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#1 wctaiwan

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 11:09

Last Saturday, I took the plunge and bought an 21.5 inch low-end model iMac. Here's a review of the machine for those interested. (Mac OS and the related user experience isn't discussed in this review--You either like it or you don't, and there are far better articles out there that describe it in depth.)


Background

My last computer was a Rev. A MacBook purchased in June 2006. I primarily use and prefer Mac OS, but I've worked frequently with Windows and have no problem with using it. I mostly use my computer for web browsing and chatting (these days). Other things I do include basic word processing for school and some web development. I consider myself pretty good with computers on an amateur level.

I decided to get an iMac over a Mac laptop because it offers better specs for approximately the same cost.


Specifications

- Intel Core i3 at 3.06GHz (probably a 540)
- 4GB (2x 2GB) of 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM, four slots for up to 16GB
- ATI Radeon HD 4670 with 256MB of GDDR3 memory
- 21.5 inch widescreen display with an IPS panel and LED backlight, native resolution at 1920x1080
- 500GB 7200-rpm SATA hard drive
- Slot-loading SuperDrive, SDXC card slot, iSight webcam, internal speakers / mic, AirPort Extreme with support for 802.11n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
- 4x USB 2.0, 1x FireWire 800, Mini DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet, headphones port, line in
- Comes with Magic Mouse and Apple Wireless Keyboard

I also bought a Moshi ClearGuard CS for the keyboard.


First Impressions

Coming from a 13 inch MacBook, the 21.5 inch screen is massive. The industrial design and packaging are what you would expect of Apple, but mine has a minor cosmetic defect that I didn't catch while checking the machine in the store. Setting the machine up couldn't be simpler: Plug in the power cord, turn on the mouse and keyboard (batteries already in place), press the power button, follow the on-screen instructions, and it's all set. The whole process, including unboxing, took less than ten minutes.


The Screen

The screen, despite a defect (read on), feels very good during normal use. Everything looks crisp and text looks great. The maximum brightness is blindingly bright, but unlike my old MacBook, turning the brightness all the way down does not turn off the backlight. (I now use Ctrl+Shift+Eject to turn off the display.) Since it has a glass front, the glare is horrible, especially with low brightness (I can see a silhouette of myself), but seeing as the machine will be staying indoors, it's not a major issue for me. The viewing angle is excellent.

Now, the defect: There have been many reports of a yellow tinge on iMac screens, and apparently mine has it too. According to a serial number decoder, my iMac was manufactured this month. For me, it isn't noticeable during normal use, however performing a test for the issue shows that it's present.

I'm not returning the machine because the issue doesn't bother me too much and doesn't seem to worsen as the display stays on for longer (some people report that to be the case), and also because local AASPs (no official Apple retail presence here) seem reluctant to deal with the issue properly. However, if it gets worse / noticeable, I'm certainly going to go to Apple about it.

What this amounts to is that if you're a casual user, the display is great. But if you do any serious work with graphics / images at all, you should probably skip this model or demand a perfect machine until you are sure you have one.


The Keyboard and the Mouse

I've always loved my MacBook's keyboard, and since this one is basically the same thing with some minor differences, I find it just as good--Well, almost. Apple had hard-coded a feature into their keyboards that made Caps Lock harder to trigger accidentally. While most people appreciate the feature, as one of the few people who do [Caps] -> [Letter] -> [Caps] to type capital letters (I know it's silly), this has proven to be pretty annoying.

The Magic Mouse is a love or hate thing, and personally I like it a lot. Instead of trying to rest my hand on it's surface, I find myself leaving it on my desk, holding it with my thumb and ring finger only when I need to move the pointer. Inertial scrolling feels great (I just leave it on the desk and flick my index finger across the surface), and there are third-party tools that turn the mouse into a multi-touch Swiss Army knife, though personally I don't see the appeal. There seems to be some intermittent issues with the iMac being unable to detect the mouse after I switch it off and turn it back on, though so far it hasn't become much of a problem yet. EDIT: After turning it back on, click to get the mouse detected.

