- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

COLUMN:

Three weeks ago, this column examined the TriGem/Averatec all-in-one PC, which offered a number of features but is still encumbered by Windows Vista. There is a better way, however.

For $1,499, Apple Inc. will sell you a 24-inch iMac, sleek and aluminized, with a very nice display screen. There are some changes to this new model, and you should like most of them.

The first change is the price: Apple has dropped the price for the 24-inch all-in-one from $1,799. The screen size is more than decent for many users. You can’t rotate the display, but it’s still large enough to give users a good view of a given work space. Word processing is easier on my eyes with a screen this large and the ability to zoom the view to “page width.” Ditto on Web browsing, particularly with the beta version of Safari 4.

(Those who are very budget-conscious can spend just $1,199 and get a 20-inch iMac, a size also good for those with tight spaces to accompany their tight bank accounts.)

Another nice plus is having 4 gigabytes of memory, which makes things run more quickly, and a 640 GB hard disk drive, double the capacity of the 20-inch model and more than enough space for most of us mortals. (Upgrades to 1 terabyte cost $100 over the $1,499 price, according to the Apple Web site.)

As with the Mac mini discussed elsewhere in The Washington Times, the iMac comes with a SuperDrive optical drive that handles DVD and CD recordable media. There are four USB ports and one FireWire 800 port as well as a mini Display Port to which, via an adapter, you can connect an external display, expanding your work space. This baby is loaded.

How is the iMac in performance? It’s wonderful: The NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics chip set that powers the 20-inch and two of the 24-inch iMac configurations is plenty sporty. As I write, I’m using an Elgato EyeTV hybrid to watch cable news alongside a Web browser, and all images are superb.

The system is also quite responsive, thanks to the extra RAM and the 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. I haven’t benchmarked it, but it certainly seems faster than the older iMac I’ve used for a while.

So let’s see: more power, bigger screen, lower cost, good performance. What’s not to like?

A couple of things are concerning, but they’re minor concerns that can be worked around easily.

First, if numbers are your thing, make sure you order the model with a “full” keyboard containing a numeric keypad. A new keyboard without the number pad is offered to give more room, Apple says, for a mouse near the keyboard. I say, “Ick.” Even if you’re not a spreadsheet jockey, a numeric keypad quickly becomes very useful, and I recommend one for desktop use.

The length of the keyboard cable also underwhelmed me. It’s probably good enough for many configurations, but some users will need an extender cable to make it work. A better choice, in my view, is a wireless keyboard-mouse combo, a total of $50 above the normal cost but worth it to avoid the kind of headaches you might have otherwise.

Apart from these cosmetic issues, there’s not much you need to add to an iMac. It’s got the components most of us will need: the hard drive, the nice display and a built-in webcam and microphone for online chatting and so forth. Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections round out the array of features.

Ergonomically, the iMac is quite pleasant: Set it up, and you can adjust the viewing angle to suit without much effort. The 24-watt audio amplifier can make a fair amount of noise via the built-in speakers, but there’s also an audio-out port for headphones that probably will drive separate speakers, if desired.

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