1.83GHz, 2.16GHz, and 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo iMacs

1.83GHz, 2.16GHz, and 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo iMacs

The Core 2 Duo iMacs - if you've got the cash, pop for the two-footer.

 

Not long after the release of the Mac Pro, which completed the whole Intel-ization of the Mac family, we're now into the second generation of Intel-based Macs. For this review, we took a close look at the 17-inch 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo iMac, the 17-inch 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo iMac, and the 24-inch 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo iMac. Note that for this review, Apple provided us with Macs that were upgraded with either more RAM or faster processors than their base configurations, but to avoid confusion we'll refer to them by their base-model prices when we discuss them below.

 

The new 24-inch iMac was the biggest surprise (pun intended) of the new iMac rollout. Apple's previous iMac line had a 20-inch iMac as the top model; 24 inches seems so gloriously indulgent. We tend to associate the word "iMac" with compactness, efficiency, and tidiness. When the 24-inch iMac arrived, seeing "iMac" on such a large box seemed comically misplaced.

 

But once we took the wraps off the 24-inch iMac...ahhh. "That's a big Mac," was the sentiment echoed by the dozen or so people who sat in front of the 24-inch iMac. Measuring 20.6 by 22.6 by 8.1 inches and weighing 24.7 pounds, the 24-inch iMac fits on most standard-size desks.

 

But is it too big? We found that after a few weeks of use, 24 inches hits the display-size sweet spot for serious Mac users. Compare it to Apple's 30-inch Cinema Display; you can easily have your thought processes distracted as you shift in your seat and squint in search of your cursor as you use that humongous display. When we're not editing a video or manipulating a large color photo, the 30-inch Cinema Display can prove unwieldy. Our experience with the 24-inch iMac, however, was more comforting, more natural - and we had all that desktop space to use. Compared to a 20-inch display, the extra four inches can make a world of difference, especially if you have multiple windows open at the same time, or work in two or more apps at the same time. Sitting next to the 24-inch iMac, the 17-inch iMac is downright cute - and for most people, an appropriate size.

 

At the heart of the new iMacs are Intel's Core 2 Duo processors, the successor to Intel's Core Duo processors. Like the Core Duo, the Core 2 Duo has two processor cores - think of the Core 2 Duo as having two processors on a single chip. Having two cores on a single chip is an advantage if your software is multithreaded; you'll get faster performance as two processor cores work to complete your single task. Mac OS X, iLife '06, and Adobe Photoshop CS2 are just a few examples of multithreaded software.

 

One major difference between the new iMac's 64-bit Core 2 Duo processor and the old iMac's 32-bit Core Duo processor is that the Core 2 Duo is based on an entirely different processor architecture. The upgrades in this architecture - called the Core Microarchitecture - are many, including the ability to process a full 33 percent more instructions per clock cycle, improved power management, a more intelligent on-chip cache, a better method of managing the data scooting back and forth from the processor to the iMacs' RAM, and a new and faster way of processing media-rich data such as video files. If such on-chip details leave you cold, here's the important takeaway: The Core 2 Duo is one fast puppy.

 

With all of the iMacs except the $999 17-inch iMac, you have the option of boosting the processor speed a bit, for an additional fee. For example, instead of a 2GHz Core 2 Duo processor in the $1,199 17-inch iMac, you can pay an extra $100 and get a 2.16GHz Core 2 Duo processor. On the 20- and 24-inch iMacs, you can boost the processor speed from 2.16GHz to 2.33GHz for $250.

 

The back of the 24-inch iMac has one FireWire 400 and one FireWire 800 port; the 17-inch iMacs have a pair of FireWire 400 ports and no FireWire 800 connectors. All of the iMacs have three USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, an optical digital audio output/headphone-out jack, an optical digital audio input/audio line-in jack, and a mini-DVI output port. The iSight Webcam is also standard equipment, and all iMac models except the $999 17-inch iMac come with an Apple Remote (the Remote is a $29 option for the $999 17-inch iMac).

