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)


Sophie said...

Hi - great post as usual.My iMac 27" is on order.....very excited about it. I'll see if I can find any links to sites I found interesting. Would love to know more about 'printing options' in Photoshop Elements?? I did not find anything negative about it and ordered it too (£57 at amazon!). I wasn't planning on changing my printer too!
Will go look...

vtislands said...

Whatever choices you make, make sure you get the 3-year Apple Care Warranty. You'll be glad you did.

Making A Mark said...

Which one did you plump for in the end Sophie?

Making A Mark said...

Given that I haven't had a PC made since 2003 that has lasted more than 2 years I'm very definitely buying the extra cover

Personally I think it's because manufacurers have rushing too much on ever greater speed for gamers and have been skimping on energy efficiency and good design for the rest of - and that's one of the factors which has sold the Apple iMac to me

Kimberly Kelly Santini said...

I have an iMac 27" - LOVE IT! I run Parallels with Windows 7 - not a big fan (it's unstable and can lock up certain serial ports/peripheral devices in a Windows hoggish sort of way), but a necessary evil as Quicken (my finance/invoicing package) does not have a Mac platform. My goal is to strip Parallels from my system as soon as I can find a suitable alternative to Quicken.

However, during my Windows to Mac conversion, Parallels did make it possible for me to stretch my software purchases across multiple months. I was able to phase into buying Mac versions of Creative Suite 4, Daylite (and subsequent data conversion), and the other packages I needed.

BTW, I highly recommend OpenOffice, a free shareware package that is the equivalent of MS Office.

Happy shopping!

Peggy Montano & Paintings said...

Oh, way too techie for me but just wanted to say I have added the MacBook to use along with my Gateway desktop.
I am one of those 'love the Mac' folks.

Unknown said...

I wrote a blog post a while back on the question of choosing a 21.5inch or 27" iMac. I also addressed the graphica cards issue:

Now that I have Aperture 3 software, I'm happy about the dedicated GPU in my iMac.

Kit said...

Use iMac all the time, was a TV producer for twenty years where macs are standard because of their high graphic qualities. Admit to having used pcs reluctantly but only for data input they're too clunky for anything else. Macs are so smooth!

Anonymous said...

Just buy the 27" monster and live happily ever after. I have one and it's insane to say the least.

Paul Ware said...

Daily headline Mac news site included Making a Mark today in their Analysis/Commentary/Editorial/Opinion section. Many links and tips to explore.

Ben said...

Firstly, re Microsoft Office for Mac, I would look at the iWork package - unless you are a heavy Office user, I find Pages lovely to work with, and Numbers is very easy on the eye compared to Excel.

As for the hard drive, go for 1TB, you can never have enough space, they always fill up in the end!

Ben - A happy Macbook owner (just found your site and love it by the way, starting your sketching classes this week as I'm finishing Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and want more fun exercises while I decide which book to dive into next!)

Zsu said...

If you had thermal issues before, you should probably avoid the Mac Mini, as it can run quite hot. The iMac has larger area to take care of all the heat, so should be a safer bet.

A very good resource on energy efficient (thus cooler and quieter) computers is They review the various computer parts focused on energy efficiency and quiet operation - and since the Macs are just PCs with Mac OS on them, you should find a lot of relevant info there. Their forums are also excellent with a lot of helpful people.

Sophie said...

Aren't Mac's supposed to give a lot less trouble than pc's and last a lot longer? I am relying on all these mac users that say they never had problems ! ;-)
I just ordered my iMac without any extra cover....!

CaveCanem said...

Just came across your blog by chance and found your approach to addressing past computer shortcomings and future needs very thorough... I came to the Mac in 1987 when I blew over £5k of my redundancy in buying a Mac SE all-in-one (twin floppy drive, no hard drive and a built-in 9" monochrome screen), Laserwriter and Quark + Illustrator software... The resultant 'professional' quality of the illustrated documents I was able to produce helped me get work which effectively paid off the cost inside a few months.

I've never regretted the initial investment and have been 'Mac' ever since as I find I spend more time getting things done than sorting the computer glitches out (the fate of many of my PC-orientated friends, quite a few of whom have been 'converted' over the years !).

