Final Words

There's a lot to conclude, so I will start at the highest possible level and move deeper. 

I like the iMac, I like it a lot.  Personally, it's not the right type of machine for me in that I do need a higher resolution display and more memory than the iMac can offer me.  It would, however, make a great addition to the home network if I ever wanted to put an all-in-one machine somewhere else in the house.  It's a computer that can look and work as well in a kitchen as it can in an office, and that's one thing that Apple has done very right with this platform.  It took me this long to look at it, but I think that it could quite possibly be Apple's strongest offering as it accomplishes exactly what they are trying to do - which is build lifestyle computers. 

So much has changed since I started using Macs on a regular basis just a year and a half ago.  Apple has done a tremendous job of really fleshing out their own software suite; from improving their Pro applications to molding iLife and iWork into truly indispensable applications. Apple is quickly become a very vertical provider of everything that you could want to do with one of their computers.  It is because of Apple's vertical nature as a software provider to the Mac platform that they were able to begin this Intel transition so very well. 

Just about every application that I'd use is already available as a Universal binary, the only exceptions being anything from Microsoft or Adobe/Macromedia.  While I don't view Rosetta as a real option if you plan on getting any work done with an application, it is a way to ensure a very seamless transition between platforms.  It is largely because of Apple's self-sufficiency and their small size that they could undertake such a large transition and succeed so very well at it, but regardless of the reasons, the end results are positive. 

I do stand by my comments, however, that the current Intel based Macs are more of a public beta test than something to which the masses should transition.  The problem is quite plainly the dependence on Rosetta.  If you find yourself running applications that are all Universal today, then the new iMac is a wonderful solution. However, anything that requires Rosetta to run is going to hurt.  If you absolutely have to buy a machine today and it absolutely had to be an iMac, the early adopter in me would still recommend the Intel based offering, but it would be full of painful times as you wait for application support. 

This is the second Apple article that I've written where I've felt that their base memory configurations are way off balance, especially on the Intel side of things.  If you are expected to have to use Rosetta for things like Microsoft Office, you're going to need more than 512MB of memory.  And Rosetta aside, if you're going to use iLife applications as they were intended, you're going to need more than 512MB.  Given Apple's history with memory upgrades, we'll probably see them move to 1GB standard late this year with their Powermac replacement, but until then, I can at least complain. 

As far as performance of the new Intel based Macs go, at least in Universal applications, it's quite good.  While the G5 was clearly no slouch, in many cases offering performance better than a Core Solo processor, it does lose the performance per watt battle.  It's also worth noting that a pair of G5s could never make it into an iMac of this form factor, meaning that the Core Duo's dual core performance advantages are reasonable to flaunt. 

More than anything, I am interested to see how long it takes to bring Intel's compiler technology to the OS X platform.  As Johan pointed out in his series on the G5, gcc 4.0 doesn't exactly produce the best code for AMD/Intel architectures, especially when compared to Intel's own C compilers.   At last year's Fall IDF, Intel had a session on their compilers and OS X, so I tend to believe that things will get faster for Intel based Macs over time.  Not only when Rosetta is no longer needed, but also as applications are better optimized for their architecture (e.g. Quicktime). 

I'll close, as always, on a note about the future.  We've seen that today, Intel already has the performance per watt crown with the Core Duo, and they also have the power advantage, consuming a third less power than a similarly clocked G5.  Yet, the first Intel based Macs are nothing more than the G5 versions with a different motherboard and cooling.  You tend to not over-design your chassis when you are Apple; rather, you design them to be as sleek and as minimal as possible.  With the Core Duo based iMac consistently consuming 20 - 30W less than the G5 version, you can expect that the truly exciting Intel based Macs are the ones that don't look like these.  It's those that I would personally wait for. 

