" with 2 Gig RAM and will up to the 750 gig disk. Still going to have to wait for the wireless keyboard. Debating if I should order now or just wait until Sept when they should be in stock. Perhaps at that time I will get a free upgrade to Leopard. Not sure how close I would need to be for the upgrade.



    Question - since many seem to be iffy on the new iMacs would I be just as well off with the previous model considering I will be using it for some movie production. Hope to transfer old movies from VHS/8mm/PC avi files. Don't see the older iMacs dropping much in price....



    -----------------------------------------------

    ikea is Swedish for "Out of Stock"



    If you are spending the money, go with the new 24" and upgrade the RAM yourself while ordering the best CPU and HDD you want to afford. Leopard won't cost that much and won't be necessary to wait for.



    As far as GPUs go, I am quite displeased with Apple as Jobs touts that Macs are for your digital Life. Well if we are processing this much HD, would not a very powerful GPU be needed? If not for HD, then for the sheer amount of video/photos.



    Disclaimer: I am on a G5 at the moment. Things have had to improve, but for the price, why not allow the option to upgrade? Or would this put the iMac too close to the Mac Pro?



    Am I upgrading? YES! Does the iMac fall short of expectations? YES! Does iLife 8 fall short of expectations? YES!!



    Rich



    http://richgetz.com
  • extremeskaterextremeskater Posts: 2,248member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by polar315 View Post


    I no doubt will be pleased with my first experience with the iMac. But after seeing some many reviews have some hesitation.



    Looking at the 24" with 2 Gig RAM and will up to the 750 gig disk. Still going to have to wait for the wireless keyboard. Debating if I should order now or just wait until Sept when they should be in stock. Perhaps at that time I will get a free upgrade to Leopard. Not sure how close I would need to be for the upgrade.



    Question - since many seem to be iffy on the new iMacs would I be just as well off with the previous model considering I will be using it for some movie production. Hope to transfer old movies from VHS/8mm/PC avi files. Don't see the older iMacs dropping much in price....



    -----------------------------------------------

    ikea is Swedish for "Out of Stock"



    Well I got mine the third day after it was release. Went to my local Apple store because I wanted to see them in person and play around on one before I just ordered online.



    I have to admit I like this model far more than the previous, thats just m personal opinion. I know some won't like the glossy screen and some will complain about the 2600 ATI card but honestly I love this system.



    I got the 24" standard model and added another gig of ram and this system is fast enough for just about anyone.



    My Mac experiences is I use all the iLife products, Toast for burning, Photoshop CS, Office of Mac and of course many of the programs the OS has to offer. I would say im on the mid to high end of hour average Mac user and this system suits all my needs.



    Everyones idea of smoking fast and good looking is a person preference all I can say is when I work on this system it just feels enjoyable, which is all I care about.



    I own several other systems that are in my house now most windows systems and a Mac simply does not require 3-4 gigs of ram, we all know this, its not Vista. Thats not a dig on Visita its just the facts the Windows OS requires a large chunk of Ram, Tiger does not and I doubt Leopard will. I put in another stick of Ram for 60.00 thats nothing.



    Macs have never been gaming systems so the options of going with a ATI HD card is fine for most becasue ATI has always have better DVD playback and should have fairly good drivers to support HD and video content. Im sure thats why the choice was made not price, which would just get pasted to the end user.



    If you want to boot up into Windows on this system then instead of adding 1gig because it has a free slot this time you could just pop in a 2gig dimm and I seriously doubt anyone would have any issues.



    So this is just my overall impression over the first few days of using this new system. I like it, glad I got it and haven't second guessed myself at all. New keyboard is great too.



    If your looking for dual drives with raid, an 8800gtx 640meg card, 3gigs of ram then that person needs to buy a windows systems, not an iMac. If you want to game either buy a windows system or a Ps3/Xbox, not an iMac.



    Also for those that think this model isn't going to last, the Apple store near me was packed and we have two of them within 15 miles of each other. I got the last 24" in their store from a stock of 20 earlier that day, and they had already sold 30 of hte 20" models that day.



    So just my opinion, they had one of these sitting next to the last gen and it made it look like a joke.
  • macfanboymacfanboy Posts: 1member
    FYI: According to another forum, the remote still magnetically sticks to the iMac, but only to the lower front right part.



    I think the review was too hard on the iMac - only a 3.5? I agree that the matte screen would be a nice option. But these iMacs start at 1199... and 1 GB of RAM goes a lot further on os x than on the new windows vista.



    A 3.5 seems too low.
  • backtomacbacktomac Posts: 4,579member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by MiMiC View Post




    As far as GPUs go, I am quite displeased with Apple as Jobs touts that Macs are for your digital Life. Well if we are processing this much HD, would not a very powerful GPU be needed? If not for HD, then for the sheer amount of video/photos.



