The beautiful iMac is the first desktop system from Apple that houses the much-vaunted Intel Duo chip – if you can refer to something this intuitive and space-saving as a desktop model. Apple has trumpeted its partnership with Intel, proclaiming massive processing-speed increases. We found the true story slightly more opaque.

The iMac is housed in a stunning 20in screen. With the aid of the 128MB ATI Radeon X1600 graphics chip, colours are deep and bright. Text is sharp, although we found some graining and shallow depth of field in graphics-intensive DVD movies.

Latest (late 2012 models): Apple iMac 21.5-inch review and Apple iMac 27-inch review

There are five USB ports: three USB 2.0 connectors on the iMac's body and two 1.1 ports on the supplied keyboard. There are DVI (digital video interface), VGA, S-Video, two FireWire 400 and composite video inputs. It's a well-connected system, although you'll need to use one USB 1.1 hook-up for the bundled Mighty Mouse. Wireless connectivity is handled by built-in 802.11g Wi-Fi and an integral Bluetooth dongle. And, the iMac runs Apple's excellent OS X Tiger operating system.

We liked the iMac's remote. This little toy gives immediate access to iTunes music, DVD movies, photos and digital film content through iMovie. Combined with its slick design, this gives the iMac the feel of a living-room accessory – a funky media server that, with its 250GB Sata (serial ATA) hard drive and DVI, could replace your TV.

However, at this price the iMac has to shape up as a work tool to be a worthwhile investment. Apps that were designed with the Intel processor in mind are, indeed, rapid. Described as Universal, such programs make maximum use of the Intel chip's power. The pace potential of this system is awesome and, when software manufacturers have caught up with the technology you'll be able to justify buying it as an office workhorse.

However, programs that haven't been optimised for Intel run in Rosetta, a technology that allows Intel-based Macs to run applications designed for Apple's PowerPC processors. In our tests, PowerPC-built apps ran slowly in Rosetta.

This will be a problem for people who use power-sapping design or desktop-publishing packages – in other words, Apple's core audience. And with the upcoming release of Vista, software developers are going to be too busy trying to keep up with the Gateses to worry about a minority platform for a while yet. This doesn't affect any of the excellent Apple media software supplied with the iMac.

How fast is the iMac?

Since the first rumours of Apple's switch to Intel chips, everyone has been wondering about the potential speed of Intel-based Macs. Apple's much-publicised test scores for the iMac were made with programs designed specifically for the task. They indicated awesome overall performance potential – but such tests often don't match up to what users see in their everyday lives.

Our real-world tests show that the Intel-based iMac is faster than the iMac G5 when running native apps. However, those improvements are generally far less dramatic than Apple's claims of doubling the speed – we found that the 2GHz Core Duo iMac takes 10 to 25 percent less time than the G5 iMac to perform the same native app tasks. We found that applications that aren't yet Intel-native tend to run about half as quickly as when running on the iMac G5.

20in Apple iMac: Specs

  • 2GHz Intel Core Duo with 2MB shared L2 cache
  • Mac OS X v10.4 Tiger
  • 512MB (single SO-DIMM) 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
  • 250GB Serial ATA hard drive
  • slot-load 8x double-layer SuperDrive (DVD+R DL/-RW/+RW/CD-RW)
  • ATI Radeon X1600 graphics with 128MB GDDR3 memory
  • 20in widescreen LCD with 1,680x1,050 resolution
  • built-in AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity
  • Universal software bundle
  • 1-year warranty
  • 2GHz Intel Core Duo with 2MB shared L2 cache
  • Mac OS X v10.4 Tiger
  • 512MB (single SO-DIMM) 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
  • 250GB Serial ATA hard drive
  • slot-load 8x double-layer SuperDrive (DVD+R DL/-RW/+RW/CD-RW)
  • ATI Radeon X1600 graphics with 128MB GDDR3 memory
  • 20in widescreen LCD with 1,680x1,050 resolution
  • built-in AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity
  • Universal software bundle
  • 1-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

Stunning to look at, with a tiny footprint and awesome potential power, the iMac is an excellent system. It's quite expensive for now, though – and those who work with apps such as Adobe CS will be well advised to wait until the software catches up with the hardware. One for the future.

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