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Speed and Elegance in a Desktop Package

In daily use, the G5's extra speed wasn't even that easy to notice sometimes. As a whole, the computer felt distinctly snappy compared with a two-year-old iMac G4. But when I timed basic iPhototasks, the G5 took only a few seconds less than the G4 did. The benefit's bigger with processor-intensive chores such as video editing.

Apple assembled a fairly crafty system to keep this processor from overheating. The iMac's three cooling fans are whisper-quiet when the machine is at rest, but as you put the processor to work, they will rev up, then gently decelerate when computing activity abates.

Apple's iMac G5 (Courtesy Apple)

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This noise doesn't get bothersome until you start to max out the processor, at which point a sustained whine emanates from the machine.

If you open the iMac's case -- just loosen three screws and slide off the back panel -- you can eyeball its layout of fans and cooling ducts, plus a novel advantage for an iMac: components you can replace yourself. Previous iMacs were packaged like appliances, with no user-serviceable parts beyond the memory and wireless-card slots. Here, the hard drive and other components can be replaced and, in some cases, upgraded at home.

The iMac G5 packs Apple's usual bundle of its thus-far virus-, spyware- and worm-free Mac OS X operating system; its outstanding iLife suite of music, photo and video software; and a mediocre set of productivity applications (AppleWorks is woefully antiquated, and Intuit's Quicken 2004 has already been replaced by Quicken 2005).

There's also one amazing extra, a setup utility that automatically moves your data, settings and even programs from any old Mac with a FireWire port and Mac OS X. Start up this program, connect your computers with a FireWire cable, reboot the old machine, confirm what files it will transfer, then sit back and watch. This data transfusion took about an hour -- not bad for a perfect transfer of everything I'd done over the past 2 1/2 years. The Windows world has nothing equivalent to this.

On the other hand, the Windows world offers many less costly desktops. Apple is overdue to offer a cheap, compact desktop without a built-in monitor; without that, it has no answer to the quite capable $500-and-less systems available.

For now, Apple has chosen to play in the higher end of the market, and it has done so with its usual style and elegance. It has thought seriously about how desktop computers can stay relevant in an increasingly laptop-centric market, and the result is one of the only desktop computers worth talking about.

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at rob@twp.com.

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