I recently had the opportunity to help set up a friend’s 17-inch iMac. If you’re unfamiliar with Apple’s iMac, it’s a very unique personal computer. The entire computer is housed in a just-over-an-inch-thick enclosure that contains the gorgeous 17-inch (or available 20-inch) diagonal display. CDs and DVDs are inserted into a slot on the upper right side of the enclosure, where they are smoothly tugged into the drive itself like the CD player in your car. All the ports you need are easily accessible on the back of the enclosure. The only real setup required is to plug in the power cord, plug the keyboard into one of the USB ports on the back, and plug the mouse into the keyboard. Apple offers an optional wireless keyboard and mouse (using the iMac’s included Bluetooth antenna), which reduce the required cables to the power cord and Ethernet cable from your DSL or Cable modem (unless you live in Georgetown).
And you don’t even need the modem cable if you have a wireless network, as my friend’s home does. The iMac’s built-in wireless networking card saw and connected to her wireless network, and we were downloading the updates to the installed software in no time.
As with all Macs, the iMac comes with Apple’s iLife ’06 digital lifestyle suite to help you easily create great-looking web sites, manage your music, photos, and home movies, create professional-looking DVDs, and turn your iMac into a home recording studio. The iMac also has a built-in iSight webcam for teleconferencing, and a remote control (that’s held onto the side of the iMac by a magnet) to use with Apple’s Front Row, which turns the iMac into a “media center” viewable from the couch.
Because the iMac is a true “desktop” computer, it stands in stark contrast to the bulky CRT and hidden-under-the-desk tower PC it replaces in my friend’s workspace. Let’s see where else is desktop space “at a premium”? In a dorm room or school computer lab, perhaps?
This week, ready for back-to-school, Apple introduced a new model of the iMac aimed at the education market. Priced at $899, it’s an excellent value. Here’s what you get. The widescreen 17-inch iMac, with Intel’s 1.83 GHz Core Duo dual core processor. 512 MB of RAM, expandable to 2 GB. An 80 GB, 7200 RPM hard drive (a 160 GB drive is an option). Gigabit Ethernet and built-in 802.11g wireless networking. The iSight camera, and all the standard software that comes on all iMacs.
So where does the education iMac cut corners to shave $300 off the price? It doesn’t have the DVD-burning SuperDrive, the Apple Remote control, or built-in Bluetooth networking. It also lacks a graphics processing unit with lots of dedicated memory, instead relying on what’s called Intel GMA 950 Graphics to handle the graphics chores. Without getting too geeky, Intel GMA 950 Graphics has but a small amount of dedicated memory, and uses system RAM to “augment” memory when more graphics “oomph” is required. This is the same graphics system used in the Mac mini and the new MacBooks. It’s more than enough to handle iMovie and iPhoto needs, but lacks the horsepower for “serious” professional photo and movie editing, or very high-end games.
Who can buy one? Schools, of course, and any student or educator, even those involved in home schooling.
The new iMac model replaces the “eMac”, which was very popular with schools due to its durable design and CRT display. The eMac was originally available only to schools, students, and educators. It was later sold to “just anyone”. Perhaps the same fate awaits the e-iMac. One can only hope.
© 2006 Peter F. Zimowski