If you were to rank all the reasons for Apple Computer's mid-nineties revival, you'd have to put the success of the original iMac (along with the return of a guy named Steve) right at the top of the list. The brightly colored plastic all-in-one not only inspired all sorts of copycat designs, computer-related (mice, printers, and hubs) and otherwise (the George Foreman grill), but also made computing fun again. The flat-panel iMac introduced two years ago had the same effect -- here was a computer you wouldn’t mind displaying out in the open, instead of tucking your system away behind closed doors. In many ways, the new iMac G5 represents an even more radical design leap than the two models that came before it. Apple’s Web site touts the new iMac as being “from the creators of iPod.” That’s more than a not-so-subtle reminder to buyers that the iMac shares a bank account with a certain sleek, white consumer product that accounts for most of Apple’s profits these days. It also speaks to some striking similarities in look and style.
“We’re making a connection to the iPod at a marketing level, but the connection existed long before we dreamed of the marketing,” says Greg “Joz” Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of hardware product marketing. “They’re both very simple products that people couldn’t figure out how to do simply.”
“And obviously,” he adds, “we have one design team, so there’s no doubt that you see similarities.” In other words, it fits neatly into Apple’s recent design aesthetic.
But even though it’s not too difficult to imagine the new iMac G5 appearing soon on desks in every TV show, movie, and comic strip out there, there’s more to the machine than just a new look. We had a chance to see it up close and personal when we got a tour of the iMac G5 -- inside and out -- from Joz. (For the full text of our interview with Joz, go to find.macworld.com/0095). Turn the page to find out what we learned.
Inside: guts of a new machine
Open up the new iMac G5 (it’s easy: just loosen the three captured screws along the all-in-one’s bottom edge and lift off the back), and you’ll be struck by how clean it looks inside. There’s none of the clutter and confusion you’d expect to be the result of cramming all those components into a case that’s just two inches deep. Here’s how Apple packed so much computer into such a small space.
Optical drive Like Apple’s iBook and PowerBook, the iMac uses a slot-loading mechanism to fit a full-size optical drive in a tight space. Models come with either a CD-burning and DVD-reading Combo drive or a CD- and DVD-burning SuperDrive (the SuperDrive is limited to burning DVDs at 4¥, the fastest speed available in a slot-loading drive, according to Apple). The placement of the drive
is also worth noting: you insert a disc on the right side, near the top of the iMac. “Not necessarily the easiest place to put it for us,” says Joz.
Airport/Bluetooth wireless The iMac includes internal antennas for AirPort wireless networking, but the US$79 AirPort Extreme card is optional and easy to add yourself if you decide to buy one later. Support for Bluetooth -- the short-range wireless protocol for input devices and accessories such as keyboards, mice, cell phones, and PDAs -- is a little different. To get Bluetooth support, you must either add the $50 internal Bluetooth module when you order or add a similarly priced USB module later.
Graphics The entire iMac G5 lineup comes with the Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra graphics chip with 64MB of DDR RAM (it’s housed underneath the G5’s heat sink). It’s the same chip that came with the 17- and 20-inch flat-panel iMacs, and a step up from the 32MB Nvidia GeForce4 MX chip of the 15-inch iMac -- but with 8¥ AGP support instead of 4¥. As with Apple’s laptops, the graphics processor is integrated on the motherboard, not on a card. That processor can, in theory, be upgraded -- but only by having an authorized Apple service provider replace the entire midplane assembly.
Processor The iMac’s processor (beneath the heat sink) used to top out at 1.25GHz, so the leap in these new models to 1.6GHz and 1.8GHz is significant. But the real news is that the processor has gone from the 32-bit G4 to the 64-bit G5. The G5 has two floating-point units (instead of the G4’s one), can address more memory, and speeds up communication with that memory. The G5 chip has also allowed Apple to bump the frontside bus from 167MHz on the iMac G4 to 533MHz on the 1.6GHz iMac G5 and to 600MHz on the 1.8GHz iMac G5. The iMac G5 has the same 512K L2 cache as the Power Mac G5, but the consumer-level iMac has just a single processor; the entire Power Mac line now includes dual-G5 processors.
