Home > Product Reviews > Desktop Reviews > Apple iMac 17-inch Review

Apple iMac 17-inch Review

Highs

  • Larger display
  • Bluetooth/802.11g upgradeable

Rating

Our Score 9
User Score 9

Lows

  • No USB 2.0 support
  • needs more memory
The 17" Apple iMac will not disappoint anyone looking for both style and substance.

Summary

Overall the 17″ iMac is a welcome improvement from the 15″ predecessor. The upgrades and features of the 17″ model are substantial enough to gain the attention of those looking for a serious long-term system. Our testing and use shows a significant increase in power and performance from the 15″ model, and the inclusion of expansion capabilities for both 802.11g and Bluetooth connectivity is a smart move by Apple. We would like to see more memory for the price, as well as USB 2.0 support; these two additions would have merited a 10/10. As lifestyle computing continues to emerge in the home, we have no doubt that Apple will be at the forefront. The 17″ Apple iMac will not disappoint anyone looking for both style and substance.

Introduction

With a larger 17″ LCD flat panel monitor, a faster processor, and a more robust video card, this new Apple iMac improves on an already fantastic system. There are add-on modules available, such as Bluetooth and Apple’s Airport Extreme 802.11G wireless networking adapter which ensure the system will not be so quickly outdated. System memory can be upgraded to 1 GB as well. What the iMac does lack however is USB 2.0 support. Overall, these new features and expansion capabilities really make the new iMac a central hub for your digital needs.

If you have read our review of Apple’s 15″ iMac from last year, then you already know just how impressed we are with the overall design and feel of the flat panel iMac line. The iMac falls into an emerging niche market which many publications are failing to recognize. This niche market is one of “lifestyle” computing and digital convergence. From the Gateway Profile PC to the Sony W20, lifestyle computing is about design and function, not power and size. The Apple iMac looks and feels good in any environment, whether it’s your home office, your child’s bedroom, or the kitchen; it is part of the home decor. On top of the wonderful design, the iMac is an incredibly quiet system, measuring well below 30 dB, barely a whisper. Keep the design and presentation in mind while you read this review. The iMac should not be compared to full blown desktop computers but to similar lifestyle systems.

Setup and Use

Setup for the iMac is very simple and straightforward. Simply plug in the power cable, keyboard, mouse, and speakers. When you turn the system on for the first time, you will be prompted to answer a set of questions for the initial system configuration. This entails questions about the type of internet ISP and connection you use and what username and password you would like. The iMac uses the latest Mac OS X operating system by default, although version 9 is installed as well. Included with the system is a bundle of software: the latest iPhoto for photo capture and management, iMovie for digital video editing and creation, iTunes for digital music, and iDVD for creating and playing DVD movies. Other software includes Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Quicken 2003 Deluxe, and World Book 2003 edition. Overall the software package is very robust and includes everything you need to get going. There is no wasteful, pre-installed software which a user might find little use of.  The Harmon Kardon speakers sound great for their small size but lack any real bass. The Super Drive DVD-R writer works seamlessly both while creating and playing DVD movies; the picture is nothing short of gorgeous on the 1440×900 widescreen 17″ LCD display. Optional speaker grills would have been a perfect addition for people who plan on placing the iMac in high traffic areas in the home or office. Alas, Apple does not offer this option.

The Apple iMac really is a digital hub in the sense that it is compatible with many different digital products. The Apple iPod works seamlessly with the iMac and feels like an extension of the system. iTunes works perfectly with the iPod in downloading, uploading, and creating music. Song management is extremely easy and almost fun by itself. Because there are so many input and output ports on the iMac, you can hook just about anything up to it. There are multiple USB and FireWire ports which are perfect for camcorders, MP3 players, and other input devices. There is no reason to be worried about storing all of this data either; the 17″ iMac comes with a large 80 GB ATA/100 hard drive. If that is not enough, simply burn your data onto DVD.

Traditional PC users might feel the interface of the Mac OS X too radically different at first, but after some use and experimentation it should all fall into place. Mac OS X is very intuitive and simple to use. It may not have the software support of Windows XP, but for a family computer it works beautifully. As we have said time and time again about the Apple computers, “It is time for a 2 button Apple mouse”! A third party mouse simply will not do–we need to see Apple create a 2 button mouse that is as good looking as the current mouse.

Performance

There are noticeable improvements in speed over the 15″ predecessor. The new 17″ version jumps from an 800MHz CPU to a more powerful 1GHz CPU. Memory steps up as well going from 266MHz SDRAM to 266MHZ PC2100 DDR SDRAM. The system bus also gets improved jumping from 100 MHz to 133 MHz. Speed improvements truly shine when it comes to multimedia applications.

iTunes Benchmark Quake III Benchmark

While there may be a shortage of games for the Apple OS X, those that exist should see a substantial improvement in speed and graphics on the 17″ iMac over the 15″ version. While 60 frames per second may not be as powerful as some high-end gaming systems, performance is adequate for the family and casual user.

Performance and Testing

The Apple iMac handles most tasks with ease, but there were several times during multitasking situations when the system felt bogged down. This is due mainly to the 256mb of memory. We really felt that the system should have included more memory to begin with, especially if it is to handle multimedia projects. On the upside, the 17″ iMac comes with a faster processor than the previous 15″ version, stepping up from an 800 MHz to a 1 GHz CPU.  The new iMac also benefits from a faster 133 MHz system bus, an ATA/100 hard drive, and an Nvidia GeForce4 MX with 64MB of RAM.

We do not have any particular testing software for the iMac other than time test software. Our Quake 3 Arena test showed the 17″ iMac ahead of the 15″ version by 21 frames per second; this is primarily due to the extra 32mb of memory on the graphics adapter. In our iTunes test, the 17″ Apple iMac was able to convert a 7 minute CD track to MP3 in just under 50 seconds; the 15″ Apple iMac did it in 70. The 17″ iMac is noticeably faster than the 15″ version in every application we ran. Click on the performance link to see how the 17″ iMac performs next to the 15″ iMac.

Conclusion

Overall the 17″ iMac is a welcome improvement from the 15″ predecessor. The upgrades and features of the 17″ model are substantial enough to gain the attention of those looking for a serious long-term system. Our testing and use shows a significant increase in power and performance from the 15″ model, and the inclusion of expansion capabilities for both 802.11g and Bluetooth connectivity is a smart move by Apple. We would like to see more memory for the price, as well as USB 2.0 support; these two additions would have merited a 10/10. As lifestyle computing continues to emerge in the home, we have no doubt that Apple will be at the forefront. The 17″ Apple iMac will not disappoint anyone looking for both style and substance.

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: