I want to get in a plug for the latest best buy in computers, the new 24-inch iMac, just in case you might not be aware of it yet. For considerably less than you could get a 20" iMac for a couple of years ago, you get a 24" LCD monitor, a 640-GB hard drive, 4 GB of RAM, a fast processor and excellent nVidia graphics processing, and of course the best operating system money can buy, all in a streamlined stainless-steel-and-glass case that's no bigger than most flat-panel monitors alone—and all for the bargain-basement price of $1500*. To put you in context, that's about half what I paid for my first Apple, a 512k "Fat Mac" Macintosh in 1984. (Of course, that included a nifty dot-matrix printer than I sometimes wish I still had—but on the other hand, those were 1984 dollars, which bought a lot more of most things than 2009 dollars do. They sure bought a lot less computer.)
This is a significant bargain*. The existence of the new 24-inch iMac, and its excellence, is the direct result of the sales of gazillions of iPods, iPhones, and iTunes songs, all of which have got Apple awash in cash and which now essentially subsidize the Mac line. The Mac's market share in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2004, to nearly 9%. Apple's share of personal computer profits is more like 17%.
The 24-inch iMac is even a little cheaper at Best Buy. I was looking at this machine there the other night, across the table from a guy who'd just bought one. The salesman was regaling the guy with a cock-and-bull story about how the "Apple representative himself" had been telling him "just the other day" about how he wished more Apple customers would have their computers "optimized" before they bought them, a service he was willing to perform behind the scenes at point-of-purchase for just $29.95. He had a spiel about how Apple software is "hard to update" because "each update has to be loaded, then you have to reboot, then another one can be loaded, then you have to reboot again," which is "all very time-consuming and complicated when you have to do it yourself," and so on. It was bad enough that I took the guy aside once the salesman had gone and told him that everything he'd just been told was total, complete bullshit; he said he'd suspected as much.
I wonder how many people don't? And, at what point does "salesmanship" become outright fraud? I think that salesman stepped across that particular line. For the record, it's safe to say that no Apple representative has ever said that a brand new iMac has to be "optimized" by a fast-talking Best Buy salesman before it's safe to take it home. If you buy one there, don't let them break the seal on the box.
Regardless, the 24-inch iMac is a superior product, slicker 'n hot crankcase oil on wet pavement at a hot rod show. I will now cede the floor to those who think Vista is just as good as Leopard, and a $400 Dell is all anybody needs, and how I should stick to photography, etc. Do bear in mind I'm not a computer expert, or even a computer enthusiast. All I can do is testify to constant daily use of my 20" iMac, and, apart from one solitary kernel panic early on, zero problems.
*Yes, I thought it was high time for us to be treated once again to 20 comments about how you can build your own Linux machine from parts far more cheaply. You might as well suggest that I build my own car.
Featured Comment by Geoff: "I'm a big fan of these machines for working on images up to about, I don't know, 5000x4000 pixels? Maybe a little bigger than that, but not much. DigLloyd's excellent Guide to Optimizing Photoshop Performance will tell the tale about why the maximum image size you can efficiently work on on these machines would be capped (and no, it's not because of CPU speed, it's because of available RAM and the lack of fast hard disk I/O on anything except the boot volume).
"Still, finding a way to cheaply outfit a 24" iMac (I'd go for the 2.93GHz variant but that's me) with the 8GB of RAM it so richly deserves and a Firewire 800 RAID system to use as a fast Photoshop scratch disk and primary image storage would probably raise the practical image size limit to almost double the figure I quote above.
"Then the only real drawback (for me, my preferences, etc.) is that you have no choice but to take the glossy screen, which means overhauling your workstation lighting, wearing a lot of black while you process images and accepting calibration results that aren't as good as they could be. Only you can decide if that's a big drawback for you.
"Another thing these are great for is as a tethered capture station for a lower-ish megapixel camera. If you're doing table top or still life, why not plop one of these down nearby and check your work at 24" instead of 2.5 or 3? Sure, you don't want to drive a Phase P65+ with it, but a reasonably MP'd Can-ikon prosumer camera would mate up very nicely with it and either Capture One Pro or the manufacturer's tethering software and something like Lightroom. That way you can learn how almost all studio, corporate, celebrity and advertising photography is done in this day and age (although to truly experience it, you have to have a cranky art director sitting in front of the capture station telling you to 'make it more blue').
"Overall, highly recommended for those who don't want to shell out another grand+ for a Mac Pro."
Mike replies: The bit about the cranky AD made me laugh....
Featured Comment by Bahi: "The 24" iMac comes with a proper, 8-bit-per-channel (24-bit) display but the 20" model doesn't. Like most LCD computer displays sold and almost all laptop displays, the display of the current 20" iMac has a 6-bit-per-channel unit that uses a dithering technique to extends its range. It's fine for regular, non-photographic use but one of the most irritating and least talked about side-effects is that digital noise in areas of shadow can be crazily amplified in some situations. The display is trying to reproduce a noise pattern built upon subtle colour variations and will sometimes resort to dithering to achieve its results; the dithering itself can then appear to us as noise and the combined effect can be startlingly misleading. I had a pet theory (unproven) that a good chunk of forum complaints about noise came from people looking at their results on 6-bpc displays (cheaper LCDs, laptops) and not prints.
"If you're buying a separate LCD display in the UK, look for a specification that says '16.7 million colours' rather than '16.2 million colours.' That seems to be the somewhat sneaky method that UK retailers have settled upon to distinguish the 6-bit displays from the 8-bit.
"In the previous, plastic bodied Intel iMacs, both the 20" and 24" models offered full 24-bit colour and the 17" was the exception."