Review: Apple Intel-based iMac
January 26th, 2006
Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the first Intel-based iMacs on January 9, 2006 at Macworld Expo San Francisco. These iMacs, based on Intel's new line of dual-core Core Duo processors, are the first Intel-based Macintoshes. They use the same case design and basic configuration as the previous generation PowerPC-based iMac/G5s.
To aid in the transition to Intel-based applications, vendors are beginning to write 'Universal' applications, which have natively-compiled software for both Intel and PowerPC processors within a single application bundle.
Most third-party Mac OS software, including University-supported applications such as Microsoft Office 2004, FileMaker Pro 8.0, Firefox 1.5, and Thunderbird 1.0.7, have not yet been recompiled for Intel processors. To allow these applications to run, Apple has developed a mostly transparent emulation/translation layer in Mac OS called 'Rosetta'. Applications running in Rosetta generally run at one-half to one-fifth of the speed that they will run if and when they are recompiled, though the high performance of the Core Duo processor makes this performance deficit less obvious.
The Intel-based iMacs are available in two standard configurations, one based on a 17-inch widecreen and one based on a 20-inch widescreen.
Provider notes: it's important to note that a 56 kbps V.92 modem is no longer standard. Apple's USB modem can be added, at about $50.
Other options on Apple's build to order site for the Intel-based iMacs include extra RAM, a 250 GB hard drive (for the 17-inch), a 500 GB hard drive, an ATI X1600 video card with 256 MB of VRAM (for the 20-inch), and a wireless keyboard and mouse combination.
Where to get it
The Intel-based iMacs are offered at an educational discount at the Computer Connection.
Testing & analysis
Information Systems & Computing (ISC) has tested the Intel-based iMac for compatibility with University-supported hardware and software, including the PennConnect 2005 CD-ROM. The PennConnect CD-ROM runs correctly, but Norton AntiVirus 10.0.x will show an error message on start-up. Running Live Update updates Norton AntiVirus to 10.1, which makes it a Universal binary and eliminates the error message.
The differences in the new iMac are visible as soon as it is boots - although the boot process looks no different, it is dramatically faster than on previous iMac/G5s. Upon reaching the desktop, not much is visibly different, aside from a few new iLife '06 applications being visible on the Dock. Installation of the PennConnect CD was fast, taking a timed 2 minutes and 8 seconds, with dialogue boxes. Universal binary programs loaded faster, of course, but in terms of actually using the programs, Universal or not, performance was responsive. Only when the system was under a bit of load, with many tabs open in Firefox or several programs running at once, did performance begin to slow. Interestingly, if close attention is paid to system performance, one can tell when Rosetta has to translate something new, as there is a slight performance drop.
Technical issues & recommendations
Compared to the previous iMac/G5 generation, there are significant hardware-related compatibility problems with the Intel-based iMacs. They can not run Mac OS 9-based applications - 'Classic' support has been eliminated. They are also known to be incompatible with the current version of Virtual PC.
Provider note: ISC believes that these iMacs are suitable for general use with applications such as Microsoft Office 2004, FileMaker Pro 8.0, Firefox 1.5, and Thunderbird 1.0.7. ISC strongly suggests that these iMacs not be deployed at this time for users who need sustained high performance from professionally-oriented applications such as Dreamweaver MX 2004, Photoshop CS2, etc.
The Network Applications Installer on PennConnect 2005 installs correctly, but as stated above, Norton AntiVirus does not function optimally. ISC will release an Intel-specific Network Applications Installer along with separate application installers as soon as possible. An announcement will be sent to the MacNET list when this installer becomes available.
The Intel-based iMacs meet ISCs Performance PC recommendations for Macintoshes, with the addition of an extra 512 MB of RAM to the shipping configurations. As always, support providers should be aware of the potential technical issues associated with any new workstation design.
Thanks to Peter Bernard, Douglas Brooks, Andy Ihnatko, and Jeffrey Rusling for their help with this article.
--Jordan McClead, John Mulhern III, & Vern Yoneyama, ISC Technology Support Services (January 26, 2006)
Information Systems and Computing
University of Pennsylvania
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