The Search for Universal Binaries


View All Comments

  • snookie - Friday, February 03, 2006 - link

    The article is very good but surprisingly makes the same mistake as so many other reviews which is to test with only 512MB of ram. The intel imac is a much better machine with more ram and it doesn't make sense to test it with the minimum amount. Also Universal apps are coming fast and furious on a daily basis. I've got 1.5 GB of ram in mine and lots of the little apps I use everyday are already UB and are nice and fast as is the OS and iLife apps. It won't be long before Windows runs on these as well as Linux with Red Hat promising support. Check out Bare Feats for some pretty nice benchmarks including games. Yes, Quake 4 will actually run at a decent speed as well as COD 2.">
  • csoto - Friday, February 03, 2006 - link

    Your only complaints stem from poor choice of models/configuraitons. The 20" unit will provide the added resolution, and BTO options allow up to 2GB on the Core Duo and 2.5GB on the G5 (although a 2GB soDIMM is listed at >$1K!). This is like me complaining that my mini van doesn't have a navigation system, because I was too cheap to buy the model that came with it :)

    Also, your assertion that the Core Duo is a "public beta" is absurd. You had zero problems running applications. Word from those around me that are testing Core Duos is that for most applications, you don't even notice Rosetta. Pro Apps users would complain, but they're never early adopters, because their apps always lag at least a few months behind the latest platform (remember the "multiprocessor plug-in" that allowed Photoshop to limp along for so long before a "MP-native" version was released?). This is a solid platform transition, likely exceeding the fairly solid (albeit far more daunting for the day) transition from 680x0 to PPC.

    Now if only VMWare would ship Workstation for Mac OS X, then I could ditch the Dell...

  • Furen - Sunday, February 05, 2006 - link

    He says he already had an iMac so in order to compare the two I'm guessing he bought the closest-matching one possible. I would hardly do to have an 20" iMac compared with a 17" one in power consumption or running at a different native resolution. I do agree that the RAM limits the system insanely but he went for default specs rather you start improving all the draw backs each system has.

    The reason why he says this is like a public beta is not because Rosetta sucks or anything of the sort but because there are almost no universal binaries besides those shipped by Apple. Apple chose to bring these systems forwards (at first they had said the systems would come out mid '06, I believe) without having enough of a software base and that's a pretty big drawback.
  • jepapac - Wednesday, February 01, 2006 - link

    I was just wondering if the graphics adapter on the iMac is upgradeable since it is using pciexpress. Does anyone know? Reply
  • aliasfox - Thursday, February 02, 2006 - link

    I'm guessing its actually the laptop X1600 in the iMac, soldered onto the motherboard. Unfortunate, yes, but given the primary audience that the iMac is targeted at, I'm not surprised.

    Your average home user would rather buy a new $600-1000 box instead of dropping ~$500 for more RAM, a bigger hard drive, new graphics, and a faster processor.
  • Eug - Thursday, February 02, 2006 - link


    I'm guessing its actually the laptop X1600 in the iMac

    Why? Previous iMacs used desktop GPU parts.
  • aliasfox - Thursday, February 02, 2006 - link

    I read somewhere that the 9600 in the second generation iMac G5 was a laptop part, and I therefore assumed that since Apple used the same GPUs in the iMac that it used in PowerBooks (GeForce FX5200, Radeon 9600, X1600), it was sourcing the same parts for both lines.

    Also, I've never read about an integrated 9600 or FX5200 as a desktop part. I might be mistaken though.
  • nizzki - Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - link

    Any idea which compilers apple has used for their apps? For example, for the PPC apps I assume apple uses the IBM compiler heavily optimized for PPC instead of GCC.
    If that is the case, with the intel compiler for osx is in beta, the current somewhat lackluster performance of the core duo might be skewed in PPC's favor. This would be further exacerbated if Apple used GCC to compile the macintel apps, since it is unlikely to be heavily optimized for the core duo architecture.
  • Commodus - Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - link

    Just a heads-up, Anand: the Core Duo iMac is the first iMac model to support desktop spanning, not just mirroring. So if you want, you can hook up even a 23" Cinema Display and get a huge amount of extra workspace. I'd probably only do that with a 20" iMac and the 256 MB video memory option, though. Reply
  • ingoldsby - Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - link

    Perhaps it's just me, but the non native apps I run seem to run at about the same speed as they natively ran on my G5. While the universal binaries run much faster.

    I would love to see this comparison revisited with a realistic amount of memory in the machine (ie. 1gb+) instead of limiting the machine to 512mb.

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