The choice of manufacturer and machine is clearly yours, but - in addition to the installed iLife software (and excellent, extremely cost-effective iWork suite) you need to be aware that you'd be able to get free tutorials (or cheap, in-depth one-to-one sessions) at Apple Stores, free advice on hardware/software issues if you book in at the Genius Bar and, if you 'join' your local MUG (MacUser Group) lots of help with even the most obscure problems via e-mail/meetings.

Don't be mistaken in thinking that Macs are perfect - they're not BUT the fact that the same firm provides both the (increasingly capable) system software and the hardware on which it runs makes for a better integrated experience than generally proves to be the case with IBM compatible PCs... Not perfect but probably the next best thing !

Anyway, good luck with your change of direction...

Jan Pope said...

I think you'll be happy with the Mac. Unix (the underlying operating system) is so much more stable than Windows. You can run windows apps on your mac by using VMware. The VMware folks offer the single user version free. It's quite stable, although a bit of a memory hog. I've used it for years - since it was first developed for software engineers. Get the biggest drive that you can afford. There is no such thing as too much storage! You may be able to get away without Office - check out Openoffice can read MS Word docs, and has lots of the same features and the price is right. Happy Mac-ing!

Making A Mark said...

I was curious and checked my stats.

28% of the people reading this post are using MacOSX

Four Seasons in a Life said...

Greetings Katherine,

Here is an idea, if you are using a Stat Counter you can see what computer, system and browser they are using to help give you an idea other than getting a response from your guests.

Now lets get on with the Mac.

I have been using a Mac since they first came out, after having had two different Atari's, I have never looked back and now my son works for Apple.

When it comes to screen size, I always say bigger is better. Being a graphic artist, screen real estate matters, of course the pocket book needs to be balanced at the end of the day.

I personally would not run PC applications on a Mac, only because PC applications attract viruses. In all the years that I have had a MAC, I have had no viruses. Yet some of my friends who have a PC, have had there problems.

As for WORD, Apple comes with iLife and I suggest purchasing iWork. When WORD comes out, then purchase it. Having both iWork and WORD is recommended.

Now if you work with a lot of photographs, I personally would not use iPhoto. I do not like when programs take over and I store all my images and music on their individual portable hard drive and not on the computer.

Therefore a 1/2 TB is enough.

Make sure you get the new mouse, it is a killer.

The keyboard that comes with the make you should replace for an extended keyboard. As for the low profile of the keys, well it is less strain on the fingers.

Glad you are making the switch.

Warmest regards,

Making A Mark said...

Thanks Egmont - I take a lot of photos - and the hard drive is just one of the backups for them. I'm planning to do more videos - so I'll take the 1TB

Tina Mammoser said...

Just some quick responses:

You can use a different keyboard! :)

I've only run Bootcamp and it was fine, but it is a separate bootup. This was okay for me as I generally just needed the PC when I booted it, but if you'll be working back and forth you might find dual-boot annoying. It's very simple to do, really. And remember that if you have an existing pc with a legal copy of Windows you can use that copy (assuming you have the seriel number) and install it on your Mac - I did this and simply had to phone Microsoft (an automated system, it'll prompt you to do it during install) for an alternative serial. So if you have XP legally you probably don't need to buy it again.

MS Office - you can always download the free Open Office until you decide what MS Office version to buy. Do NOT use iWork - it SUCKS. Seriously. And I'm a Apple crazy-fan. :) In fact I generally uninstall the Apple iLife software when I buy a new machine.

Harddrive: get the biggest you can. I don't know about the iMac but ask around if it's possible to change out the hard drive. Apple charge way over the odds for harddrive space. I swapped a 360Gb drive into my MacBook myself (it came with around 80Gb) for total cost of under £75. Anyone know if iMacs are easily opened? (I'm happy to help you with this if it is possible. :) )

Caroline Roberts said...

I would get the bigger screen and the bigger drive - you won't regret it. I love my second screen and wouldn't do without it now.

For office software I use iWork for my own stuff and NeoOffice to open and use MS files.

Egmont - what do you use instead of iPhoto? I'm finding it slow and unwieldy (I do have a LOT of photos) and would love to try something else.

Making A Mark said...