iMac (early 2009) in-depth impressions

There's really not enough to say about Apple's newly spec-bumped iMac to warrant a full-on review -- sure, it's got faster processors and some newer video cards, but in day-to-day use it feels like basically the same machine first introduced in August of 2007. In fact, apart from the switch to mini DisplayPort and the removal of FireWire 400, we're pretty sure you could swap in this new model for the older 2.4GHz 24-inch aluminum iMac we use as one of our daily drivers and we wouldn't even know until we tried to render out some video or do some gaming -- the marginal increase in power just isn't all that noticeable in day-to-day tasks. If you ask Apple, they'll tell you that the big story is that $1,499 now buys you a 24-inch screen -- which, considering the historical lameness of the 20-inch iMac screen, is good news in more ways than one. We wanted to put our older model head-to-head with its modern analogue, though, so we opted to test the $1,799 2.93GHz version with GeForce GT 120 graphics -- we didn't quite get upgrade fever, but we'll admit we thought about pulling a switcheroo once or twice. Read on!

  • Apart from the revised port layout, the only external visual cue that you're looking at a new iMac is the tapered foot -- the old ones were flat slabs.

  • The display is as glossy as ever. We actually think it looks really nice in a dark room -- beautiful, even -- but anywhere else, it's a mirror.

  • Final verdict on the tiny keyboard? It's ridiculous. We actually love Apple's full-size aluminum keyboard, and while the lite version feels just as sturdy, the smaller space bar and missing keys are disorienting. Apple says laptop users love it, but the whole thing feels like an unnecessary compromise -- if you have room for a 24-inch iMac on your desk, we're guessing you can spare an extra six inches for the full-size keyboard. Don't believe the hype, take the free upgrade.

  • Similarly, the Mighty Mouse is still totally lame.

  • The Apple Remote is no longer bundled in the box, you'll have to pay extra for it. Sorry, Front Row fans.

  • We did some quick'n'dirty XBench testing and the results are solid but not unexpected: the midrange $1,799 2.93GHz unit is oh-so-slightly faster than the similarly-spec'd top-end 17-inch MacBook Pro we just tested, but it's not much faster than the outgoing iMacs. Graphics are a similar story: the GeForce GT 120 chip in the model we have is certainly faster on paper than anything else we've tested, but playing Call of Duty 4 didn't make us feel like we had to race out and upgrade. Sure, you can up the settings slightly and still get 60fps now, but at 1920 x 1200 with everything maxed out there's essentially no difference between the new iMac and our 2007 unit -- you're looking at 8-15fps either way.

  • Although they wouldn't say it explicitly, Apple's PR basically told us that FireWire 400 is gone for good. Goodbye, old friend.

  • Similarly, it's doubtful we'll ever see HDMI on the iMac -- Apple's committed to pushing mini DisplayPort as the new standard, particularly since it supports high resolution displays better.

Bottom line? If you've already got an aluminum iMac and you're happy with how fast it is, it's hard to see a reason to upgrade here -- especially since you'll probably have to spring for a FireWire 400-to-800 adapter and possibly a mini DisplayPort adapter. On the flipside, those of you in the market for a new iMac won't be disappointed at all -- we can always find things to bitch about, but overall the new iMac is as handsome, polished, and competent as it's ever been. Just make sure you order the real keyboard and toss the Mighty Mouse.