Hands On with a 700 MHz iMac G4

I will be the first to admit that I have always considered the iMac G4 to be an odd looking computer. A coworker gave me an old one a few months ago, and I finally got the right power cord to set it up. It’s changed my opinion of the machine.

15 inch iMac G4It’s not that there isn’t something a bit odd about the design of the iMac G4. A flat panel display with a lucite surround seemingly floating above a stark white hemisphere with a shiny silver Apple logo is kind of odd. But once you start using it, you realize that there are things about the iMac G4 that are positively brilliant.

The cantilever arm that holds the screen in place lets you swivel the display 90 degrees to the right or left, and you can position the screen so it’s bottom edge is just 1-1/2″ above your desk – or 8″ above it. With the bottom edge about 3″ above the desk, the machine’s footprint is about the same as a slot-load iMac G3.

Design Flaws

15" iMac G4The hemispherical base is 10.6″ in diameter, and the front of the drawer-load optical drive is curved to match. One design flaw is apparent if you have a normal USB keyboard – the optical drive is low enough that it may bump into your keyboard rather than slide open above it.

But a bigger design flaw is that all ports plus the power button are on the back of the computer, which can be hard to access in some situations. In the best of all possible worlds, the base would itself rotate 90 degrees right or left for easier access to the ports. (On the plus side, it has three USB ports, one more than G3 iMacs, along with two FireWire 400 ports. On the minus side, Apple was still using USB 1.1 in 2002 when the iMac G4 was introduced.)

The third design flaw is that to keep things more compact, Apple used a different power cord for the iMac G4, one that you’re not nearly as likely to find as the standard power cord the Macs and PCs have used from the beginning.

iMac in Use

This is a 700 MHz computer with the slightly more efficient PowerPC 7450 version of the G4 CPU, and it has a very pedestrian 5400 rpm 40 GB hard drive inside, along with just 512 MB of memory. On the plus side, it has a Combo drive, so it can display DVDs and burn CDs.

I don’t plan on investing anything more into this computer, which I’m setting up for my 6-year-old grandson to use to listen to his “football music” (University of Michigan marching band) and play some simple, age appropriate games. With only 512 MB of RAM, I have OS X 10.4.11 Tiger installed, and it works decently. And with a pair of amplified speakers, it makes the football music sound much better than on the built-in speakers of a G3 iMac.

My browsers of choice are the long-discontinued Camino for speed and TenFourFox for up-to-date compatibility. Both would be more perky with more RAM and a faster hard drive, but they suffice. Then again, I would never make this my primary surfing machine. My 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Mac mini and Aluminum MacBook and my 2.3 GHz Power Mac G5 Dual are much better suited to that.

If Only…

There are some things I wish Apple had thought to build into the iMac G4 – besides USB 2.0 ports (which were almost two years old at this computer’s introduction). I would love it if the screen rotated 90 degrees so you could use it in portrait mode. For reading, 768 x 1024 beats 1024 x 768 any day.

The other thing I’d do is use two matching memory modules, which is what Apple had done in G3 iMacs. Instead, the iMac G4 has one PC-133 144-pin SO-DIMM memory socket and one PC-133 168-pin SDRAM socket. To achieve the maximum of 1 GB of memory, you need to buy a 512 MB memory stick of each type.

As always, there just aren’t enough USB ports. Four or five would be much nicer than three. For WiFi use, it uses the original 802.11b Apple AirPort Card – anything faster would have to be plugged into one of the three USB ports or perhaps its 10/100 ethernet port, which is really the only way to achieve decent WiFi throughput.

Summing Up

All in all, I’m happy to have this odd looking computer as part of my collection. It really was quite innovative is several ways, but if you’re looking to buy one, get a Late 2003 model with more processing power, 802.11g AirPort, and, best of all, USB 2.0 ports that are 4x as fast as USB 1.1.

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