AnandTech: Apple iMac G5 vs. iMac Intel Core Duo

“While it’s easy to argue that Apple had always planned to have Intel based Macs out as soon as Intel launched Core Duo, it’s really tough to say that the transition is ahead of schedule if major software support isn’t there (even some of Apple’s own applications won’t get support until March). These first generation of Intel based Macs are more like public beta tests rather than final platforms; while the hardware may be complete, as you will soon see, relying on binary translation to run any non-Universal applications isn’t the most pleasant thing in the world. However, Apple isn’t forcing the new platforms on their customers, as you still have the choice to purchase the PowerPC G4/G5 based systems at the same price if you desire,” Anand Lal Shimpi writes for AnandTech. “The new Intel based Macs are selling though, despite the early stage of the transition. And they are selling to who you would expect them to, the early adopters, the Mac enthusiasts, those who need a computer today and won’t upgrade for a very long time, oh and of course, some may find their way into my hands.”

“When Apple released the Mac mini I looked at it and thought they had struck gold; they basically took a notebook platform, massaged the shape, and stuck it in a wonderful form factor for the casual desktop user. In the process you lose the ease of internal access that larger form factors would offer, but the end result is very close to the perfect form factor for casual users. With the iMac, Apple has pretty much done the same thing; they’ve taken a notebook motherboard and processor, although this time combined it with a 3.5″ desktop hard drive, and mounted it behind a LCD panel – creating a very elegant desktop computer,” Lal Shimpi writes. “Apple has done the bare minimum and outfitted these two systems with 512MB of memory. I mention that 512MB is the bare minimum because it honestly is for OS X, but I will mention that one of the first upgrades I would perform on these machines is to bring them up to 1GB of memory. With only 512MB there were a number of cases during my normal use of the machines (which in this case didn’t include any heavy multitasking), that I found them swapping to disk. Just browsing the web or checking email didn’t trigger it, but it was once I started to really use any of the iLife ’06 or iWork ’06 applications that 512MB quickly became a burden.”

“One thing I encountered when running some of the benchmarks for this article was that the Intel based iMac used more memory than the PowerPC based iMac G5. Each application ends up taking up another 1 or 2MB on average on the Intel side, but it does add up,” Lal Shimpi writes. “For example, just after boot while sitting at the desktop there was a difference of 15MB between how much memory the iMac G5 and the Intel based iMac had in use. If you do end up with an Intel Mac, it is yet another reason to opt for more memory than the default 512MB.”

“At the heart of today’s comparison are two processors, Intel’s Core Duo and IBM’s PowerPC 970FX, otherwise known as the G5,” Lal Shimpi writes. “The first comparison is system power consumption at idle, this is with both identically configured systems being freshly booted and sitting on the desktop with no disk accesses or anything. Note that the systems weren’t left alone long enough for the hard drive to spin down yet. The Intel based iMac consumes about 2/3 of the power of the iMac G5, impressive and pretty much expected given what we’ve seen of the Core Duo in the past. The G5 is a solid competitor here, but the Core Duo is in a completely different league of power consumption. Under load, the difference in power consumption is just as pronounced – with the iMac G5 coming in at 96W while the Intel based iMac is at 62W. Once again, we are looking at approximately 2/3 the system level power consumption from the Intel based iMac.”

“If you find yourself running applications that are all Universal today, then the new iMac is a wonderful solution, however anything that requires Rosetta to run is going to hurt. If you absolutely have to buy a machine today and it absolutely had to be an iMac, the early adopter in me would still recommend the Intel based offering, but it would be full of painful times as you wait for application support,” Lal Shimpi writes. “While I don’t view Rosetta as a real option if you plan on getting any work done with an application, it is a way to ensure a very seamless transition between platforms. It is largely because of Apple’s self sufficiency and their small size that they could undertake such a large transition and succeed so very well at it, but regardless of the reasons, the end results are positive.”

Full article with much, much more, including benchmarks; a highly recommended read here.

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Related MacDailyNews articles:
Thurrott: ‘I highly recommend Apple’s new Intel-based iMac’ – January 31, 2006
Thurrott: ‘Nothing on Windows approaches the quality of Apple’s iLife ’06’ – January 31, 2006
Computerworld: Apple’s MacBook Pro ‘fast, really fast – looks like a real winner’ – January 28, 2006
MacSpeedZone: Apple’s iMac Core Duo nearly as fast as Power Mac G5 Quad – January 26, 2006
InfoWorld: Apple perfects the desktop personal computer with new iMac Core Duo – January 25, 2006
Flawed CNET review pans Apple’s iMac Core Duo with 7 out of 10 rating – January 23, 2006
Washington Post: Wait a month or so before buying Apple’s appealing new Intel-based iMac – January 22, 2006
Apple’s Intel-powered iMac provides a smooth transistion from PowerPC – January 21, 2006
PC Magazine review gives Apple iMac Intel Core Duo 4.5 out of 5 stars – January 20, 2006
Time names Apple iMac Core Duo ‘Gadget of the Week’ – January 20, 2006
Mossberg: New Intel-based iMac the best consumer desktop with the best OS and best software bundle – January 18, 2006

16 Comments

  1. Nice article, dont like his concluions. The iMac is not a beta to tide Apple over until the real deal comes out later in the year, The real deal is already here. It is the iMac. I own one and it is fantastic. If you must have a bigger screen get the 20″ but the 17″ is perfect otherwise.

  2. I don’t know way everyone is giving Rosetta a canning. I got a new intel mac and I’m using Photoshop, dreamweaver, Indesign and I can’t notice any difference. For this guy to say its painful is obsurd!

  3. Rosetta performance on the new Intel iMac (with at least 1GB of RAM installed) is at least equal to a fast G4 system. I very recently upgraded from a 1.42 GHz G4 Mac mini to a 17″ iMac Core Duo, and the PPC apps run at least as fast in Rosetta on my iMac as they did natively on my mini. I was surprised to see this first hand because that’s definitely not nearly as bad as many claimed the performance was going to be. So I also agree that Rosetta is getting a bad rap.

    As far as native/universal apps are concerned, they absolutely scream. They easily run as fast as on my friend’s Dual processor 2.3 GHz Power Mac G5 that was purchased just last summer (and cost him twice as much as my iMac did). I absolutely couldn’t be happier with my purchase of the new iMac.

  4. What are you used to though Ray? I’ve read that Rosetta performance has been likened to about a 1GHz G4. If you’re used to a G4 of this speed or lower, sure you’re going to find it perfectly acceptable. If you’re used to a faster G4 or even a G5 you absolutely are going to find Rosetta slow.

  5. Lance,
    Thanks. We all know that PPC apps would run slower on the Intel iMac than the PPC iMac. But I wanted to know how they compared against a G4. I said if PPC apps were as fast on a Intel iMac using Rosetta as on a G4, then Apples got a definite winner.

  6. Interesting note about memory footprint of the Core Duo iMac vs. the G5 version. I wonder what the comparison would be between a Core Duo iMac and a dual-core PowerMac? Basically, how much of the additional overhead is do to two processors vs. one.

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