The latest iMac -- the third incarnation, if you're keeping track -- is the natural evolution of a computer that keeps getting slimmer and slimmer. The first iMac was an all-in-one egg-shaped system, and the second looked more like a desk lamp than a PC, with the CPU hidden in its half-dome base. In this third design, the computer has seemingly disappeared altogether, and we're left with a floating flat-panel screen.
Some things haven't changed, though: the Apple iMac G5 is still more about style than substance (it's a good performer, but not an excellent one) and it's still not very expandable. We looked at the £999 middle child of the iMac G5 family, which includes a 17-inch widescreen display, a 1.8GHz G5 processor, and an 80GB hard drive. Our test system included an extra 256MB of memory, an AirPort networking card, and a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Bargain hunters should look to the Apple eMac and power users to the Power Mac G5, but for anyone with a love of sleek, minimalist decor, this is the computer for you.
Editor's note: Apple has upgraded the specs available, including the OS, since this review was written -- see the Apple store for details.
To tell the truth, we're not sure why the iMac needed this redesign. The move from the first-generation iMac to the second made sense because the machine became more compact and, with its swiveling screen, more versatile. But this iMac is actually less flexible than the last, since the screen can swivel only up and down (from -5 degrees to 25 degrees). Of course, you can move the whole machine sideways, but that's not very elegant. Still, the iMac G5 is slimmer and lighter than its desk-lamp predecessor.
The guts of the computer are hidden behind the 17-inch widescreen display, so the body of the iMac is only 50mm thick -- amazingly slender for a desktop computer. And the 17-inch model is 2.2kg lighter than the last-generation 17-inch iMac. It rests on a gently curving aluminium stand and the ports -- three USB 2.0 and two FireWire 400, as well as audio line-in, optical audio out and video out -- line up on the back of the iMac, along with the power button.
With no buttons or ports on the front of the iMac, the machine has a lovely uninterrupted appearance, which should come as no surprise since Apple's iPod design team had a hand in creating the iMac G5. (In contrast to ads we've seen, an Apple product specialist told us that the similarities are only a coincidence and that there was no effort to mimic the iPod's appeal.) Unlike the iPod, however, the iMac G5 sacrifices functionality for beauty -- it's a pain to keep reaching around to plug things in. And if you opt for the iMac G5 VESA wall mount, getting to the back-panel ports and the power button becomes an even trickier chore.
The case is easy to take apart, but there isn't much to upgrade once you've done so. To open it, lay the iMac on its front and loosen the three Philips-head screws that hold the back on (these are captive screws, which means you can't lose them). With the iMac's back off, you can install an AirPort Extreme card or add more RAM into the lone free slot, but that's it. This is nothing new; iMacs and other all-in-one computers have always had limited upgradability.
The interior is a model of efficient design, with no cables to tangle -- not even a power brick. The fans that cool the iMac are so quiet, you'll need to hold your ear to the machine to hear it working.