    Disclaimer: I am on a G5 at the moment. Things have had to improve, but for the price, why not allow the option to upgrade? Or would this put the iMac too close to the Mac Pro?



    Am I upgrading? YES! Does the iMac fall short of expectations? YES! Does iLife 8 fall short of expectations? YES!!



    Rich



    Have you seen the cinebench scores? I think the iMac performs very well, if those scores are legit.



    It outclassed a 2.4 ghz quad C2 windows machine in open gl and single cpu render.



    I was unimpressed by the gpu pick initially but am having a change of heart.
  • drjjonesdrjjones Posts: 162member
    As long as Apple makes mac minis it won't matter,, as they will buy, or have the screen they want. If they want a matte finish or upgrade bigger, or use existing products it will attract more customers if given more options,,,this is just one more option thank goodness, don't get uptight yet. their store in Towson md. was swarming with people Saturday while i was there for 6 hours on and off. i had an i pod fixed,, and 3 laptops worked on, all for free . Forgot to call ahead for appointment at genius bar .. nice store ,, people very helpful . Thanks Apple .
  • sabonsabon Posts: 123member
    As you noted, this is for home users and I would add up to normal to low high end business users. Meaning PhotoShop and other programs like that.



    With that in mind, 4gb of RAM is extremely reasonable. Sure more would have been better and there is that highest end version that comes with 2 gb of RAM and a bigger hard drive. People doing this kind of job either know about the internet or know someone that supports them that knows about the internet and Kingston or Cruicial's websites where they can buy more RAM for their iMac.



    I have a 5 month old 24" 2.16 ghz iMac and really like it and friends and co-workers (I've brought it into work quite a few times for people to see) who are Windows users have been very impressed with the speed and what it can do. And some of those people do graphics work all day long and unfortunately don't get to use a Mac.



    I went into the Apple store in Seattle (just north of UW) and looked at the new screens and keyboards. I'm not sure about the glossy screen either. But if it is either that OR a Windows computer? I'll by the Mac every time.



    The keyboard is very cool. I wasn't sure about that until I started typing on it. I like the feel of it more than I like my current keyboard that came with my 24" iMac five months ago. Not to say that keyboard sucks. It's pretty good but the flat one feels more solid and I agree, I think I could type faster on it too.



    I also tried out the iphone and found that I can also type fast on that. But then I never like the Blackberry they gave me at work or the Treo my wife has. I was able to type pretty quickly on the iphone with VERY few typing errors. I was very surprised. My wife's phone contract runs out before mine does. We maybe switching contracts so that I can get an iPhone. She doesn't want to give up her Treo. That's ok with me.
  • mgkwhomgkwho Posts: 167member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by macfanboy View Post


    FYI: According to another forum, the remote still magnetically sticks to the iMac, but only to the lower front right part.



    Yes, AI gets it wrong yet again...



    [B]There IS a magnet exactly where macfanboy says it is; please correct your article.[B]



    EDIT: http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=306284 says there is none. Sorry! I was basing my knowledge from other discussions.



    -=|Mgkwho
  • extremeskaterextremeskater Posts: 2,248member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by MiMiC View Post


    As far as GPUs go, I am quite displeased with Apple as Jobs touts that Macs are for your digital Life. Well if we are processing this much HD, would not a very powerful GPU be needed? If not for HD, then for the sheer amount of video/photos.



    Actually speed and power isn't always the major factor. As an example the Nvidia 8500 processes DVD playback and HD content better than the higher end 8800 series cards. This also held true for the Nvidia 7600 series compared to the 7900.



    Higher end cards tend to just stack on memory and clock speed for gaming, an iMac has never been nor will it be a gaming system.



    I haven't seen any real benchmarks regarding the Mac and this new GPU option but on the PC end the 2600 did just as well as the 8600gt from Nvidia. I believe the benchmark I recently looked at was over at Hardocp.



    I also believe that HD content on the internet and even for home use is a ways off. Blu-Ray and HD-DVD overall are still expensive for most users I don't see it being mainstream for a while. Just my opinion.



    Now if you ask me how do Macbook users get way with 64mg of video that one I have no clue...
  • haggarhaggar Posts: 1,568member
    Quote:

    Setting up the iMac is as easy as it's ever been, and the pseudo-professional look may help it infiltrate a few businesses where the candy-white plastic may have earmarked the iMac as a "toy" rather than a work system.



    That may be true, but businesses may change their mind once support staff sees how difficult it is to take apart and replace even basic components like a hard drive. Then the iMac will just be seen as a Sharper Image catalog showpiece rather than something that can be supported.
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