The New iMac Value Equation
Dan Knight - 2002.01.14
Value. It's the Low End Mac buzzword.
We believe that Macs are the best computing value because they mostly stay out of the way and get your work done. They also have impressive longevity both physically and as practical computers. Even today, as we enter the age of OS X, Macs build nearly five years ago can run Apple's latest OS. (Not as nicely as newer Macs, but at least they can run it. More on that subject when we get our low-end G3s and OS X.)
Since they were announced in May 1998, the iMacs have been Apple's value leader. The first iMac retailed at US$1,299 in August 1998, and Apple trimmed the price to $1,199 with the Revision C iMac in January 1999. In October 1999, Apple shipped the 350 MHz blueberry iMac for $999. Less than a year later, in September 2000, Apple was selling a 350 MHz indigo iMac for US$799.
In just a little over two years, Apple had gone from a 233 MHz iMac with 32 MB of RAM and a 4 GB hard drive to an entry level model running at 350 MHz with 64 MB of RAM, a 7 GB hard drive, and Apple's Pro Mouse and Pro Keyboard.
And it only got better when the entry level moved to 400 MHz in January 2001, gaining two FireWire ports, a 10 GB hard drive, and a slot for an AirPort card - along with a $100 price increase. Last July the entry level moved to 500 MHz, added a CD burner, and saw another $100 price increase, bringing the entry level temporarily to $999.
Classic iMac Value
But in September 2001, Apple announced a CD-ROM version of that computer for $200 less. The entry level was now over twice as fast as the original iMac (500 MHz vs. 233 MHz), four times the memory (128 MB vs. 32 MB), five times the hard drive space (20 GB vs. 4 GB), vastly better accelerated video with eight times the video memory (16 MB vs. 2 MB), along with FireWire, AirPort, and better input devices. All that for $799 - and we christened it Apple's best value last October in How Good a Value is the $799 iMac?
That iMac remains as one of two "classic" models. It's every bit as good a value today as it was in October, but how does it compare to the other classic option, the $999 600 MHz iMac?
For $200 more, you gain about 20% more processor speed, twice as large a hard drive (40 GB!), twice the memory (256 MB), and a CD burner that's just waiting for you to use iTunes. It's hard to put a value on CPU speed, but not hard to look up pricing on hard drives, RAM, and CD-RW drives. Here's what we found:
- From Sonnet Technologies: G3/400 ZIF upgrade, $250; G3/500 ZIF upgrade, $300. From XLR8: G3/400 ZIF upgrade, $179; G3/500 ZIF upgrade, $269. Estimated premium of 600 MHz vs. 500 MHz G3: $100.
- From Outpost.com: Seagate 20 GB 5400 RPM, $89; Maxtor 20 GB 7200 RPM, $94; Maxtor 40 GB 5400 RPM, $104; Western Digital 40 GB 5400 RPM, $99. Approximate premium for 40 GB drive: $10.
- From ramseeker: 128 MB RAM modules, $23 and up; 256 MB RAM modules, $47 and up. Premium for extra memory: about $25. (Apple charges $50 for the same memory.)
- From MacResQ: Slot-loading Apple CD-ROM drive, $120; slot-loading Apple CD-RW drive; $200. Premium for CD-RW: $80.
Based on the estimated premiums for a 100 MHz faster processor, larger hard drive, addditional memory, and CD-RW, the 600 MHz iMac is worth about $215 more than the 500 MHz model, making it a slightly better buy at $999 if you have any reason at all to own a CD burner.
LCD iMac Value
Apple offers the new flat panel iMac in three different configurations. Here's a quick overview:
700 MHz G4
700 MHz G4
800 MHz G4
128 MB RAM
256 MB RAM
256 MB RAM
40 GB hard drive
40 GB hard drive
60 GB hard drive
Compared with the $999 classic iMac, the CD-RW G4 iMac runs 100 MHz faster, has the G4 processor, includes the same size hard drive, has half the memory, only has a single built-in speaker, includes an LCD monitor, and has a better CD-RW drive (24/10/32x vs. 8/4/24x).
By way of comparison, a Power Mac G4/733 with a 15" Studio Display (which sells for $599 all by itself) would set you back $2,298. Same speed, same display, smaller footprint, less expansion options, $1,000 difference in price.
If you don't need to watch DVDs, have expansion slots, or multiple internal drive bays, the $1,299 LCD iMac is a great way to get G4 power without a premium price. The $1,000 saved compared with the Power Mac pays for some very nice FireWire peripherals.
The $1,499 LCD iMac adds Apple's Pro speakers, 128 MB additional memory, and the famous Combo drive, which lets you burn CDs and watch DVDs. A comparable Power Mac system would cost $2,557. The middle LCD iMac is another great value.
Until now, if you wanted a Mac with a SuperDrive, you had to buy the $2,499 867 MHz Power Mac G4. Equipped with speakers and a 15" Studio Display, this package sells for $3,207 - over $1,400 more than the $1,799 LCD iMac, which is far more compact.
Every one of these iMacs is an excellent value. We're thrilled that Apple kept the classic iMac available and believe the $999 model is a better value than the $799 iMac unless you have no need to burn CDs.
As for the flat panel iMacs, start by looking at your media needs. If you want to burn DVDs, there's never been a better value than the SuperDrive iMac. If you want to watch DVD but not burn them, the $1,499 LCD iMac is an excellent value.
There are questions surrounding the $1,299 flat panel iMac. It's worth the $300 premium over the $999 classic iMac only if you're sold on the LCD monitor, small footprint, and superior ergonomics of the new design. The extra CPU speed and extra power of the G4's Velocity Engine will help a bit in OS X, but aren't enough of an advantage to justify the cost. This model is a good value and looks very cool. Choosing between it and the CD-RW classic iMac is going to be a subjective decision.
All in all, Apple has done a great job improving the value of the classic iMac over nearly four years and now offers a midrange model that wears the iMac's name while offering the Power Mac's performance and occupying the niche left empty when the Cube was discontinued.
Links for the Day
- Mac of the Day: Color Classic, introduced 1993.02.01. A cult classic, this was the compact Mac with color that everyone had been waiting for.
- Support Low End Mac
- World Book Encyclopedia 2012 DVD, Tommy Thomas, Reviews, 2013.03.05. "You may be asking yourself, in an age of Wikipedia and instant information, is World Book still relevant?"
- Vintage Computer Festival SouthEast, April 20-21, 2013, Simon Royal, Mac Spectrum, 2013.02.25. Old Apple gear and old PCs.
- iMessage: The Ultimate Messaging Service?, Simon Royal, Mac Spectrum, 2013.02.21. In most ways, Apple's iMessage is far superior to BlackBerry Messenger.
- More links in our archive.
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