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ATPM 12.01
January 2006


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Hardware Review

by Tom Bridge,

iMac G5 20″


Developer: Apple Computer

Price: $1,699 (list); $2,152 (as tested)

Trial: None

When the new iMacs were announced this summer, much of the world took notice. The flat panel iMac received a significant upgrade inside, including a new video card, faster RAM, and a built-in iSight camera. The showstopper, though, was Apple’s new Front Row interface, designed to be an iPod-like interface for your movies, TV shows, and music.

Over the past few years, since the iMac made the transition from CRT to flat panel, I’ve looked at the iMac and come close to buying each time. With the latest revision, and the release of Aperture, I was helpless before its 20″ screen. The baseline iMac G5 20″ ships with half a GB of 533 MHz DDR2 SDRAM, a 250 GB S-ATA hard drive, and the ATI Radeon X600 XT with 128 MB of DDR SDRAM. The model this review is based on, however, has a 500 GB S-ATA drive and 1.5 GB of 533 MHz DDR2 SDRAM. This revision of the iMac form, a floating screen with ports along the bottom and a slot-loading optical drive along the right edge, has subtle but important changes from the previous generation: the optical drive is vertically centered, making for a more symmetric design. The new feature that was touted at the release, however, is an iSight camera built into the facing of the iMac, allowing for seamless video chatting with other iMac or webcam users.


The feel of this machine is just about perfect. The display looks great sitting or standing, and as it’s the same resolution as a 20″ Cinema Display (1680 × 1050), it ought to look this good. Setup with the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse was fairly straightforward, though I find myself wishing for a Bluetooth version of its more capable brother, the Mighty Mouse. Had the option been available, I would have ordered a Mighty Mouse instead of the Bluetooth Mouse as an in-box option. It’s not that the Bluetooth mouse isn’t a capable device—far from it—but I greatly prefer a mouse with a scroll wheel and right button. The lack of a good wireless option here from Apple hurts the wireless movement that Apple is going for.

I put the iMac to work right away, installing Aperture and Final Cut Express HD, as well as a few games. Stepping up from a PowerBook G4, the advantages of the G5 CPU in the iMac are readily apparent. Actions that were slow in Aperture on the PowerBook were nearly instantaneous on the iMac. Rendering times were cut from several minutes to mere seconds.


The 2.1 GHz G5 processor that represents the core of the current generation iMacs, backed by a much faster front-side bus, makes this a fantastic workstation for creative professionals. Once I’d done some work, I figured some play was in order, as the 128 MB graphics card in the iMac is vastly improved, not to mention that the display is significantly brighter and has a higher contrast ratio, making for more crisp, responsive imagery. Now, I realize it’s been a long time since I was a real gamer, but I did have a couple recent titles that would give the graphics card a good workout. Little did I realize it would take the tasks given it by Railroad Tycoon 3 and Tropico 2 and ask such questions as “Is that the best you can do?” and “Can’t you give me something hard to do?” Each of these games has real graphics needs that get far greater the longer you play. The longer I play on my PowerBook, the slower the game gets. Not so the iMac. Not only could it handle the game at full resolution, it did so with aplomb.

Once I was done playing games, it was time to take a look at the other major new feature of the iMac: Front Row. Front Row is touted as a way to make your iMac into a personal entertainment system. It features iPod-like menus, and a small infrared remote that clings to the side of the iMac with a magnet. The remote’s button cluster is remarkably similar to that of the original iPod: a central button, with buttons that ring it. Overall, it works adequately.

There are four central areas that Front Row focuses on: music, movies, pictures, and DVDs. It pulls music from your iTunes library, pictures from iPhoto, and DVDs from your DVD drive, but the movies area adds more than just your home movie creations; it also includes Apple’s Movie Trailer Web site and any TV shows that you’ve bought from the iTunes Store. The display resolution is wonderful for DVDs, but not quite as good for the smaller TV shows, which don’t entirely scale well. It’s watchable, but I’d rather keep it in a window at original or double resolution. I would love Front Row if not for its complete inability to handle a DVD menu. Don’t bother trying to navigate a menu with Apple’s swanky new remote. You’ll get nothing but frustrated. This has to get fixed before I can really justify using Front Row.