Speakers The new iMac’s built-in stereo speakers replace the previous iMac’s external Apple Pro Speakers (which were antithetical to the iMac’s all-in-one mantra). According to Joz, “We knew this one had to be the ultimate when it came to designing an (all-in-one) iMac, so we needed to incorporate speakers.” The iMac has a 12-watt digital amplifier built in, to power the stereo speakers. The speakers point downward, with the sound reflecting off the surface under the iMac. Joz says this design still “allows you to have nice stereo sound with separation and good range.”
RAM The iMac G5 includes two memory improvements over the last model. The first is speed: the new iMac uses 400MHz PC3200 DDR SDRAM -- the same kind that powers the Power Mac G5, and a step up from the 333MHz RAM in the previous iMac generation. The second is that the iMac G5’s two RAM slots can accommodate up to 2GB of RAM, twice that of the iMac G4. The angling of the RAM slots also means that the iMac takes standard RAM, rather than expensive slim chips. But note that iMac G5s ship with the same 256MB of RAM as the last iMac -- the bare minimum for iLife and OS X.
Hard drive With the Power Mac G5, Apple became one of the first computer makers to make Serial ATA (SATA) its standard hard-drive technology. The new iMac becomes the second Apple CPU to include SATA drives, which can be custom-configured to 250GB. SATA drives use smaller connectors and thinner cables -- ideal for routing through tight spaces like the inside of the new iMac -- and they also offer higher bandwidth for data throughput.
Cooling The G5 processor throws off lots of heat. To remedy that, the iMac G5 (like the Power Mac G5) has multiple cooling zones: one over the processor, one over the hard drive, and one over the power supply and logic board. (“We take a big heating challenge, and break it into smaller ones,” says Joz.) The power-management system also pulses the fans only when, and only as fast as, necessary, keeping things cool and quiet. (Joz says that the new iMacs run at 25 dB -- compared with 28 dB for the G4s and 32 dB for a whisper.)
Back: behind the latest iMac
Even the back of the new iMac G5 is the result of some typically savvy Apple design decisions, such as the neat row of ports on the left -- “I/O (input and output) doesn’t naturally occur all in the same spot,” Joz points out -- or the way the screen moves smoothly when you adjust the tilt yet comes to a rest without jiggling. “There’s a lot of technology, in what appears to be a simple design, to quickly dampen motion,” Joz says.
Ports The iMac G5 has the standard complement of ports (analog audio input; analog or optical-digital audio output; mini-VGA; three USB 2.0; two FireWire 400; 56K V.92 modem, and 10/100Base-T Ethernet) in one row on the back. The analog headphone jack doubles as an optical-digital output, using the same mini-Toslink connection found on the AirPort Express. With that connector, Apple brings native 5.1-channel output to a consumer Mac. Like its predecessor -- and all new Macs -- the iMac G5 includes fast USB 2.0 ports. But FireWire 800, the faster version of Apple’s data-transfer protocol, is missing. Those FireWire and USB 2.0 ports are particularly important because the iMac has no PCI slots. If you want to add extras such as high-quality audio-capture and -processing capabilities to the iMac, you’ll need to rely on external USB or FireWire devices.
Foot With its flexible neck, the previous iMac allowed users to position the screen at all sorts of heights and angles. Instead of the lamp neck, the iMac G5 has a single foot attached to its back; this allows the display to tilt from –5 degrees to +25 degrees. But you can’t adjust the height of the screen, only its tilt. Apple insists that most users don’t actually end up raising or lowering the screen, so it didn’t build height adjustment into the foot. As for side-to-side swiveling, “We still have the ability to swivel left and right, but it does it on the entire base,” Joz says. The foot actually mounts inside of the computer at the iMac’s center of gravity -- making it easy to tilt. A hole in the foot assembly gives you a place to gather whatever cables you’ve got attached to the iMac. And you can detach the CPU from the foot and attach it instead to a wall mount or an articulating arm. -- Macworld (US)
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