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Top Computer Makers: Apple

Sunday, November 21, 2004; Page F06

After wading through a sea of virtually identical Windows PCs, it's always refreshing to try out an Apple. In models such as the iMac G5 we reviewed, the company has raised product design to the level of an art and an obsession.

This machine looks like something out of "Star Trek," with the computer and 17-inch monitor integrated into a two-inch-thick panel mounted on a slim stand.

On the inside, Apple's sales pitch consists of the seamless integration of its Mac OS X operating system with its iLife suite of applications: iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD and GarageBand. Such OS X components as the Safari Web browser add to this appeal.

If you're upgrading from an older Mac with a FireWire port, a new system-migration utility will painlessly copy over all your old files, settings and programs to the new Mac.

Then there's the rest of Apple's standard consumer software bundle. AppleWorks 6, its pedestrian word processor/ spreadsheet/paint/drawing suite, hasn't seen a meaningful update since 2001 (a 30-day trial of Microsoft Office 2004 will remind you of what you'll probably need to buy later on), and Intuit's Quicken 2004 is actually last year's release.

Apple works to make Mac OS X a low-stress companion with a concise, relatively clear manual, a set of system-recovery and repair CDs, and 90 days of friendly, generally helpful tech support over the phone -- alas, guarded by several voice-mail menus and available only from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

This iMac's configuration, including twice the measly 256 megabytes of memory Apple normally includes, WiFi, Bluetooth and a wireless keyboard and mouse, ran to almost $1,600. The base iMac G5 costs $1,299. That can be a bit much.

The aging eMac, with its cathode-ray-tube screen, starts at $799, and Apple's iBook (but not PowerBook) laptops, from $999; both are much more competitive with prices on the Windows side of the fence. On the other hand, those other models don't double as conversation pieces in your home.

-- Anthony Zurcher

Tested hardware: iMac G5 17-inch, $1,552.

17-inch widescreen LCD, 1.6 GHz PowerPC G5 processor, 80 GB hard drive, 512 MB memory, 64 MB graphics memory, 24x/16x/24x CD-RW/8x DVD-ROM combo drive, 100-Mbps Ethernet, 802.11g WiFi, v.92 modem, Bluetooth, two FireWire and three USB 2.0 ports available. One-year warranty. 90 days of 9 a.m.-9 p.m. toll-free phone support; $49 per issue thereafter.

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