There are a few things that take away from the beauty of the iMac, and I realize that they are minor, but still, for a company like Apple, that treats the details with great respect, they truly are the difference. The camera, though nice, seems an afterthought. It’s functional, sure, and PhotoBooth is a hoot, but where’s the real use for this? It’s not going to come to fruition so easily. So why break the plane? The black mole on the iMac’s perfect face is hardly Marilyn Monroe. The remote’s attachment mechanism, via magnet to the outer portion of the iMac’s right bezel seems odd to me, simply because it doesn’t have the Apple-esque precision I’m used to seeing; it moves around quite a bit in its magnetic moorings. Overall, the iMac has wonderful lines and an incredible desk presence, making it both a pleasure to look at as well as a pleasure to use.

If you’re looking for a computer with brains, brawn, looks, and good works, the iMac G5 20″ is your computer. If you’re looking for a home media center, perhaps it’s not time yet. Overall, the new iMac is showing signs of becoming the flagship of Apple’s design, both inside and out, and it represents an incredible value on the market.

Reader Comments (23)

Thomas Kaye · January 2, 2006 - 17:38 EST #1
Like Tom Bridge, I was helpless in front of this beauty, stammering and drooling, just like I do around gorgeous women. However, unlike my experience with women, I actually took this one home with me and found it to be sleek and responsive. 'nuff said!
Poster · January 3, 2006 - 12:38 EST #2
How's the fan noise?
Tom Bridge (ATPM Staff) · January 3, 2006 - 12:43 EST #3
Very tolerable indeed. Certainly quieter than its predecessors.
Bruce M. · January 3, 2006 - 23:39 EST #4
HMM, wonder why they didn't make the black camera bezel white, so as not to inturrupt the beauty of the iMac's facade? Probably some technical reason having to do with reflectivity such, but yes it is a shame that the camera looks like such an "afterthought" ...

Still -- an amazing machine -- and I can only wait with anticipation until a dual-core Yonah-equipped model comes out, and is able to handily run Windows XP natively (to seduce more switchers, who of course will quickly learn to boot into Tiger and forget XP forever).
Ben · January 11, 2006 - 10:14 EST #5
Apart from speed what does the switch to Intel chips have that makes the Mac so much more desirable?
Tom Bridge (ATPM Staff) · January 11, 2006 - 10:22 EST #6
An Excellent question, Ben. That is the $64,000 question right now. So far, it has everything to do with the Roadmap. Intel's got a very robust roadmap for processors: they're promising a specific set of developments over a specific timeframe. In the past, they've absolutely been able to deliver according to that roadmap, where IBM/Motorola couldn't.
seb · February 19, 2006 - 11:57 EST #7
needs universal app to run intel duo but if universal
is not present, rosetta runs as emulator which will make it slower until codes are written for intel
Carl Status · February 19, 2006 - 22:02 EST #8
This is the review for the iMac G5, NOT the iMac Intel.

