Apple's latest computer gives a taste of life in the fast lane

By Peter Nowak

Once you've driven a Ferrari, it's hard to go back to your Toyota Corolla.

Not that I've ever driven a Ferrari, nor do I own a Corolla. But I imagine that's what it feels like now that I'm back on my crappy HP laptop after a few weeks of test-driving Apple's new iMac.

The hype is true - the Intel dual-processor iMac is about as close to perfection as a computer can get. It's enough to make a convert of a hard-core PC user like myself.

Obviously, the first thing you notice is the design. It's Apple's trademark minimalist look - white, sleek and simple. The iMac consists of a stand-mounted monitor, keyboard and mouse, with no big, noisy box anywhere in sight. In fact, it looks more like a flat-screen television than a computer.

It runs silently and, with a 20-inch screen that displays video beautifully, this is a machine that doesn't look or sound out of place in the living room.

The iMac also features a tiny remote control for photo, video and music playback - a very welcome innovation. It seems like Apple has tried very hard to position this iMac as a television and stereo replacement, and in that respect, it's almost there.

The computer also boasts another Apple trademark: simplicity. I pulled the thing out of the box, plugged it in and was ready to go. No lengthy operating system or software installation. Same with internet access - I popped in my ethernet cable and was instantly connected. Waiting a few minutes for my PC to boot up now seems interminable.

Mind you, this has always been a criticism of Apple computers, that they leave little room for easy customisation, upgrading and tinkering. Essentially, what you buy is what you get.

But with home computers fully commoditised, and with them all doing more or less the same thing now, that's becoming an increasingly anachronistic argument. Give me something fast and simple - I don't really care what's inside.

Of course, what's inside the iMac does actually matter. It's the first Apple computer with Intel's new dual-core 2.0GHz processor, which means it's fast, fast, fast.

I'll save the benchmark tests for the more techie-oriented reviews, but in practical terms, the iMac moves at blazing speed.

With all that Intel processing power, I had four video clips playing simultaneously on the screen with no drop in performance. The machine started to crap out when I tried playing a fifth MPEG clip, but complaining about that would really be stretching it. I guess I'll just have to live with four videos at the same time, boo hoo.

Incidentally - the double processors also allow the iMac to play sound from two sources simultaneously. I had sound on a video going and an iTunes song playing at the same time. Not that there's really a practical use for this, but it's neat nonetheless.

The iLife software suite is nicely integrated and takes care of most users' needs. Garageband 3 is an easy-to-use, virtual music studio that makes podcast creation a breeze, while iPhoto gets a significant boost from the improved processing power.

The application can now smoothly handle up to 250,000 pictures at the same time, which makes all other photo manipulation software look pretty shoddy in comparison. Now, whenever I use Nikon's PictureProject on my laptop, I get the uncontrollable urge to pull out my hair because it's so comparatively slow.

Same goes for the computer's web publishing and DVD creation applications, iWeb and iDVD, respectively. They're both so easy and fast to use.

All of this and a built-in webcam too. The new iMac has all the bases covered.

If there are complaints to be made, they're nothing new. First, Apple products are almost always priced at a premium and with a price tag of $3099 for the 20-inch model, the iMac is no exception. The 17-inch model, with slightly slower 1.83GHz processor, is cheaper at $2349.

Second, Apple computers have always had some compatibility problems with their PC cousins, and that's certainly still the case. But these are generally minor gripes - Skype, for example, doesn't yet have video capability for Macs.

Over all, the iMac is something you may not want to try because if you do, you may never want to go back to your crappy old Toyota. 

Apple iMac 20-inch

* Pros: Looks sexy; easy to use; very fast.
*Cons: Expensive; traditional PC compatibility issues.
* Price:$3099.
* Herald rating: 9/10

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