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Before You Buy an iMac


The new iMac is on display after it was unveiled during an Apple special event at the historic California Theater on October 23, 2012.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The Apple iMac is a superb desktop computer that combines the power of an Intel Core 2 Duo processor or Intel Core 2 Quad processor with your choice of a 21.5-inch or 27-inch display, plus a large helping of Apple's well-deserved reputation for style. The result is a gorgeous, all-in-one desktop Mac that has been setting industry trends since its debut in 1998.

Every all-in-one computer requires at least a few tradeoffs. Before you decide that an iMac would look stunning on your desk, let's take a closer look at some of the tradeoffs and see whether an iMac is a good fit for your needs.

Expandability or the Lack Thereof

The iMac's design limits the types of expansion that end users can perform, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. This design decision allowed Apple to devise a great-looking, compact machine that has all the features many individuals will ever need.

The iMac was created for individuals who spend most of their time working with computer software, and little or no time tweaking hardware. This is an important distinction, particularly if you enjoy fiddling with hardware more than you realize. But if you just want to get the work done (and have a little fun), the iMac can deliver.

Expandable RAM

The iMac may not be particularly flexible when it comes to user-configurable hardware, but it does allow you to expand the RAM yourself. The iMac comes with four SO-DIMM memory slots (2 SO-DIMM slots for earlier models), easily accessible from the bottom of its case. Apple provides detailed instructions on how to expand the iMac's RAM.

You can take advantage of the ability to expand RAM by buying an iMac that has a minimum RAM configuration, and adding your own RAM module. RAM purchased from third parties tends to be less expensive than RAM purchased from Apple, and for the most part, is equal in quality.

The Display: Is Bigger Better?

It's often said that bigger is better. When it comes to iMac displays, at least, this is certainly true. Available in 21.5-inch and 27-inch versions, both iMac displays perform well, using IPS LCD panels with LED backlighting. This combination provides a wide viewing angle, large contrast range, and very good color fidelity.

The only possible downside to the iMac’s display is that they’re only offered in a glossy configuration; no matte display option is available. The glossy display produces deeper blacks and more vibrant colors, but at the possible cost of glare.

The Hard Drive: Is Bigger Better?

A bigger hard drive is better than a smaller one. See a trend here?

The iMac's hard drive isn't user-upgradeable, so you must make a tough decision about hard drive size up front. You can choose a 500 GB or 1 TB hard drive, or go for broke and get a 2 TB hard drive.

Remember, you won't be able to easily change the internal hard drive later, so pick the largest size you can comfortably afford. If cost is really an issue, don't feel you have to blow the budget up front. You can always add an external hard drive later, although that somewhat defeats the purpose of an all-in-one computer.

Graphics Processor Options

The iMac’s graphics have come a long way since the earlier models. Now available with three different graphics options, the base iMac comes loaded with an NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, the same graphics chips used in the MacBook Pro line of notebooks.

You can step up to the more powerful ATI Radeon HD 4670, which can deliver up to 4 times the performance of the 9400M, making it a great choice if you’re interested in gaming. If you’re going with the 27-inch model, the third choice is an ATI Radeon HD 4850, which provides the best graphics performance available in an iMac.

So, What Are the Advantages of an iMac?

The iMac offers many advantages over traditional desktops, such as the Mac Pro. Aside from an obviously smaller footprint, the iMac also has a very good quality, large, widescreen display that could easily cost anywhere from $250 to $1000 if purchased as an equivalent standalone LCD display.

The iMac comes bundled with some of the same attractive and useful hardware and software that comes with a Mac Pro. The iMac ships with a built-in iSight camera and microphone, built-in stereo speakers, and a Front Row wireless remote control.

Is an iMac Right for You?

The iMac is a great computer, one that I can't see as being a wrong choice for most individuals. The built-in display is wonderful. And let's face it: The iMac's form factor is without a doubt one of the sleekest and best available for a desktop computer.

Despite its obvious appeal, the iMac is probably a poor choice for advanced graphics and video professionals, who need a more robust graphics card than is available in the iMac. Graphics and video pros are also better served by more RAM expandability and more hard drive storage options, features that make the Mac Pro a better choice for their needs.


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