iMac G5: Goodbye Arm, Hello Slab!
At Apple Expo in Paris last week, Apple announced the iMac G5, the latest generation of the company’s all-in-one consumer level computer. Gone is the hemispherical base and articulated arm of the previous iMac. Instead, the iMac G5 looks like a slightly thicker version of the recent Apple Cinema Displays, a white slab suspended on a slim aluminum base. It also resembles one of the company’s other products, a music player called the iPod. You may have heard of it.
The iMac G5 comes in two sizes and three configurations: a 17-inch screen model sporting a 1.6 GHz PowerPC G5 processor ($1,300); a 17-inch screen model with a 1.8 GHz G5 ($1,500); and a 20-inch screen model with a 1.8 GHz G5 ($1,900). The 17-inch versions are just 1.9 inches (48 mm) deep; the 20-inch version is 2.2 inches (56 mm) deep. The low-end model has a Combo Drive (CD-RW/DVD-ROM), while the others include SuperDrives (CD-RW/DVD-R); the slot-loading drives sit vertically on the right side of the computer. All configurations are AirPort Extreme-ready, with internal Bluetooth adapters available as build-to-order options.
They all come with 256 MB of PC3200 (400 MHz) DDR SDRAM memory (you’ll want more RAM; the iMac supports a maximum of 2 GB); an Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra graphics card with 64 MB DDR SDRAM with AGP 8x support; two FireWire 400 ports; three USB 2.0 ports; two USB 1.1 ports on the keyboard (which looks to be wired, even though the pictures show off Apple’s wireless Bluetooth keyboard and mouse). The iMac G5 also sports VGA output (supporting an external monitor in mirror mode only), S-video and composite video output, 10/100 Base-T Ethernet, and a 56K modem. The video-out options require adapters that fit into the same mini-VGA port found on previous iMacs and some iBook, PowerBook, and eMac models.
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Estimated shipping for each model is three to four weeks. Given Apple’s difficulty in getting PowerPC G5 chips from IBM, and the now-standard delay in ramping up manufacturing for a major Mac model, it may be realistic to double those numbers as a time-frame for delivery. Although the company has missed the back-to-school buying period, you can bet it will be working hard to churn out new iMacs in volume by the time the holiday buying season begins in November.
The New Design — The iMac G5’s specifications are impressive (even though we think 256 MB of RAM is skimpy), but it’s the new design that is sure to get the most attention. Despite the machine’s 2-inch depth, the power supply is integrated into the unit, making it a true all-in-one computer (compare that to the tiny Power Mac G4 Cube, which was small in part because it had a large external power supply).
One of the best features of the iMac G4 was its adjustable display. With the iMac G5, the entire body tilts vertically between -5 and 25 degrees on its aluminum base (the negative tilt can be handy for children and users looking up at the computer), but the iMac G5 cannot be raised or lowered, and only pivots side to side by moving the entire base.
Then again, who wants to adjust it at all? You can add a VESA mount to the iMac and hang it from your wall like a picture. Combine a wall-mounted iMac G5 with Open Door’s Envision and Apple’s Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse and you’ve got one heck of a cool Mac that doubles as art when you’re not using it. Apple will be selling an iMac G5 VESA Mount Adapter Kit starting in October; no price is yet available.
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As you might expect, the PowerPC G5 processor requires clever heat dissipation within such a small area. Three variable-speed fans cool the processor, hard drive, and logic board, and are capable of running quietly: the machine runs as soft as 25 dB when idle (whispered speech is about 30 dB), but there’s no telling yet how loud the fans are during normal use, and TidBITS readers who saw the new iMac at Apple Expo in Paris weren’t able to judge the noise level on the loud show floor. Heat also rises upward through a slit on the back of the iMac; it will be interesting to see if all that heat coming out of the top is detrimental to a mounted iSight.
Other small touches abound, in typical Apple industrial design fashion. The front of the iMac G5 isn’t cluttered with exposed speaker grilles; rather, the built-in speakers are directed down from the bottom of the case, so that the sound bounces off a desk or tabletop.
The iMac G5 is also extremely user-accessible – not just in terms of how you interact with it, but also how you get into its innards. The entire back shell comes off (using screws that won’t fall out of their holes and get lost), exposing the components that Apple says can be user-replaceable: the AirPort Extreme card, memory, hard drive, optical drive, power supply, LCD display, modem card, and the logic board, power supply, and fans (which Apple calls the "mid-plane assembly"). Removing the back also reveals four diagnostic LEDs that can help you troubleshoot a problem, or relate to an Apple technician over the phone.
A Big iPod? As Adam wrote in "Macworld Expo SF 2004: Enter the Musical Trojan Horse," the iPod and the iTunes Music Store are Apple’s secret weapon for convincing Windows users to switch to the Mac. After all, both the iPod and iTunes work in Windows, so it’s not as though people are being forced to buy a Mac; they’re buying Macs because they’ve seen what attention to design and detail means on an everyday basis. And if you don’t believe that Apple is playing that connection for all it’s worth, note the headline on the Apple Web site: "From the creators of the iPod. The new iMac G5." Buy one, buy the other. Make Steve happy.