The iMac Channel

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 theymostly stay out of the way and get your work done. They also haveimpressive longevity both physically and as practical computers. Eventoday, as we enter the age of OS X, Macs build nearly five yearsago can run Apple's latest OS. (Not as nicely as newer Macs, but atleast they can run it. More on that subject when we get our low-end G3sand OS X.)

Since they were announced in May 1998, the iMacs have been Apple'svalue leader. The firstiMac retailed at US$1,299 in August 1998, and Apple trimmed theprice to $1,199 with the Revision C iMac in JanuaryiMac1999. In October 1999, Apple shipped the 350 MHz blueberry iMac for$999. Less than a year later, in September 2000, Apple was selling a350 MHz indigo iMacfor US$799.

In just a little over two years, Apple had gone from a 233 MHz iMacwith 32 MB of RAM and a 4 GB hard drive to an entry level modelrunning at 350 MHz with 64 MB of RAM, a 7 GB hard drive, andApple'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 anAirPort card - along with a $100 price increase. Last July the entrylevel moved to 500 MHz,added a CD burner, and saw another $100 price increase, bringing theentry level temporarily to $999.

Classic iMac Value

But in September 2001, Apple announced a CD-ROM version of thatcomputer for $200 less. The entry level was now over twice as fast asthe original iMac (500 MHz vs. 233 MHz), four times the memory (128 MBvs. 32 MB), five times the hard drive space (20 GB vs. 4 GB),vastly better accelerated video with eight times the video memory (16MB vs. 2 MB), along with FireWire, AirPort, and better inputdevices. All that for $799 - and we christened it Apple's best valuelast October in How Good a Value is the$799 iMac?

That iMac remains as one of two "classic" models. It's every bit asgood a value today as it was in October, but how does it compare to theother classic option, the $999 600 MHz iMac?

For $200 more, you gain about 20% more processor speed, twice aslarge a hard drive (40 GB!), twice the memory (256 MB), and a CD burnerthat's just waiting for you to use iTunes. It's hard to put a value onCPU speed, but not hard to look up pricing on hard drives, RAM, andCD-RW drives. Here's what we found:

  • From SonnetTechnologies: G3/400 ZIF upgrade, $250; G3/500 ZIF upgrade, $300.From XLR8: G3/400 ZIF upgrade, $179; G3/500 ZIF upgrade, $269. Estimatedpremium of 600 MHz vs. 500 MHz G3: $100.
  • From Outpost.com: Seagate 20 GB 5400 RPM, $89; Maxtor 20 GB 7200RPM, $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 RAMmodules, $23 and up; 256 MB RAM modules, $47 and up. Premium for extramemory: 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 isworth about $215 more than the 500 MHz model, making it a slightlybetter buy at $999 if you have any reason at all to own a CDburner.

LCD iMac Value

Apple offers the new flat panel iMac in threedifferent configurations. Here's a quick overview:

CD-RW, $1,299

Combo, $1,499

SuperDrive, $1,799

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

mono speaker

Pro speakers

Pro speakers

Compared with the $999 classic iMac, the CD-RW G4 iMac runs 100 MHzfaster, has the G4 processor, includes the same size hard drive, hasLCD iMachalf the memory, only has a single built-inspeaker, 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 expansionoptions, $1,000 difference in price.

If you don't need to watch DVDs, have expansion slots, or multipleinternal drive bays, the $1,299 LCD iMac is a great way to get G4 powerwithout a premium price. The $1,000 saved compared with the Power Macpays for some very nice FireWire peripherals.

The $1,499 LCD iMac adds Apple's Pro speakers, 128 MB additionalmemory, and the famous Combo drive, which lets you burn CDs and watchDVDs. A comparable Power Mac system would cost $2,557. The middle LCDiMac 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" StudioDisplay, this package sells for $3,207 - over $1,400 more than the$1,799 LCD iMac, which is far more compact.

Conclusion

Every one of these iMacs is an excellent value. We're thrilled thatApple kept the classic iMac available and believe the $999 model is abetter value than the $799 iMac unless you have no need to burnCDs.

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 theSuperDrive iMac. If you want to watch DVD but not burn them, the $1,499LCD iMac is an excellent value.

There are questions surrounding the $1,299 flat panel iMac. It'sworth the $300 premium over the $999 classic iMac only if you're soldon the LCD monitor, small footprint, and superior ergonomics of the newdesign. The extra CPU speed and extra power of the G4's Velocity Enginewill help a bit in OS X, but aren't enough of an advantage tojustify 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 asubjective decision.

All in all, Apple has done a great job improving the value of theclassic iMac over nearly four years and now offers a midrange modelthat wears the iMac's name while offering the Power Mac's performanceand occupying the niche left empty when the Cube was discontinued. LEM

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