The 24in iMac - which starts at £799 - is Apple's first refresh to its all-in-one desktop line.

Despite tweaks to the design and specifications, this is a modest, nonradical Apple iMac update. Even so, the striking system will make you look twice.

We tested the retail configuration of the 24in iMac. It comes with a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 processor, 1GB of memory, a 320GB Serial ATA drive, ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro graphics with 256MB of GDDR3 memory, and a slot-loading SuperDrive DVD burner.

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

Online, you can configure the 24in iMac to carry up to 1TB of storage, 4GB of memory, and a 2.8GHz Core 2 Extreme processor. Connectivity gets a boost in this redesign, too. In addition to gigabit ethernet, the iMac has AirPort Extreme 802.11n (draft) wireless networking (a boost from the previous version's 802.11g), integrated Bluetooth 2.0, and an infrared receiver (for use with the included remote control).

The Apple iMac and Vista

We used Apple Boot Camp 1.4 to load Windows Vista Home Premium on to the Apple iMac. On our WorldBench 6 Beta 2 benchmark test suite, the unit turned in a respectable score of 82 - about 20 percent behind the average power desktop score of 103. The performance number may, in part, reflect our iMac's use of a mobile processor. Still, during our casual use of the Apple iMac, operations such as navigating photos in iPhoto and Web surfing felt swift.

We put the Apple iMac through our formal graphics tests. On our Doom 3 tests, the iMac pumped out 92 frames per second at 1,280 by 1,024 resolution, and 47fps at the same resolution with antialiasing enabled. On our Far Cry tests, the Apple iMac churned out 86fps at 1,280 by 1,024 resolution, and 41fps with antialiasing enabled. Those results are about average.

As for looks, this iteration of the Apple iMac dispenses with the previous version's glossy kitsch in favour of glossy elegance. The kludgy polycarbonate plastic chassis of the earlier-generation iMac line is gone, replaced with a sleek anodized aluminum chassis; and the glass screen has a tasteful black bezel around it.

The finish is in keeping with Apple's Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, and iPhone, all of which use aluminum and glass in their design.

Alhough the physical dimensions of this new iMac differ only slightly from those of its predecessor, the changes make a tremendous difference in appearance. The new iMac looks sleeker, more stylish, and less squared off than the older, plasticised version. The design is both simple and seamless, with air vents at the back of the screen and beneath it to facilitate airflow.

The Apple iMac does get a bit toasty after it has been on for a while, but according to Apple that's to be expected, given the aluminum chassis. The only screw on the entire chassis is beneath the screen; removing the screw gives you easy access to the memory slots. A 640-by-480-resolution webcam and microphone are subtly built into the screen.

Accompanying the new Apple iMac is a redesigned matching keyboard with two USB 2.0 ports (the previous generation's keyboard had USB 1.1 ports). These new ports have enough juice to handle devices that draw up to 500mA, including an iPod and some portable external hard-disk drives.

Unfortunately, the USB ports are inset, one on each side at the rear of the keyboard; and the keyboard itself is so low-slung that only one out of six flash memory drives we tried - each in a different case - actually fit the USB port without affecting the keyboard's balance.

The keyboard's low profile hindered typing, too. When we used the keyboard, we were surprised at how easily our touch-typist fingers adapted to the MacBook Pro-like keys. Despite having a key height of 0.33mm (versus 0.89mm on the previous version), the keys were distinct and crisp to the touch, and they felt roomy enough to accommodate fast-flying fingers.

That said, we wish that Apple had raised the keyboard slightly farther from the desk surface, as many notebook keyboards are, and perhaps included a sculpted wrist rest.

Beautiful screen

The 24in, 1,920-by-1,200-resolution, glass-covered display significantly improves on the earlier Apple iMac. The glossy glass gives images better contrast and sharpness than its plastic predecessor could support.

Apple says that the glass is treated with antireflective and strengthening coatings that cut glare and make the glass scratch- and break-resistant.

The black frame surrounding the display is painted on to the back side of the glass; this may have contributed to the improved image quality as well.

Although the new iMac doesn't come with a next-generation Blu-ray Disc drive, the integrated graphics on the 24in model we tested can decode high-definition (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) H.264, VC-1, and MPEG2 video streams of the type used by Blu-ray. Consequently the Apple iMac may be able to support an external Blu-ray Disc option, when a drive and playback software ship for the Mac.

Also new to this iteration of the Apple iMac is a FireWire 800 port, for faster data transfers between the iMac and devices that offer that interface, such as external hard drives.

Apple's decision to include FireWire 800 on its latest line of Apple iMacs indicates the company's continued support of the FireWire 800 interface over External serial ATA (ESATA), which many PC motherboard manufacturers are backing. The FireWire 800 port replaces one of the two FireWire 400 ports found on the previous Apple iMac. On the back, alongside the FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 ports are three USB 2.0 ports.

A new, more compact, wireless Bluetooth keyboard sells for £20 extra; and the combination of this keyboard plus a wireless Mighty Mouse costs £35. The wireless keyboard is closer in size to a typical notebook keyboard, and it lacks the multimedia playback keys, 19 function keys, and other display control buttons that the larger wired keyboard houses.

Regrettably, the unchanged, glossy white Mighty Mouse now looks out of place next to the new aluminum chassis and keyboard.

The Apple iMac's integrated sound includes 5.1-channel audio support, with optical digital audio output/headphone-out and optical digital audio input/line-in jacks. A 24W digital amplifier gives the built-in stereo speakers surprisingly strong sound. But music aficionados may want to supplement the Apple iMac with a dedicated set of speakers anyway. Music tracks lacked depth, and vocals sounded a bit thin.

The new Apple iMac comes preloaded with iLife '08, a £55 value on its own. iLife '08 is the first major revision of Apple's digital life management software since iLife '06, and it has some new components, such as completely redesigned iMovie and Web Gallery elements (for use with a .Mac account). The iPhoto component has been improved as well.

Apple iMac: Specs

  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM - 1x1GB
  • 320GB Serial ATA Drive
  • SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
  • Apple Mighty Mouse
  • Keyboard (English) + Mac OS X (English)
  • 24in glossy widescreen LCD
  • AirPort Extreme
  • Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
  • iLife '08
  • 1-year warranty
  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM - 1x1GB
  • 320GB Serial ATA Drive
  • SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
  • Apple Mighty Mouse
  • Keyboard (English) + Mac OS X (English)
  • 24in glossy widescreen LCD
  • AirPort Extreme
  • Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
  • iLife '08
  • 1-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

Svelte and appealing though the new iMac is, with the Leopard OS slated to ship in October, we recommend against purchasing a new iMac right away. At some point Apple presumably will announce what, if any, plan it will offer to buyers of the first wave of new Apple iMacs for upgrading to Leopard; and if not, you can just wait until Leopard hits in October - and buy a unit with the new operating system preinstalled.

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