My wife’s refurbished iMac showed up yesterday and I managed to snatch it out of the hands of FedEx before they dashed off. (A female shipper was at my door already writing the “sorry we missed you” note fifteen seconds after knocking at my front door.) After I talked with my wife on the phone about what her preferences were (She was at work.), I unpacked the machine, photographing the process all the way, and popped its back off to install an Airport Card before setting it up next to her “old” flat panel G4 iMac, laughing all the way. For two people who didn’t like the G5 iMac’s square looks, we sure have gone for them!
Amazingly, the iMac didn’t seem to exhibit any unusual noises and its screen brightness seemed fine. The new Setup Assistant came on screen after the initial registration screens Apple always produces. It asked if I had data on an old Mac I wanted to transfer; and when I answered “yes”, it had me connect the two machines via Firewire cable. It then instructed me to boot the G4 iMac in Firewire Target Disk Mode by holding down the “T” key on the G4 while it booted. Once I had done that, the Assistant inventoried the “old” iMac, presented me with a list of the areas it was going to copy so I could approve it, and then it proceeded to copy everything from the old machine to the new one. The process is additive. In other words, you’ll more than likely find your Applications folder has a few more things in it than you were expecting.
Once the process completed, the G5 iMac booted into Mac OS 10.3, otherwise known as Panther. The desktop looked just like it had when my wife last turned off her G4 iMac. Sweet!
I booted various applications, including Photoshop and Word for Office v.X among others, looking for application or operating system crashes. There were none. No crashes, good screen brightness, and no dead pixels on the display. This was a good day!
I played with the machine for a few minutes to see how I felt about moving back to a 17 inch format from the 20 inch I was used to. For the first time since I had started debating with myself about whether I was going to get an iMac and which one if so, I knew. Turning off her machine, I gathered me and my credit card up and headed over to Micro Center.
Two hours later, I was home with a new 20 inch G5 iMac and a much larger credit card bill. (Authors’ note: I got a special deal on this. 2% interest until I get it paid off, which is the only reason I was comfortable with it.). Still, I only paid $10 more than I would have for a refurbished one from Apple to get a new one. (That’s $1704, folks! MicroCenter has 10% off all Macs in the store until December 5th. It’s an in-store special and a bigger discount than one directly from Apple as a federal employee or a teacher! The place was packed, and for good reason!) And I was able to get a full 1GB of memory for only $162! Apple is charging an extra $525 for a single 1GB stick of memory ordered at the same time as your iMac, and Crucial.com is charging $259. All in all, even though I spent a bunch of dough, I saved just under $300! Not bad!
It was my dual 1 Ghz G4 PowerMac’s hard drive this iMac’s Setup Assistant cloned. The process went better than I had hoped; I was uncertain if it would transfer the OS 9 System Folder and all that went with it. When it was done, I found everything had transferred and most of it worked, with irregularities showing up in the operation of my Microsoft Mouse, my Griffin PowerMate, and my Epson 1600 Photo scanner. After some troubleshooting, I recovered the Microsoft Mouse’s function by reinstalling OS 10.3.6 using the combo updater and Intellipoint 5.0 drivers, the PowerMate by reinstalling its version 1.0.6 drivers, and the scanner by installing the latest drivers from Epson. I also had to re-enter settings for connecting up with the VPN network at my workplace, but that was about it. Considering all the software on my machine, that really was pretty good.
The new iMac has three USB 2.0 ports and two Firewire 400 ports. The keyboard only supports USB 1.1, though, so one USB 2.0 port is essentially lost even with a standard setup. The rear-mounted ports are not as handy as front mounted ports, but they’re accessible enough, though putting anything in the ports requires me to also find a way to brace the iMac against movement.
Its screen brightness and clarity are on par with my other 20 inch Cinema LCD displays, though they look a tad clearer. (Note: If you buy one of these new iMacs, make sure you go into System Preferences/Appearance and set the “Font Smoothing Style” to at least “Medium-Best for Flat Panel” before judging the quality of text on your display. The iMacs seem to be arriving from the factory set at “Standard – Best for CRT”.)
As you might suspect, ergonomics of this new iMac are excellent. The bottom baffle of the machine below the screen raises it to a good height, and most things are at near eye level, just slightly low. The keyboard’s keys are responsive and not too resistant. The keyboard’s USB ports are near the center of the keyboard vice being at each end. That requires less chord to reach the ports but also means the routing of any wires must near the center of the keyboard. (Not a problem for me.) All cables, including the keyboard’s, are routed through the hole in the machine’s metal stand behind it and are invisible from the front. Fan noise is generally minimal, though it sometimes does increase after the unit has been on for a couple of hours. Still, even then, it is not objectionable but it is noticeable if the room is quiet. (It’s a soft, medium pitched whirr.) (Note: Using an Energy Saving Processor Performance setting of “Automatic” and under light to normal use, the iMac CPU seems to run at 53.5 degrees Centigrade.)
In general, let me summarize how these stack up to our previous Macs using the following categories:
Ergonomics: Excellent, though the ability to move the display screen to exactly where one wants it still leaves the G4 flat panel iMac as the winner in this department. I actually like the optical drive in the G5 iMac’s side-mounted vertical position better; it seems more natural to put in and retrieve optical disks than from a tray I have to look down into. Screen quality and brightness are on par with the G4 iMac’s and almost equivalent to that of the wide-bezel 20 inch Apple Cinema Displays. Ports are more easily accessible on the G5 iMac than on the G4’s. It’s much easier to find and manipulate the power button on the G5. Noise levels are fairly low even as the machine heats up and you notice the fans. The fans in my wife’s 17 inch iMac are louder than the ones in my 20 inch.
Performance: Really nice speed on everyday tasks, though not significantly faster than my dual 1 GHz G4 PowerMac on most of those. However, photos and collections of photos (such as in Photoshop CS’s File Browser) appear faster and scroll fairly effortlessly. I don’t have any 3 d games here and haven’t any plans to produce much video on this machine but will post any impressions on the website later if I do. Cinebench 2003 benchmarks will be posted to my website within the next week. I did see a noticeable but not significant improvement in overall performance when I moved the memory from 256MB to 1 GB. If you want to understand more about the G5 iMac’s speed, check out articles at Barefeats.com. There’s a bunch of them.
Expandability: Not any iMac’s strong suit. The G5 iMac can handle up to 2 GB DDR 400 (PC3200) memory. However, there are only two slots for memory, so to get to that amount you must have 1 GB in each slot. Unlike the G5 PowerMac models, however, the G5 iMac can use single memory sticks, i.e., memory does not have to use matched pairs. (One of Apple’s support documents states that this improves performance; but at least with the current operating system, the difference is not significant.) The hard drive can be changed out as can the optical drive, but as of this writing anything other than a part sent to you by Apple Care will void your warranty.
Value: …the best in Apple’s G5 line unless you already own recent displays you’d like to keep using. Then look at the dual 1.8 PowerMac. A refurb dual 2.0 GHz is even better. Don’t buy extra memory from Apple unless you just want to or are ordering a Build To Order machine and have some reason to pay more. Look for good third party vendors instead.
I have to say I’m not happy about the expense but am happy with the purchases. I’m looking forward to growing with my G5 iMac and waiting to see what 64 bit performance will buy me in the future. Hopefully, something…