The New iMac Dazzles, but Hold That Purchase

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by powermac_daddy, Jan 22, 2006.

  1. powermac_daddy macrumors 6502


    Feb 22, 2005
    Philadelphia & Northern California
    The extraordinary thing about Apple's new iMac is how ordinary it is to operate. It looks, sounds and works almost exactly like the version it replaces, to the point where many Mac users probably couldn't pick it out of a lineup.

    But the iMac's strikingly stylish contours hide an Intel Core Duo processor, not the usual PowerPC chip. It's the first Mac ever to show up in stores with Intel inside.

    Most computer companies switch processor architectures only a little more often than human beings switch heads, and with good reason. Apple had done it only once in the past 20 years, when it moved to PowerPC chips in the mid-1990s -- a prolonged, painful process with its own vocabulary of system-error messages -- and Microsoft has yet to attempt it with any consumer flavor of Windows.

    The new iMac, however, makes this sort of brain surgery seem Band-Aid easy.

    With Intel-fluent Mac software-- a small but growing contingent that includes the Mac OS X operating system and every Apple program on board-- this computer barrels past the iMac G5 it replaces. But the new iMac can also run older, PowerPC software at a large fraction of its original speed, and with no sacrifice of features.

    The Intel iMac Apple loaned last week (the pricier of two versions, this $1,699 model includes a 2 GHZ Core Duo and a gigabyte of memory) looked its very best in tests of digital-video performance. It played high-definition movie trailers available on Apple's Web site without pauses or stutters, even when I rapidly dragged the movie's window around the desktop. An iMac G5 from last summer stumbled, sometimes badly, at the same assignment, as did a Dell Optiplex desktop.

    Then I tried copying a DVD movie to the hard drive and compressing its footage to play on a video iPod. An Intel-compatible release of the program I used, a free download called HandBrake, finished everything in an hour and 19 minutes; a PowerPC version needed over two hours on the fastest iMac G5 sold.

    The same snappy performance showed up in many other Intel-ready applications, such as the iLife '06 multimedia suite bundled with the iMac.

    But most Mac programs aren't yet available as "universal" Intel/PowerPC releases. In those cases, the iMac and such other Intel-based machines as the MacBook Pro laptop due next month rely on a layer of software called Rosetta to translate PowerPC code into Intel instructions.

    Much of the time, Rosetta is invisible. Microsoft Office launched only a little slower than normal, then acted exactly as it would on a G4 or G5 Mac. The same went for a long list of other Mac programs tested, including productivity applications (AppleWorks), personal-finance tools (Quicken 2006, TurboTax, Moneydance), Web browsers (Firefox and Camino), digital-photo managers (Kodak EasyShare, iView Media) and games (The Sims, Lego Star Wars).

    A Hewlett-Packard printer/scanner combo worked as usual, and I had no problem installing drivers for comparable devices from HP and Epson.

    Rosetta even tolerated the quirks of gruesomely obsolete Mac software: Palm Desktop synced data with a Tungsten E handheld and AOL logged on over my DSL connection without any issues.

    Rosetta could not, however, run demos of the games WWII Online and Doom 3 at any acceptable speed. LimeWire, a file-sharing program, and NeoOffice, a version of the OpenOffice suite, wouldn't start or crashed every time. Microsoft's Virtual PC emulation software doesn't work either. And Rosetta can't translate any "Classic" programs written for Mac OS 9 or older versions of Apple's operating system; Mac OS X actually stamps their icons with a "forbidden" graphic to emphasize this point.

    Even with those glitches, Rosetta (developed for Apple by Silicon Valley start-up Transitive Corp.) stands as one of the most amazing feats of emulation I've seen. Its only major cost seems to be a ravenous appetite for memory: Rosetta often wound up doubling PowerPC applications' memory requirements, a trait that made the iMac unbearably sluggish with one of its two memory modules removed.

    Don't even think of using an Intel-based Mac without a gigabyte of memory on board, not the 512 MB that would suffice on other models.

    Although the Intel Core Duo chip in the iMac will also soon grace many Windows laptops, other parts of this Apple's innards aren't compatible with Windows XP, at least for now. (Using this laptop processor offers the utterly pleasant side effect of making the iMac almost silent in use.)

    But that should not stop owners of Intel-based Macs from running Windows programs on their machines. For one thing, Microsoft says it's researching how to update Virtual PC for them. For another, Mac versions of Wine and CrossOver Office -- programs that for years have allowed Linux users to run Windows programs without even installing Windows itself -- have a good chance of arriving before Microsoft can ship a universal version of Virtual PC.

    (In case you were wondering, Windows viruses also don't have any access to these computers.)

    Both the promise and the reality of the Intel iMac -- especially the cheaper, $1,299 model, once upgraded to a gigabyte of memory -- make it one of Apple's most appealing releases ever. But it would still be wise to wait a month or so if you don't need a new machine today. This computer may look just like its predecessor, down to the too-few USB ports on the back, the slot-loading DVD- and CD-burning "SuperDrive" on the side, and the iSight webcam above its fabulously bright screen, but it represents an enormous change inside. And in the computer business, enormous changes usually mean lots of bugs that don't surface until after a product lands on store shelves.