 

At the standard configuration, the iMacs come with 1GB of memory, except for the $999 iMac, which has 512MB of memory. The iMacs use 667MHz DDR2 (PC2-5300) SO-DIMMs, which are smaller than your standard DIMMs, and they fit into slots located at the bottom of the iMac (you have to unscrew and remove a cover to access the slots). However, there's a catch when it comes to the memory: The iMacs have maximum RAM configuration limits that don't jibe with the number of slots and the maximum amount of RAM you can get on a SO-DIMM (which is currently 2GB). Theoretically, you should be able to fill the two slots in the iMac with a pair of 2GB SO-DIMMs for 4GBs of total memory - but that's not true with the iMacs. On the $999 17-inch iMac, the maximum memory amount is 2GB, while the other three iMacs have a 3GB maximum memory amount. According the Apple, the memory restrictions are caused by the new iMac hardware. Apple fills both SO-DIMM slots regardless of what memory you specify during your order, so if you want to add more memory later, you'll have one or two spare SO-DIMMs to stash in your drawer or put up on eBay.

 

To gauge the speed of the new Macs, we performed a suite of benchmark tests based on applications you commonly use for everyday tasks. All of the new Macs were tested with 1GB of RAM. For the specifications of the Macs we tested, read the gray specification boxes at the end of this review.
Performance-wise, the new top-of-the-line 24-inch iMac beat the previous iMac king, the now-defunct 20-inch 2GHz Core Duo iMac, in all of our tests. The 24-inch iMac was 46 percent faster when exporting a movie in iMovie HD; 30 percent faster when importing 196 JPEGs into iPhoto; 40 percent faster when converting 11 WAV music files to AAC; 17 percent faster when sending a song from GarageBand to iTunes; and 12 percent faster when creating a OneStep DVD in iDVD. Quite impressive.

 

The new $999 iMac offers a good speed boost over its predecessor, the 17-inch 1.83GHz Core Duo iMac. The $999 iMac was faster in our iMovie HD Sepia Tone Video FX test by only 6 percent, and a mere 1 percent faster when sending a song from GarageBand to iTunes, but it was a full 44 percent faster when exporting a movie in iMovie HD, and 21 percent faster in our iPhoto JPEG-import test.
But Apple offers two 17-inch iMacs with Core 2 Duo processors. Which one to get? For an extra couple of hundred dollars, the speed gains are slight, in some cases. The $1,199 iMac bumped up to a 2.16GHz processor for a hundred more bucks was 7 percent faster than the $999 iMac in our iMovie HD Sepia Tone Video FX test, 4 percent faster when exporting a movie in iMovie HD, 14 percent faster when sending a song from GarageBand to iTunes, and 10 percent faster in our iTunes WAV-to-AAC file-conversion test. But it's not all about speed - you get a lot more for the extra cash, such as a faster processor, a larger L2 cache, more memory, a double-layer SuperDrive, a dedicated 128MB ATI Radeon X1600 graphics card, built-in Bluetooth, and an Apple Remote.

 

Regarding Rosetta performance, the picture is mixed. The good news: Thanks to the Core 2 Duo, non-Intel-native applications using Apple's Rosetta translator get a speed boost. For example, in our Photoshop Actions test, the $999 iMac was 9 percent faster than the older 17-inch 1.83GHz Core Duo iMac. In our Photoshop Elements Auto Smart Fix test, the same $999 iMac was an impressive 16 percent faster than the older 17-inch 1.83GHz Core Duo iMac. The bad news: Non-Intel-native software using Rosetta still runs slower on these Intel-based Macs than on their PowerPC-based counterparts. We ran the same tests on a 17-inch 1.9GHz PowerPC iMac G5; in our Photoshop Actions test, the iMac G5 was 20 percent faster than the $1,199 iMac and 16 percent faster than the $1,999 iMac. In our Photoshop Elements test, the iMac G5 was 6 percent faster than the $1,199 iMac, and it tied the $1,999 iMac.

 

The bottom line. Our favorite new Mac is the 24-inch iMac. For serious hobbyists, or professionals on a budget, the 24-inch iMac is an ideal Mac - and while you'll still take a performance hit when using non-Intel-native applications, the new processors do a lot to improve Rosetta's performance.

 

COMPANY: Apple
CONTACT: 800-692-7753 or 408-996-1010, www.apple.com

 

1.83GHz 17-inch iMac
PRICE: $999 base model (512MB RAM), $1,074 as tested
SPECIFICATIONS: (as tested) 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2MB shared L2 cache, 667MHz frontside bus, 1GB RAM, 160GB Serial ATA hard drive, 24x Combo drive, 17-inch widescreen LCD (1,440 by 900 native pixel resolution), 64MB (shared memory) Intel GMA 950 graphics subsystem, AirPort Extreme
Affordable. Rosetta speed has improved over previous generation of Intel-based iMacs.
Lackluster video performance. No Apple Remote. 2GB memory ceiling. Rosetta speed still slower than native PowerPC performance.

 

 

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