Testing Apple’s Intel transition: iMac and MacBook Pro
New iMac proves stellar, whereas MacBook Pro has room for improvement
I haven’t much to say about iMac; it’s peerless. iMac surpasses PC desktops’ best of breed by establishing a much nobler breed. It’s a fast, power efficient, silent, one-piece desktop computer that requires only seven square inches of clear desk space and virtually vanishes as soon as the display lights up.
Intel’s Core Duo and ATI’s Radeon X1600 graphics make iMac Apple’s fastest-ever Mac for the money. In my experience, while running 32-bit, CPU-native apps, it’s outperformed only by dual-CPU or quad-core 64-bit Power Mac G5 and Xserve.
iMac looks like a kiosk -- no buttons, trays, or protrusions. The motherboard, peripherals, power supply, display and speakers are cocooned in an indestructible polycarbonate enclosure. Cables plug in at the rear and vanish. If you use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, only the power cord remains, and even that shares the overall sleek design. This machine is front office material when viewed from any angle.
The Intel-based iMac is impossibly energy- and space-efficient, giving far more than it takes in both regards. Pushed to the performance red line and with the monitor cranked to full brightness, iMac never consumed more than 95 watts of power -- one-third to half what a comparable desktop with a high-quality 20-inch LCD panel would use.
The notebook-sized energy appetite does not subject users to notebook limitations, however. No notebook has anywhere near the display size and brightness, the disk capacity and speed, and the consistently high CPU performance of iMac. Most professional PC desktop users would consider iMac an upgrade in all regards.
iMac’s display is stunning, the finest I’ve seen and the rival or equal of Apple’s Cinema Displays. The bright backlight is impossibly even, with no falloff in the corners or at the edges. Even at maximum brightness, colors do not wash out, blacks don’t turn gray, and text is never anything but tack-sharp down to small point sizes. In a commercial setting, iMac banishes eye fatigue and never needs its resolution dialed down. In a machine loaded with best features, iMac’s display is the best of all.
iMac’s $1,299 and $1,699 (17- and 20-inch displays, respectively) retail price invites criticism, but when a PC is built out to match iMac’s specifications -- the 20-inch display alone finds its equal only at $700 and above -- iMac’s price is competitive. The overall design shows the box-and-monitor desktop to be the uninspired throwback to the 70s that it is. Knock-offs will abound before long, and will come to outnumber the tired two-piece standard, but I’m confident that Apple will keep iMac in front.
MacBook Pro: room to grow
I was originally set to lambaste MacBook Pro for its flaws. The release of a new cut of OS X, however, along with a firmware update received just a week before this review filed, seem to have addressed the showstopper stability issues I encountered. The machine that frustrated the hell out of me for five weeks became a welcome, albeit flawed, companion in the final week.
MacBook Pro is what I prayed it would be: A PowerBook with Intel guts. Apple messed with the formula only to improve it. For example, the MacBook Pro keyboard’s quality is exceptional, a vast improvement over the latest PowerBooks. The roomier trackpad is sized like that of a 17-inch PowerBook, fitting MacBook Pro’s wide aspect display and making a big difference in usability.