My Turn

iMac Underpowered for MP3s

D. Pierce - 2001.03.06

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

There has been a lot of hubbub already now about the new iMac colors, but I realized something today: It doesn't New iMac colorsmatter, at least not to me.

I consider my self a power user. I have a pretty powerful system, but I would use a new iMac with pleasure. Yes, even the Dalmatian one. (Which is not, since it's blue, really all that dalmatian-ish.)

However, I have also read a bit about Apple and their new music strategy. As a musician, as well as someone who relies upon Apple products (and therefore Apple's continued existence), this concerns me. I think Apple is going on about it all wrong.

You see, first of all, Apple is betting on MP3s as the music format. That's fine, in and of itself, disregarding the persistent gripes from audiophiles about sound quality. However, consider that most of the time people spend working with MP3s, other than listening to them, is sitting and waiting for their computer to encode and decode them. I would honestly be surprised it the 500 MHz iMac encoded more that 2, or maybe 2.25, times as fast as my trusty ol' iMac 233. That would put it, on a good day at a moderate quality MP3, maybe at 5x-6x encoding. That's pretty darn quick, but for $100 less than a new iMac, my "new" 7300 will rip the same CD at 7x or 8x. Plus, since it doesn't go any faster at the lowest quality settings, I'm pretty sure that's a limitation of the CD-ROM drive, not the CPU.

The amazing part? My 7300 is actually 140 MHz slower than the new iMac.

Enter the Velocity Engine

By Apple's own admission, the G4 is superior for any kind of multimedia work. Even without using Photoshop, I have found that to be the case. Using a program like iTunes, which is based on SoundJam MP (my encoder of choice), which supports the Velocity Engine, there is absolutely no reason that at least one of the iMacs shouldn't have a G4 CPU. The argument for a G4 powered iMac is stronger than ever now, 15" monitor or no 15" monitor.

Apple is shooting itself in the foot by not going out of the way to make the music experience as seamless as possible for new users. People in general, and especially musicians, are a generally impatient bunch. A G4, even a slow one, would go a long way towards speeding up the few multimedia tasks (like MP3 encoding) which the computers are being targeted for, while the rest of the system - the 5400 RPM hard drive and the 100 MHz system bus - prevent the system from actually being faster than the G4 towers.

RCA audio in and out on the motherboard would be nice too, but now I'm just dreaming.

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