- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2011

There are certain truths that are supposedly settled, among them the notion that anything Apple Inc. produces is not only better than its competition but also more expensive, sometimes almost prohibitively so.

Leave it to Apple, then, to disprove that assertion, and in a rather nice fashion. The recently released $1,199 “base” model of its iMac desktop computer, an all-in-one model containing display, disc drives, processor and electronics, all residing in a nice aluminum case on a tilt-stand, sells for about 13 percent more than the lowest price I found on a competitive Windows-based all-in-one PC. The Windows machine has a 23-inch screen versus the iMac’s 21.5-inch display (using diagonal measures for each), but it also had some shortcomings.

The Apple iMac I’m testing has almost no shortcomings. It is about as flawless a computer product as I’ve seen in nearly 30 years (yikes!) of writing computer reviews, going back to the now-ancient AT&T PC-6300, a 1983 vintage machine some readers may recall.

The words “about as flawless” are not offered lightly: Out of the box, this computer has enough processing power (a 2.5 GHz Intel Core i5 processor, a “quad core” computer brain), RAM (4 GB) and graphics (an AMD Radeon HD 6750M card with 512 MB of dedicated RAM) to be more than adequate for most home, student and small-business tasks.

If, however, you’re a work-at-home engineer running advanced design software, or if your “small business” is involved in video editing or animation, this particular computer might not be for you. The rest of us, however, could get along quite well. (Those wanting more than a 500 GB hard drive would do well to spend an extra $300 for the next-higher model, with a 1 Terabyte hard disc and somewhat faster processor and video card.)

Users with even greater needs - the aforementioned engineers and home-based animators - will want to move toward the upper reaches of the iMac line, for units with 27-inch displays, the larger hard drives, more RAM and still-faster CPUs. Apple, in a briefing Monday, called such people “prosumers,” a cross between “professional” and “consumer.”

For this “base” model, however, I could see someone with more basic needs getting quite a bit of use out of the $1,199 version. Out of the box, it offers the Mac OS and the latest version of iLife, Apple’s photo/music/video/Web software. Add the $79 iWork package (word processing, spreadsheet, presentations) and you will be pretty much set for most tasks. If you must have Microsoft Office, add $120 for the “business” version of Office 2011.

So for somewhere between $1,280 and $1,400 (hardware and suggested software), you’re up and running with an elegant looking, smooth performing computer that has a bunch of neat features, such as a Gigabit Ethernet connection, capable of handling high-speed wired Internet connections, a bunch of USB ports, built-in wireless networking and Bluetooth connectivity. The audio quality is great, the display is visually stunning and the built-in video camera can shoot 720p high-definition video as well as support Apple’s FaceTime videoconferencing software. Even at the “low end,” this computer packs a multimedia wallop.

There’s also a new, Intel Corp.-developed Thunderbolt port to which a daisy-chain of external storage devices and certain display adapters can be connected. It’s nice, but there’s not much in the way of hardware available that the owner of the most-basic iMac will find that takes advantage of Thunderbolt’s specific speed features.

As mentioned here last week, I did have trouble milking every last megabit out of my wired connection to Verizon’s 150 megabits-per-second FiOS service, but a solution may yet be found to that dilemma. And, as they say on the car commercials, your mileage may vary.

All told, the new iMac is a very nice package. I’m seriously tempted to get one for a family member. Put one in your office or den. Send this model off to college with your newly minted high school grad and hope they bring it home safely in a couple of years for you to use in the kitchen. You’ll both be thrilled.

Email mkellner@washingtontimes.com.