Lana Cheng · April 18, 2006 - 12:21 EST #9
How does it handle graphic programs like PhotoShop, Illustrator and InDesign?
ATPM Staff · April 18, 2006 - 13:08 EST #10
Lana - it'll handle them just fine. Obviously, loading it up with RAM is highly advisable if you're going to use these apps—especially Photoshop—but every G5-equipped Mac should have no difficulty running these apps.
Tom Hoban · April 26, 2006 - 12:15 EST #11
Does it have a built-in analog modem, or are they a thing of the past?
ATPM Staff · April 26, 2006 - 13:11 EST #12
Tom - the pre-built-in-iSight iMacs have a 56kbps modem. The last G5 iMacs with an iSight, as well as the Intel-based iMacs do not have a modem. Apple seemingly chose let the modem go as part of the effort to reduce the overall cost of the machine. While I personally believe this was a mistake to do on the MacBook Pro because of the many road warriors who may or may not have access to a wireless connection, it seems a bit more reasonable on an iMac since an arguable majority of owners have some form of broadband connection. If not, Apple sells a USB modem and I'm sure there are 3rd party modems that sell for cheaper.
Albert · May 4, 2006 - 10:36 EST #13
I would HIGHLY advise anybody that wants a G5 iMac, to load up on RAM. I use several memory intensive programs (to include a game or two), and the standard 512 is simply not enough. Even for everyday computing tasks, I would recommend at least 1 Ghz of RAM. Adobe products, Final Cut, Aperture, Sim games, even Garage Band...should have 2 gigs behind them. Just a suggestion to you all. Good day!
Travis Heideman · June 5, 2006 - 22:26 EST #14
As being the Kansas Unversity Apple Rep. I will express my oppinion of the machine, I think Apple engineers have made a magnificent product that can process imovie and final cut pro easily. Not only does the machine have class but also defines your character. I just recently purchased a Xserve G5 from apple instead of buying an Imac 20" and i agree they run abou the same though the Xserve being more powerful in that it's server, thought they much resemble each other. Except that I have a 1 Terabyte hard drive and a 2.6GHz duo power pc processor. I think if you want to spend a little more money and have room to hook an Macbook or Imac into the Xserve expansion slot then I would definetly recomend the Xserve. The Xserve will be going Intel soon but intelllllll then Imac will still prevail.

KU Apple Rep.
Travis H.
Tom Bridge (ATPM Staff) · June 5, 2006 - 22:32 EST #15
Wow, Travis, What a *redacted* you've just given Apple on a product that your company both makes and sells!
Travis Heideman · June 6, 2006 - 17:03 EST #16
Redacted? I really don't work at Apple I'm just a student that Apple chose to run KU's campus Apple Store. So they gave me the title of KU Apple Rep. I can tell you a little about the inside of Apple, the Imac 20" itself cost actually quite less then what it sells for thats why I got my Xserve and Imac for about $300 less ONLINE!!!

Thank you, Tom
KU Apple Rep. Travis H
Troy Johnston · June 8, 2006 - 03:26 EST #17
Can the 20" G5 IMac run a classic environment for soem of my not so old Adobe programs such sa Photoshop 7, Pagemeaker 6, Illustrator 7?
ATPM Staff · June 8, 2006 - 11:05 EST #18
Troy - any current Mac can run Classic environment. The challenge you may face is that current Macs no longer ship with a Classic System Folder from which to run Classic. You would have to have had one from a previous installation. Assuming you do, a great many Classic apps will still run under Classic environment. However, you shouldn't have to run Photoshop under Classic—I was under the impression that Photoshop 7 will run natively in OS X.
Tom Bridge (ATPM Staff) · June 8, 2006 - 11:10 EST #19
Technically, that's not true. Intel-based Macs (MacBook, MacBook Pro and iMac) *cannot* run Classic.
ATPM Staff · June 8, 2006 - 20:34 EST #20
My mistake - Intel-based Macs are so new—haven't gotten my hands on one yet and I keep forgetting they don't support Classic emulation (no comment on how stupid that is). But, Troy, the nonIntel G5 iMac should still be fine.
Travis Heideman · June 9, 2006 - 22:27 EST #21
You can always put classic enviorment into a folder and open it as you would virtual pc.

Travis Heideman
Jim Hughes · August 24, 2006 - 13:16 EST #22
You said you run Final Cut Pro on the iMac. What has been your experience with this programme running on the iMac? Have you imported and worked with HD material? Your thoughts. Thank you.
jack · May 7, 2008 - 20:03 EST #23
is that a nintendo wifi logo on the taskbar

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