The ClearGuard I got for my keyboard worsens the tactile feedback considerably. If you are someone who has very clean hands and good hygiene, I'd suggest not getting it. However, considering how dirty my MacBook keyboard became, I'm reluctant to take it off. I don't see other solutions superior to Moshi's offering, though.


Performance

Seeing as I don't perform many hardware-intensive tasks, it's hard for me to gauge the iMac's performance. Booting up is quick, though there's an odd 5-second-ish pause between pressing the power button and hearing the startup chime / seeing the screen light up. Subjectively, the machine feels very snappy during everyday tasks.

The Radeon HD 4670 is (according to other reviews) a substantial improvement from the integrated GeForce 9400M previously offered in the low-end model, but I don't have games to test it with. It's worthy to note that the card's still inferior compared to those of PCs in the same range.

The iMac runs very quietly. The top of the machine is very warm / hot to the touch, but from what I've been reading, it's normal. I just hope there are mechanisms in place to prevent overheating.


Conclusion

The iMac is a pleasure to use, and despite some issues, it largely holds up to my expectations. For what I do, the thing is a massive overkill, however if funds are not a issue, it's a great computer for the casual user who occasionally needs more power.

Pros
- Great user experience all around if you like Apple's way of doing things
- Good value for money for a Mac (Apple Tax isn't going away any time soon)

Cons
- Pricey--It's about twice as expensive as a similarly spec'ed PC
- Widespread reports of screen defects make it completely unsuitable for graphics work, or anyone who is picky about their displays
- You may really hate the Magic Mouse


Pictures

Taken with a camera phone, so please excuse the quality.

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The iMac (and my lamp and headphones :p)

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The Apple Wireless Keyboard (with ClearGuard) and the Magic Mouse

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The cosmetic defect


Any questions, please ask. :) I may possibly update this review in a few weeks to report on my impressions after using it for a while.


Reviews from others
Engadget (glowing)
CNET (3.5/5 stars)
Macworld (4/5 mice)


Additional Observations

9/7 - The ports on the back are pretty hard to reach, but Hell will have to freeze over before Steve Jobs lets ports be placed on the front.
9/7 - Magic Mouse and Apple Wireless Keyboard are both heavy on the batteries: 89% left on the mouse, 92% on the keyboard (accuracy unknown).
9/7 - If you place two fingers on the Magic Mouse at the same time, your click is always interpreted as a left click. So far I haven't found that an issue, but some people might. (It's a technical limitation though--The mouse has no way of knowing which finger you pressed down with.)
9/19 - The keyboard arbitrarily disconnects a couple of times each day. Not a huge problem, but a nuisance nonetheless.
9/19 - The power usage of the mouse and the keyboard aren't as bad as I'd thought, at least according to the stats provided by the OS.
9/19 - Haven't been noticing the yellow tinge at all, even if I look for it.


#2 +jamesyfx

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 13:42

Interesting how you found defects and initial annoyances with the iMac - I have the previous 21.5 inch model and I haven't found a single thing wrong with it so far.

#3 xendrome

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 13:51

Yea if I spent that kind of cash on anything, I would expect it to be in perfect condition out of the box... seriously...

#4 thefonz

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 01:32

I'm looking into getting one of these since i'm fed up with Windows and want to try macs.

Nice review, i'd be curious what you think of the graphics card capaiblities since i'd like to try out some light gaming on it.

#5 OP wctaiwan

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 13:40

i'd be curious what you think of the graphics card capaiblities since i'd like to try out some light gaming on it.


I don't have graphic intensive games to test it with, but Age of Empires III for Mac runs smoothly with everything on the highest settings supported. The Macworld review says that "the new $1199 iMac, with its dedicated ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics processor, has its biggest performance gain in graphics performance, with a frame rate in our Call of Duty 4 test that was near four times that of the older 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo iMac, which uses an integrated nVidia GeForce 9400M graphics processor." In actual statistics, they "ran a Timedemo at 1024-by-768 with 4X anti-aliasing on in Call of Duty 4," getting 81.3 fps.

