Apple's New Dynamic Core Duo

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Apple iMac with Intel Core Duo

Performance: A

Features: A+

Value: A

Price: $1,699 as tested


Reviewer's comments: Moving the iMac to a dual-core Intel CPU marks a big step in making the Mac relevant again for the federal market. It's fast and plays well on a Windows network, plus it maintains all the ease-of-use features common to Mac desktops.


Contact:

Apple Computer Inc.

Cupertino, Calif.

(800) 692-7753

www.apple.com

Double Duty. The new iMac has looks, brains.

The new Intel-based, dual-core iMac is a slick machine, and underneath the glitz and gloss beats the heart of a heavy-duty workstation. It's the first Apple desktop we have seen in years that we can comfortably recommend for general-purpose use in the government.


The driving force behind our recommendation is Apple's groundbreaking decision to adopt a dual-core Intel processor for the $1,699 Core Duo iMac instead of the IBM PowerPC line of chips. It still runs Mac OS X in 100-percent native mode, so any OS X program you'd run on a PowerPC-based iMac will work on the Intel-based one, only better.


Unlike a standard iMac G5 with 512K of L2 cache, the Core Duo has 2MB of cache. That means that even if you're not multitasking and taking full advantage of the dual-core processor, you are still going to experience a boost in performance thanks to the larger cache. In fact, if you are only using one core for a single application, then the entire 2MB of cache is available, which is unique among the dual-core systems we've seen in the lab so far.


When both cores are active, the cache is shared. But because you have two processors working for you, the performance is going to be even higher, just as with a standard dual-core setup. We tested this using a rendering program that attempted to draw images on-screen at the same time we were working with an extremely large Photoshop file. Neither application bogged down even a little.


When compared to a standard G5 system we brought into the lab for testing purposes, the difference was astonishing. The applications ran almost twice as fast on the Core Duo. The bottom line is that the two processors allowed the applications to run together while the other did not'at least, not reliably.


There are some other performance advantages to this Intel-based setup, when compared with a standard G5 system, such as 80 percent quicker boot-up time. The new processor also improves the screen resolution available to certain programs.


Out of the box, the new iMac is an excellent videoconferencing tool because of a built-in 640-by-480 resolution LCD camera and an ATI Radeon X1600 graphics chip with 128M of GDDR3 memory. Without much setup, we were able to initiate a one-to-one conference. However, we were more impressed when we started a four-way conference. The system handled 320-by-240 windows for all participants without any heavy breathing. That's great because it means the huge 1,680-by-1,050 resolution, 20-inch screen is not for nothing.


Moreover, this iMac plays well with Windows networks, which is a consideration in most Windows-based government offices. It has a Gigabit Ethernet port, which we used to connect the iMac to our Windows-based test network to share files and network resources. The process was no more difficult than setting up a new Windows client.


Another interesting iMac feature that we hardly ever see in desktop systems is integrated wireless support for either standard 802.11x networks or Bluetooth. We were able to connect to our test 802.11b wireless AP without any difficulty, then automatically update the various programs installed on the iMac sans wires.


Finally, no Mac review would be complete without comment on the form factor, which in this case, as you might expect, is also impressive. The monitor sits on top of a sleek metal stand. The power cord plugs directly into the monitor and there are no huge transformers hidden away under your desk. Apple officials say the modest power consumption of the Core Duo (the processor is actually Intel's mobile PC-based version) allowed them to design the new iMac without all that extra power hardware and maintain a sleek design.


It seems they got everything right. Whether or not this could herald a fresh influx of Macs back into the government is anyone's guess, but the Core Duo is a powerful workhorse that just happens to have a sense of style.

About the Authors

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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