SAN FRANCISCO (01/24/2000) - With Apple Computer Inc.'s new iMac lineup, you can now purchase a faster-and better-looking-consumer Mac for $300 less than the original. But while the new iMac 350MHz offers plenty of value, many users will be happier spending more for the iMac DV's digital-video capabilities.
Selling for $999, the entry-level iMac features a 350MHz PowerPC G3 CPU, an ATI Rage 128 graphics chip, 64MB of RAM (up from 32MB in previous versions), a 6GB hard drive, and two independent USB ports. As with the iMac DV, the 350MHz model sports built-in Harman Kardon speakers and a fanless, low-noise cooling system.
However, instead of providing a DVD-ROM drive, the 350MHz model features a 24x CD-ROM drive, albeit with the same elegant slot-loaded mechanism found in the iMac DV. Also missing are other digital-video components in the higher-end models: no FireWire ports, no RGB video-out, and no iMovie video-editing software. And while you can buy the iMac DV in five fruit flavors, the 350MHz model is available only in blueberry. But you get what you pay for, and if you don't need the digital-video features in the $1,299 iMac DV or $1,499 iMac DV Special Edition, the 350MHz model is a bargain.
Macworld Lab tests show that the iMac 350MHz offers marginally faster processor and disk performance than the older, 333MHz models; you probably won't notice much difference when using applications for basic tasks such as Web browsing and word processing. However, thanks in part to the Rage 128 chip, the new model offers graphics performance almost 70 percent faster than its predecessor's.
In our Quake II test, the iMac 350MHz raced along at 36 frames per second, about the same rate as the iMac DV (which features a 400MHz CPU) and more than twice the rate of earlier models.
The iMac's 64MB RAM allocation is sufficient for running most consumer and business applications, but if you need to run memory-intensive graphics programs, you can easily add extra memory through a slot on the bottom of the machine. Like its siblings, the new iMac includes a real reset button, instead of the old paper clip-operated one, and the awkward cover over the connection ports has been removed. Add a $99 AirPort card for each machine -- with or without the $299 AirPort Base Station -- and you've got a reasonably fast wireless network.
Although it's available only in blueberry, the iMac 350MHz features the same tinted chassis as the iMac DV; you can see the CRT and internal wiring. It also shares the same industrial-design tweaks, making it nearly one inch shorter than earlier models.
Unfortunately, some of our complaints about previous iMac models still hold.
You get the same unergonomic mouse and keyboard, and although you do get two USB ports, the lack of FireWire and video connections limits the machine's expandability.
Macworld's Buying Advice
The iMac 350MHz is faster and less costly than its predecessors, while offering more memory and much-improved sound quality. If you don't need the digital-video features and can overlook the round mouse, the iMac 350MHz is an excellent choice for school, office, or home users who want a solid, easy-to-use computer for running common home or office applications. It's an especially economical choice if you want to run a network of iMacs connected to Apple's Mac OS X Server. However, you may find that the extra features in the iMac DV and iMac DV Special Edition are worth the extra $300 to $500 outlay.
RATING: 4.0 mice
PROS: Affordable; more memory and better sound quality than previous version.
CONS: Limited expansion; unergonomic mouse and keyboard.
COMPANY: Apple Computer Inc. (800/795-1000, http://www.apple.com).
COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $999.