Review: iMac (Early 2006 version)
By Adam Vaughn

For a long time now, I have been forced to live a double life. Not fully dependent on any one platform, I used an older Mac for my main web browsing and such, but it was too slow for modern applications (not to mention things like watching videos), so I had to keep my Windows-based laptop around for modern purposes, as well as all the Windows applications I had. I could proclaim that I was a Mac user, but had to mutter that I also had a PC as a main computer. The irony of it was staggering. Then, however, came the Intel-based Macs.

I'll admit it: at first, I was quite hesitant when I heard the news about Apple switching from IBM's PowerPC platform to Intel chips. The enemy! For years, I had heard Macheads drone on and on about how inferior the 25 year old x86 platform was, and how much better the G3, G4 and G5 processors were. Now, however, we were destined to be on level ground with them. This left me quite worried, but the more I looked at it, the more I got drawn into Steve Jobs' famous Reality Distortion Field. The first nudge was the announcement of the new Intel Core Duo chips; two cores in one, just like the last of the PowerMac G5s. Soon after that, six months ahead of schedule, came the first Intel-based Mac to be released to the public, the iMac (as an owner of a vintage, sluggish G3 model, and having used one of the newer G5 models, my ears perked up). The final push over the cliff, however, was the beta release of Boot Camp. Once that came out, I practically rushed over to the local Apple store, and plunked down $1,299 for a 17" 1.83Ghz iMac. Finally, I could set my PC laptop aside!

While the name may conjure up images of R. Lee Ermey's Gunnery Sergeant Hartman punishing his "maggots" in Full Metal Jacket, this Boot Camp (which is slated to be integrated, in one form or another, into the next release of the OS X operating system, 10.5, otherwise known as "Leopard") is anything but torture. It offered the ability to boot up Windows XP on the new Intel-based Macs; previously, it had been nigh to impossible beforehand due to the differences in architecture between these new Macs and your standard Windows box. Like every PC since 1981, every Compaq or Dell that comes off the assembly line is equipped with boot-up hardware called BIOS, or Basic Input Output System. Intel recently followed up with a new, improved boot-up hardware called EFI, or Extensible Firmware Interface, which the new Intel-based Macs rely upon. Every version of Windows, even the long-awaited Vista, uses BIOS to boot up, and therefore is unable to run on an EFI-equipped Intel Mac as-is. Boot Camp, however, took care of that.

Next up, are drivers. In order to be able to harness all the graphics, sound and networking hardware contained within the iMac, Windows would need to have drivers. Fortunately, Boot Camp took care of that. When prompted, I inserted a blank CD-R disc into the drive, and it burned me a disc containing all the drivers I would need. Next, came partitioning. Windows would need to have it's own special space on the hard drive, in order to run. Boot Camp allowed me to allocate as much space as I wanted to give the new Windows partition; since I intended this to primarily be a Mac, I gave it only 10GB (I probably should've given it more, but external hard drives are fairly cheap these days). Once the partitioning was done, I inserted my dusty Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) CD, hoping that Boot Camp didn't absolutely need Service Pack 2 (SP2) in order to run. Since it started to install anyway, I simply sat back and waited to see what would happen.

Once the lengthy install was finished, I inserted the driver disk, and hoped to see that everything worked. Boy, was I wrong! Few (if any) of the drivers installed without errors. I had graphics, but no access to the internet whatsoever. I went back into OS X, deleted the Windows partition, and tried again. Same exact results! By this time, I was getting a bit upset. How could I install Windows without buying a brand new copy of Windows XP SP2? That's when I read of a process called slipstreaming, which allowed me to combine my SP1 copy of Windows XP with the SP2 upgrade. I followed the instructions on the site, attempted the installation again with the slipstreamed install CD, and voila! The drivers worked perfectly, allowing me to access the internet, and properly register the copy of Windows XP. Success!

Now, the big question: how does it run? In Windows mode, it is much faster than my two year old Sony Vaio laptop, with it's 2.8GHz Pentium 4 chip. Graphics seem much smoother, since the iMac has 128MB of dedicated video memory, compared to the shared 64MB video memory in the Vaio (leaving 448MB for the rest of the computer!). So far, it has run everything I have thrown at it, which means that it, too, is prone to getting infected by viruses, worms, spyware, and other such nasty programs. Fortunately, if all that stuff is getting me down, I can easily switch it back into OS X with the press of a button, or the click of a mouse. Once there, applications written to run natively on the new Intel processors open up extremely quickly; the only bad thing is, as of this writing, most of the major software companies, like Adobe, have yet to release an Intel-native version of their applications, such as Photoshop. Older programs still work fine; thanks to the nearly-invisible Rosetta emulation layer, PPC-based applications open up fairly quickly, and work perfectly, leaving my seven-year-old iMac G3 in the dust, and giving our first-revision iMac G5 a good run for it's money.

In conclusion, I have to say that this iMac is, without a doubt, one of the finest computers I have ever used, and one of the most versatile. While first revision hardware tends to be a touch-and-go thing, Apple seems to have gotten these new iMacs right on the first try. Also, thanks to Apple's ingenuity, they have finally managed to bridge the once mile-wide gap between Windows users and Mac users by creating a machine, and software, which may someday be capable of pleasing all of the people all of the time, and bringing over more Switchers to the Mac platform. Note, however, that Boot Camp is still a beta release, and is not fully supported by Apple. Also, the remote control included with the iMac refuses to work; however, this is a minor issue. Once Boot Camp is finalized in OS X.5, Bill Gates had better watch his back... ;)

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