The iMac Core Duo is Apple's first desktop computer to result from the company's partnership with Intel. Combining Intel's new 945GM mobile chipset and the Intel Core Duo processor, the Apple iMac Core Duo marks a significant change for the iconoclastic company, perhaps bringing it closer in line with the 'Wintel' world.
More than a perception shift, however, the move to Intel's Core Duo technology allows Apple to keep up with the performance and capabilities of its Windows-based competition. The trouble at the moment, however, is that the iMac Core Duo is experiencing the growing pains inherent to new technologies.
Not every software vendor has completed the necessary reprogramming to ensure full performance on the new iMacs, so some applications, Photoshop among them, run significantly slower than on even the older iMac G5s. Fortunately, it's only a matter of time until the software catches up (most major vendors have committed to the transition). And because the new iMac retains and expands on the features of the older models without a price increase (our 2.0GHz, 20-inch review unit costs £1,299 with 1GB of memory; the 1.83GHz, 17-inch model starts at £929 from Apple's site), the news on this one is mostly good. We do recommend looking into your favourite apps -- especially if you use them for work -- to see how the compatibility is shaping up before making a purchase. Just want to muck around with iLife and other Apple apps? Then there's no reason to wait.
Software compatibility issues aside, the move to Intel chips is significant to the iMac for reasons beyond the speed increase. First, as its name implies, the Intel Core Duo chip is a dual-core CPU. Not only will you get better multitasking performance, you'll also receive a boost from applications that are multithreaded, or designed to take advantage of two processing cores. This means more efficient, faster computing overall.
But beyond the CPU, the Intel 945GM chipset itself introduces some significant new technologies to the iMac Core Duo. The motherboard supports faster 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, which results in faster access times between the memory and the CPU than with the iMac G5 and its 400MHz DDR memory. As with the iMac G5, the baseline iMac Core Duo ships with a respectable 512MB of memory, but you can ramp that up to 2GB for an additional £210 at the checkout. The stand has RAM-installation instructions printed on the bottom, but bear in mind that opening the case for DIY upgrades is difficult and will probably result in scrapes and scratches.
The iMac Core Duo also has more advanced 3D graphics capabilities. Apple has upgraded the iMac to ATI's Radeon X1600 3D chip (the 128MB version is standard, and 256MB will set you back £50 more), which supports all the latest 3D techniques. No one would ever recommend that you buy an Apple computer if gaming is your primary objective, but it's nice to know that if you want to play the occasional game, the iMac Core Duo should be able to keep up, as long as you keep your image quality and performance expectations reasonable.
Along with the core hardware change, the iMac Core Duo is a remarkably complete midrange desktop PC. It boasts the same features as its predecessor, such as an integrated iSight camera and iChat software for video-conferencing and a remote control and the intuitive Front Row suite for playing your digital media files.
Both iChat and Front Row have been reprogrammed to run on the Intel chips, as has Apple's Tiger OS X 10.4.4 and the newly announced iLife 06 digital media productivity software, which Apple includes in all new iMacs for free. We're also happy to report that the bundled wireless networking and Bluetooth adaptors are also still part of the iMac package, letting you retain the iMac Core Duo's uncluttered aesthetic on your desk.