Here's a screenshot of how Age of Empires looks. Whereas my old MacBook (naturally) lagged horribly at this stage, the game was still running very smoothly. (Yes I cheated, in order to take the screenshot.)

http://img541.images...creenshotev.png (3.5 MB)

Keep in mind that it's a Radeon HD 4670 with only 256MB of RAM, and graphics drivers are generally inferior in Mac OS. These factors may affect the performance of newer games.

On a unrelated note, the machine's really quiet--The only time it was apparently audible was when I was disc burning. My brother's laptop, which is further away from me, sounds much louder from where I sit.

#6 iKenndac

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 13:45

Booting up is quick, though there's an odd 5-second-ish pause between pressing the power button and hearing the startup chime / seeing the screen light up.


My 27" iMac does this too. The startup chime signifies that the internal diagnostics have passed successfully (I think it checks the very core components - CPU, motherboard, etc), so I guess the tests on this machine take longer to complete than on other machines?

#7 +StevoFC

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 13:46

On a unrelated note, the machine's really quiet--The only time it was apparently audible was when I was disc burning. My brother's laptop, which is further away from me, sounds much louder from where I sit.


That seems great at first, but ends up being a major flaw. You will want to turn the fans up some. Believe me.

#8 CPressland

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 13:48

Speaking of Graphics, I'm running the Delta Seed of 10.6.5 and I can tell you I'm getting 'slightly' better FPS on all games across the board. Should be significantly better drivers before release. Look forward to improvements :)

#9 OP wctaiwan

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 13:56

That seems great at first, but ends up being a major flaw. You will want to turn the fans up some. Believe me.


What do you do with your computer though? Will watching YouTube videos make my computer overheat? :s (That's what always cranked up the fans in my old MacBook. I think it's the hardware acceleration and whatnot that's making the difference.)

#10 +jamesyfx

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 13:58

What do you do with your computer though? Will watching YouTube videos make my computer overheat? :s (That's what always cranked up the fans in my old MacBook. I think it's the hardware acceleration and whatnot that's making the difference.)


I've got the previous C2D iMac, and the fans have only ever decided to go full-tilt on me when I left it running for a week by accident. :rofl:

Other than that it's quiet, but it's definitely very warm to the touch.

#11 CPressland

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 14:00

I've got the previous C2D iMac, and the fans have only ever decided to go full-tilt on me when I left it running for a week by accident. :rofl:


Or during a firmware update.

I don't bother regulating the fans, thats what the OS is there to do.

#12 +StevoFC

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 14:06

Other than that it's quiet, but it's definitely very warm to the touch.


Yeah if the outside is that warm imagine how hot it is inside.

I recommend using the istat pro dashboard widget and check your temps occasionally. On stock fan speeds the iMacs get very hot quickly. Atleast my 24" one does. So warm that the screen burns in.

#13 CPressland

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 14:23

Well, I have iStat, I guess it couldn't hurt to leave them on medium. Mines gone from 50ºc to 44ºc....

#14 Pam14160

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 14:37

First, congratulations on your purchase.

I have the last of the iMac 24's, and it also heats up, but this is not usually a problem because my office temp is set at 68 degrees.

Also there is the problem of the screen burn in when it gets warm, however, when you turn off the machine or put it to sleep it clear up. I do heavy work in the area of editing books for a couple of large publishing houses so my machine get a great deal of daily use. Also, iTunes is running during working hours (need the music to keep me focused on my work), hence, that adds to the heating situation.

Look forward to hear what you have to say after a couple of weeks. :yes:

#15 .Neo

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 20:23

That seems great at first, but ends up being a major flaw. You will want to turn the fans up some. Believe me.

And they will once you start performing CPU intensive tasks. :)