Thursday, February 25, 2010

PC vs Mac update: questions about the iMac

Due to your comments, I've been looking seriously at owning an Apple Mac. Yesterday I played with an Apple iMac - a 27" iMac to be precise. I'm now an iMac convert - the graphics are stunning!

I greatly appreciate all the help I got from the good people at the the Apple Store and John Lewis Store at Bluewater for both being patient with me as I tried out different aspects.

Specifically I was very impressed with the way the Apple store has ALL its machines linked up to the Internet so you can check out how different aspects work. So much more effectve in showing you how machines complete real day to day tasks. I was looking at this blog in no time at all!

Below you can find:
  • my comments on aspects I've tested out and my conclusions to date
  • my techie questions which I'm going to get addressed in an appointment with one of the Apple tech guys next week. Watch this space - this may result in me coming home with an iMac!
The iMac - this is it.
The only things missing are
(1) the power cable
(2) ethernet cable to my modem router
and (3) the USB cable to my printer!

Conclusions to date

Reflection issues with glossy screen: I'd forgotten to take my photo file of photos with me. However the iMacs in the Apple store are linked up to the Internet and consequently I was able to access and run slideshows of some of my Flickr sets as a test for aspects of the screen fidelity.

Can I recommend my Flickr set of Tours market for anybody wanting to test the full gamut of colours and the level of crispness possible with the HD screens on an iMac in an Apple store!

In addition, the full 27-inch, 2560-by-1440 display and 1000:1 contrast ratio in iphotos, imovies and the ability to calibrate the screen left me very impressed. It was the definition on the meercats in the desert which won me over!

The glossy screen and glare/reflection issue: Although the light in the Apple Store is very even it is also very bright and I was picking up reflections on the screen. This is one of my bugbear issues which I decided needed a thorough test through actual use of a machine. I had a long play in the Apple Store and then went over to the second floor of John Lewis where the lighting is much better. There I found that after a bit I stopped noticing any glare or reflection - just like people had told me last week!

The 27" screen flickering problem: I'm aware of the problem the 27" iMacs had when first produced and I do know they've fixed it and I'm guessing will be making very sure they don't have any more problems after 'the fix'. I now just need to make sure that the screen works first time out of the box.

Energy efficiency and reduction of power and heat: I'm also becoming more and more impressed with what I'm learning about the way Apple is focusing on energy efficiency. Quite apart from saving my electricity bills, this is what is going to reduce heat/fan problems for heavy duty users like me.

Mac keyboard: I'm still not really sure about the Apple iMac keyboard. I liked the keyboard action but found it cramped. I don't quite understand the point of having a very small keyboard if you've got a very large screen! Jury still out on that one and it's being added to my techie question list below

Mac mouse: I loved stroking my wireless magic mouse which is very responsive. I didn't realise it also swiped so I'm looking forward to that. I think it's going to be OK with my tenosynovitis in my index finger which is the prime consideration - but so long as iMac can use wireless optical mice of the microsoft variety that will be fine as a back-up

Audio: This is not a priority for me - but it was very good (no reverberation on the base for example) and the controls gave a good level of control over volume.

My techie questions
I think the big question now boils down (probably) to Which iMac? This is the compare the iMac page on their store website.

I've still got some techie questions to pin down - and if you're interested do continue reading as this is my note of issues for the tech guy at Apple. I'll aso be investigating these online and trying to find sites which provide good advice and information.

Please let me know if you know any good reference sites.

Might a
Mac mini and a 24" screen be a better option?

This was a suggestion by one of the Apple staff. Probably not as the 24" screen is the old screen and is not HD - but I'm going to check that one out - particularly the Mac Mini server option (tech spec) - however I suspect my new found aversion to nvidia graphics (the reason for the death of my Sony Vaio) might be enough to deter me from that option.

Which processor?
Should I choose the all singing all dancing Intel quad core i5 (+ £256 for top end iMac which also includes faster graphics processor) - and do I want to pay that much? Or is the the standard 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo OK ? This page gives an indication of performance differences. There's also the option of the faster 3.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (+£163). I may well stick to the standard config. I need to investigate all of this further - with respect to power/heat/energy efficiency.

Which graphics card?

I know I'd definitely go for an ATI Radeon card and that's because I now won't touch Nvidia Graphics cards after what I learned about their fraudulent behaviour last week.

I think my preference is for the ATI Radeon HD 4670 with 256MB of GDDR3 memory (tech spec/review) because this card has an emphasis on being quiet and energy efficient - and I don't need gaming power! I've also found out that the GGDR3 memory is also more energy efficient. I checked out the visual results on the 27" HD screen and was very impressed. I'm currently using an ATI Radeon HD 4650 with 512MB of dedicated memory with an old screen and I saw detail on this photo of one of Monet's nympheas which I didn't know was htere! I've got a better camera than I thought I had!

The 27-inch iMac with dual-core processor has options for one of the following:
  • ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics processor with 256MB of GDDR3 memory
  • ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics processor with 512MB of GDDR3 memory (+ £123)
The question is whether it is worth it to upgrade to the ATI Radeon HD 4850 with 512MB of GDDR3 memory and what does that do to heat and energy efficiency - still got to check that one out.

27" versus 21" imac?
The ATI Radeon HD 4670 is available on both. The 21.5" would be easier to accomodate and not as heavy. The 27" is stunning and would let me easily have two screens up and running in parallel at the same time. However is the 21" more efficient?

500MB or a 1TB hard drive?

I thought this was an issue but I now realise that the 500MB hard drive only comes with the Essentially this boils down to whether I want a 21.5" screen or a 27" as both 27" screens automatically come with a terabyte hard drive.

