Finally, Apple saves its customers from bringing home an underpowered iMac. The key improvement: all new iMac G5s now ship with 512MB of memory, twice the default amount in the original's rollout last year. Along with the memory upgrade, the new iMacs ship with Mac OS 10.4 Tiger. The high-end 20-inch LCD model (reviewed here) and the midrange 17-inch model also get a CPU clock-speed jump, up to 2.0GHz from last year's 1.8GHz. Apple has made other improvements to the graphics, the hard drive and the SuperDrive.
Prices for the two lower-end models remain the same at £899 and £999, while the 20-inch model comes in at £1,199. Apple even throws in AirPort and Bluetooth as standard features now. As with any all-in-one design, you sacrifice expandability, and this will never be a world-beater in terms of performance, but the updated specs give the gleaming iMac G5 more bite.
Apple has left the iMac G5's lovely design untouched. As before, it's not just the cosmetic impact of the iPod-like white-plastic and Lucite case that's appealing, but also the functional value of the simple integrated stand, the nearly hidden optical drive slot and the minimal cable fuss. The iMac G5 has perhaps the easiest setup procedure we've ever encountered in a desktop: heft it from the box, plug in the power, the keyboard and the mouse, and turn it on. And thanks to the now-standard AirPort card, if you have a wireless network available, you're good to go straight out of the box.
Internal expansion is limited to adding more RAM (an easy user upgrade), but everything you would want for mainstream use is already included. External expansion options abound, and even if more cables would disturb the Zen-like form factor, at least you can minimise wire clutter, thanks to the included Bluetooth receiver. If you must add a wired component, you'll find all the ports on the back of the system, keeping the Apple iMac G5's clean face free of scars that might taint its beauty.
Two FireWire 400 ports allow you to connect peripherals such as an external hard drive, an iSight camera or an iPod, and there are two USB 2.0 ports on the iMac G5's case and two USB 1.1 ports on the included wired keyboard. You can also plug in headphones or digital audio out and connect your iMac G5 to a TV via the S-video or composite outputs or even mirror the desktop image on an external display (a.k.a. 'screen spanning'). The iMac G5 doesn't support screen spanning, but many have successfully used the Screen Spanning Doctor hack.
As long as you don't require a living room-size display, you won't find the need to export video to another screen -- the iMac G5's 20-inch screen is surprisingly bright and responsive. Thanks to its widescreen aspect, it can display two text pages side by side. DVDs look wonderful, too. Plus, the system runs quietly, which aids movie enjoyment and general computing. Still, we wish the integrated stand allowed for height adjustments.
Apple has long negotiated a tricky balancing act in configuring the iMac: the company doesn't want to make it so powerful that it would cannibalise Power Mac sales, but nobody likes an underpowered computer. With this revision, Apple has moved the 20-inch iMac G5 more solidly into the performance camp, with the 2.0GHz PowerPC G5 processor, 512MB of RAM as standard, a 128MB ATI Radeon 9600 graphics card and a large 250GB, 7,200rpm hard drive.
This isn't to say the iMac G5 doesn't offer compelling value. It also includes a double-layer 8x SuperDrive, the aforementioned AirPort Extreme wireless networking and Bluetooth 2.0 capabilities, a 56Kbps modem, a Gigabit Ethernet adaptor and surprisingly capable integrated speakers. The display alone could go for nearly half the price of the iMac G5. In fact, the 20-inch iMac G5 has a faster processor and bus, more memory, a larger hard drive and a better video card than the base-model Power Mac G5 which, though £200 cheaper, doesn't come with a monitor.
What you give up is internal expansion and the ability to upgrade; you can't add PCI cards to the iMac G5 or replace the processor or the video card, which may be a concern for heavy Photoshop users and gamers. The iMac G5's ATI Radeon 9600 is an acceptable card for older games and general use, but it can't run Doom 3 in high-quality mode at a playable frame rate.
The Apple iMac G5 is second to none, however, when it comes to the software bundle. In addition to Mac OS 10.4 Tiger, the iMac G5 ships with the iLife '05 suite, Safari 2.0, Mail 2.0, iChat AV 3.0, AppleWorks, Quicken 2005, the 2005 World Book Multimedia Reference Suite, trial versions of Microsoft Office 2004 and iWork '05, as well as all of the utilities and tools included in Mac OS X 10.4. The only options available are more RAM, a larger hard drive, a wireless keyboard and mouse, and an AppleCare Protection Plan.