Article: On the New iMac: If It’s Good Enough for the MacBook Air…
I wasn’t originally going to write about the new low-end iMac, but I found myself talking with some geek friends about it over the past few days. It’s such a fascinatingly odd machine that I thought I’d weigh in on some observations.
This iMac immediately reminded me of some of the low-cost Macs of the early 1990s, although I suspect Apple isn’t six years away from possible doom. What the company did to cut costs was use prior-generation components to create Macs that were good enough for the mundane, menial tasks that most users needed. While they still were quite expensive (the LC was $2400) or embarrassingly outdated from introduction (the $999 Classic was using CPU technology from the original Mac), they were “good enough” to get people a Mac and leave some cash in their pocket. This new iMac takes cost-cutting, and still gives you a very capable computer without using old technology.
Although a lot of people subscribe to the desktop-CPUs-belong-in-desktop-computers and laptop-CPUs-belong-in-laptop-computers train of thought, the Mac mini has been doing just fine for awhile. From a marketing standpoint, the 1.4GHz vs. 2.7GHz jump seems like a lot for $200, but in reality, most people were probably not pushing the former base iMac’s CPU to its limits.
This CPU is fine in the MacBook Airs, and in single-core operations, it’s comparable. In multi-core, it’s “40% slower”, but it’s also only got half the cores. If it’s good enough for most consumers in the MacBook Air, it should be fine in the iMac.
I’ve been very pleased with the Intel HD 4000 GPU on my MacBook Pro. It’s good enough for most tasks I throw at it, and certainly not limiting like the older Intel-produced GPUs found in consumer MacBooks. The 5000 is the version found in the current MacBook Airs, and is faster than that. It should easily handle the iMac’s built-in display and work with running an external display.
The RAM is soldered in. While it’s hard to speculate if 8GB is going to be enough 4-5 years from now, keep in mind that Apple is selling a lot of machines with 4GB and an 8GB upgrade option. Most tasks on OS X Mavericks run quite well with 4GB RAM, especially due to things like Memory Compression. Still, the iMacs have had tough-to-replace RAM since 2012, when the door to access the RAM slots was removed in the redesign. I’m really curious how many people actually replace the RAM in their iMacs these days.
This is actually my complaint about the new iMac—buried deep inside its sealed enclosure is a hard drive that’s just as slow and failure-prone as any laptop-sized drive. Since this machine has so many things borrowed from the MacBook Air, why not bring over that 128GB PCIe SSD? Not only would it help performance on a modestly configured machine, but it would also create an even more reliable system.
Obviously, there is cost to think about, but I doubt substituting a 21.5″ LCD for 11″ LCD, 8GB for 4GB RAM, hard drive for SSD, and deletion of the battery really ends up costing $200.
Finally, this leads me to the price of the machine. I don’t know how much components individually end up costing Apple, but I think the price of $1099 missed a great marketing opportunity by $100. Although it’s certainly the cheapest iMac ever, it’s still on the wrong side of the psychological barrier.
I’m still positive about this machine—it has enough power to satisfy its target market all the time, and those that might be expecting a little more most of the time. It also shows that Apple isn’t afraid to experiment a bit with a components to make its machines more budget-friendly. With technological demands plateauing, the extra RAM, efficient CPU, and good GPU should mean this machine is still satisfying a few years after purchase. If you’re the type of person complaining about it, you probably should be spending the extra $200 for the former base model anyway.