The iMac Channel

How Good a Value Is the $799 iMac?

Dan Knight - 2001.10.09

At the end of September, Apple quietly made released the least expensive iMac ever. The new $799 iMac has a 500 MHz G3, 64 MB of RAM, a 20 GB hard drive, and a 24x CD-ROM. The essential differences between this and the $999 model:

$799

$999

Installed RAM 

64 MB

128 MB

Media drive

CD-ROM 

CD-RW

Colors

indigo

indigo or snow 

According to ramseeker, you can buy 64 MB of RAM for as little $10.79 shipped, raising the question: Is an internal CD-RW drive worth an extra $189? (Don't even think about paying Apple $50 for an extra 64 MB - you can easily install RAM all by yourself.)

The $999 iMac doesn't include a lightning fast CD-RW drive, but a pedestrian 8/4/24x unit, which burns CD-R at 8x, CD-RW at 4x, and reads CDs at a maximum of 24x. Checking the dealmac archive, I find that J&R Computer World offered an external 8/4/32x CD-RW drive for $99.99 plus $4.95 shipping last month. That's the closest speed match listed recently.

If you don't need CD-RW, the $799 iMac is a bargain. If you do need it and don't mind an external unit, the $799 iMac may still be a better deal than the $999 model.

Although you may be able to find a slot-loading DVD-ROM drive to install in a slot-loading iMac (I've seen them as low as $60!), my online searches found only one source for a slot-loading CD-RW drive - the genuine Apple mechanism selling for $199.95. If you need CD-RW and want the convenience of an internal drive, the $999 model gives you that along with twice the base memory and the option of snow or indigo.

How Far Can You Go?

Let's say you have $999 to spend and don't need CD-RW - how powerful an iMac can you put together?

Bang for the buck, the first thing I'd do is add a 512 MB DIMM, which brings total RAM to 568 MB at an additional cost of roughly $50. This leaves us $150 for a hard drive.

Although opinions are mixed, I've been very happy with IBM and Quantum drives over the years, and a lot of users are very satisfied with Maxtor (which now owns Quantum). If you find 20 GB limiting, dealmac has recently listed the IBM 60 GB Deskstar for $137 plus shipping and the Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 60.5 GB drive for $144 plus shipping.

Conclusion

So if you're looking for a deal and don't need CD-RW, the $799 iMac is definitely the way to go. 500 MHz is plenty of speed, and a 20 GB hard drive should be enough for most users. It's essential that you upgrade memory - 64 MB just doesn't cut it - and with 512 MB available for about $50, you may as well get a half-gig memory module.

At roughly $850, that's a lot more computer than the $999 iMac with 128 MB of RAM. And if you've got $1,000 to spend, you should have no trouble finding a nice 60 GB hard drive to replace the stock 20 GB drive if you feel that's important.

Looking at the value equation, the cost of memory, the cost of external CD-RW drives, and the going rate for internal CD-RW drives (alas, not slot-loading at this time), the price difference between these two iMacs should be on the order of $120. At $200 less, the new iMac is a much better value than the $999 CD-RW model.

In fact, the $799 iMac is such a good value that it could further drop the price of used iMac, which typically range from $575 on up. LEM

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