    Waiting a little will give Apple time to find and fix those bugs, then work on taking better advantage of Intel processors. It will give the developers of Mac software time to rewrite more programs as universal releases -- or at least make sure that their current releases function correctly under Rosetta.

    It's barely been six months since Apple even announced that it would move to Intel processors. Waiting a little longer won't hurt and could save you a lot of trouble.
  2. skunkworks macrumors member

    Jan 11, 2006
    I agree about the waiting, however, I'm still without a mac and would really like a descent one. At the moment its tough to find a good deal on a g5 imac since apple hasn't moved on pricing. Hopefully I can scrounge together something while I wait for the headless mac to appear. I think these machines are great but would prefer to have just the guts of the machine with a nice 24" LCD. Unfortuneatly for me headless macs will be underpowered as I believe and will have to go for desktop instead...September..ughhh!
  3. dops7107 macrumors 6502a


    Mar 19, 2005
    Perth, Oztrailya
    Presumably, the only benefit to waiting is getting a more polished product from the outset. Assuming the negatives of buying an Intel iMac at the moment are software related, then one would have to wait for fixes anyway. Buying the first Intel computer now will not mean it is crippled, because all future fixes should be available to you for free later. I still reckon if you want a iMac now, get an Intel one.
  4. bigandy macrumors G3


    Apr 30, 2004
    "Rosetta often wound up doubling PowerPC applications' memory requirements, a trait that made the iMac unbearably sluggish with one of its two memory modules removed."


    that's like something a friend told me the other day - apparently, if you turn off your screen, it makes it really hard to read anything!

  5. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Jul 4, 2004
  6. Deepdale macrumors 68000


    May 4, 2005
    New York
    I had similar thoughts when I read that post earlier ... now it is much clearer thanks to you, BV.

    Will the real Rob Pegoraro please stand up?

    Attached Files:

  7. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Jul 4, 2004
    Well, since he's a friend of Steve's it's probably OK then.
  8. Deepdale macrumors 68000


    May 4, 2005
    New York
    Too bad he's so well connected ... it was shaping up to be a good day for a hanging in the courtyard. :)
  9. crdean1 macrumors 6502a


    Feb 14, 2005
    Yes, but it is not plagarism when you post an article in a forum with a link to credit the source, just to be clear.

    Good article, use link next time like BV said.

    Thanks for posting..crdean1
  10. yankeefan24 macrumors 65816


    Dec 24, 2005
    If you notice at the end of the washington post article you get "© 2006 The Washington Post Company" copyright infringment is a little bit more serious than plagerism. if you credited the source i don't think its © infringment.

    if there are any lawyers who can make any sense of this U.S. copyright office website please tell me.
  11. dwd3885 macrumors 68020

    Dec 10, 2004

    I just got the intel imac 2ghz and I would get it again. Once you add more RAM, (Like ALL Mac users should) the machine is just like any other Mac. And look at it this way. When was the last time you seen a computer get better with age?!? Well that is what this machine will do since the software will be introduced as we go, the speed of the computer will be even faster.

    And it is a DUAL CORE machine. Let us not overlook that fact. Buying anything G5 right now would just not be a smart move unless you're the type of person who buys and sells computers at a high rate.

    Performing on the level of a Dual Core G5, at a fraction of the cost
  12. jsalzer macrumors 6502a


    Jan 18, 2004
    Lighting the Monitor

    The trick is to light a candle and place it behind the monitor before turning it off. The monitor becomes easy to read and (if an Apple monitor) seems more romantic.

    <SmallPrint>Not responsible for any fires or melted Mac parts.</SmallPrint>
  13. FFTT macrumors 68030


    Apr 17, 2004
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    The major point here is that we have a great new computer with virtually
    no universal binary pro applications ready to run on it.

    The home and office users will be fine, but this is a major hold-up for
    audio and video pros who were hoping for a portable workstation.

    Now it's looking like 3rd party audio won't be ready till Q3 2006

    Digidesign has no posted date for a universal binary update and Native Instruments is saying Q3 2006 for their update schedule.

    It appears that 3rd party pro developers are waiting for the Intel 64 bit towers before they commit.
  14. AP_piano295 macrumors 65816

    Mar 9, 2005
    wait seriously would putting a light behind make it easyier.
    (why do I feel like i've just said something stupid.
  15. FFTT macrumors 68030


    Apr 17, 2004
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
  16. jsalzer macrumors 6502a


    Jan 18, 2004
    Like the sun and the stars

    Putting a light behind the monitor only helps you to read the screen when the monitor is turned off. When the monitor is turned on, back lighting doesn't help, as the monitor itself overpowers the back light.

    Kind of like how the stars are there but you can't see them during the day.

    You still buying this? ;)

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