Partition or dual run?
I know that I can run Windows on a Mac. The question is how!

I'm intending to have the machine set up so that it can run Windows as well. The question is whether to:
  • partition using Bootcamp so that I need to hard boot each time to access the Mac side or Windows (see Boot Camp: Booting into Windows). This seems to suggest that gaming and auto ca optiuons should be run using bootcamp as they need 100% of system resources
Boot Camp is now a built-in feature of Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard and requires a Mac with Intel processor.

Virtualization—how does that work?

Virtualization uses software to emulate PC hardware and create a "virtual machine" running alongside the Mac operating system, giving instant access to any desired Windows applications. Today, Windows is the most common "virtual machine" on the Mac, but you can also use virtualization to run Linux and other operating systems.
Either way I'm going to need to buy a proper copy of Windows 7. But I could then load my Microsoft Office and PC Elements 7 on the Windows side and continue using them.

I think I'm sure I can wait to decide until after I've got my new imac and can partition or upload dual run software at any time. However I tend to like to get set up issues sorted asap when I get a new machine.

My questions include:
  • Which is best - partition using bootcamp or dual run? (I'm going to be checking this out on the internet before talking to the tech guy). I'm not a gamer but I don't like slow applications.
  • Do people have difficulty setting up Windows 7 on an Apple?
  • If I'm having trouble getting Windows 7 setup will Apple provide support?
  • If using boot camp, how does it work in terms of accessing files on the windows side?
  • Can I load my other Windows software - and how does that work with dual running?
Security software for Windows: Several questions:
  • How do I load Kaspersky Anti Virus on a dual running iMac?
  • Can I load my Kaspesky Internet Security 10 to address the security issues of Windows? How do the different configurations of a partitioned drive as opposed to dual running impact on secrurity software?
If opting for dual run, which is the best dual run software?There seem to be two software products which allow it to dual run

  • Parallels Desktop 5.0 English (Mac) (£59.95) lets you run Windows programs seamlessly on your iMac, without rebooting. With full support for Snow Leopard and Windows 7.
  • VMware Fusion 3 (£69.95) lets you run the most demanding Mac and Windows applications side-by-side at maximum speeds without rebooting.
General consensus seems to be that such software slows the machine down - but is that just the Windows side and were these comments coming from people using Vista or Windows 7?

So far I've found this article from MacTech (Edition 26): Head-to-Head: Parallels Desktop for Mac vs. VMware Fusion (I do wish techie guys would learn how to date their techie articles!)
Both VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop for Mac are excellent products, and both allow you to run Windows XP and Windows 7 quite well (except for graphics in VMware Fusion under 7). In the end, your decision as to which product you should take into account what's most important to you: speed, footprint, graphics capabilities, features, user interface, OS you want to run, and more all come into play......

Here's how things look in general terms for each of the test suites that we ran:

Figure 23: Chart: Performance Winner in Each Test Suite
From MacTech: Head-to-Head: Parallels Desktop for Mac vs. VMware Fusion
I think that gives a pretty clear direction as to software - but what do you think?

Will an Apple iMac work with a Microsoft media keyboard without a problem?

Key question for me as keyboards are critical for my tenosynovitis.

Do I want to configure my own iMac and if so what would I make different?

This is the one where I've not even started to think but there are somehelpful pages on the website.
I've always been inclined to bung is as much Ram as possible. I've currently got 4 GB DDR2-SDRAM and the imac I think I will get has got 4GB (two 2GB SO-DIMMs) of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM - but could go up to 16GB. It will cost me £163 to upgrade to 8GB

The rest of the queries relate to the queries identified above.

How much new software do I need to buy and where's the best discount?

I think I need to buy:
I could buy:
  • PC Elements 8 for Mac (£75.95 from Apple Store or £) There is no Elements 7 for Mac. This isn't strictly speaking an extra costs since I don't own version 8 anyway. However I'm concerned about review comments about the lack of printer options.
  • Office 2008 for Mac - Home & Student (£109.05)
However Microsoft Office 10 is out in June 2010 - so my inclination is to wait until then and then buy whichever seems most appropriate.

Apple Store or John Lewis or Amazon - and what about the guarantee and after service?

Still not sure on that one. Except that
  • the price on Amazon UK is MORE than the price from an Apple store or Apple online or John Lewis!
  • John Lewis is out of stock online and only has one in stock
There's no price difference on the model I think I'm interested in and I'm not sure price would factor into this one. My prime consideration is after service. This is me with my pessimistic hat on - supposing something goes wrong. John Lewis offer a two year guarantee - but they have to send it away to be fixed. I know I will buy The AppleCare Protection Plan for the imac to get three year cover with Apple - and Apple will fix it for me on the spot in store if they can. I'm going to get both to give me their best pitch and see what I get!

Independent Reviews

[Update] Just found some independent reviews
What do you think?

As always, I'm inviting comments, views and advice from you all. You were so fantastic in commenting on the series of posts last week that I was telling the Manager in the Apple Store all about you! Even he was impressed by my chart of your recommendations!

So what do you think?
Note: For those who missed the posts last week this is the story so far!
  • PC vs Mac for artists - explaining the reason for the exercise and inviting views - which attracted 50+ comments
  • PCs versus Apple Mac - for artists (Part 2) - in which I tried so summarise what people were saying in the first post and I created a chart of recommendations - and which also got a lot of comments
  • Decision time: pros and cons of PC vs Mac for artists - in which I explained my own particular set-up and key considerations - and then applied these to analysis of what I'd found out to date (not all of which is on this blog. I've been looking at websites for a long time)