Choosing a video-editing platform from Apple's current desktop range is a conundrum. The Mac Pro towers do provide 'best of class' performance but for everyday video editing it's a case of overkill. Xeon processors and ECC memory are a needless extravagance and the Mac Pro's cost reflects this with the cheapest machine tipping the scales at £1,699.
It's therefore understandable that many users opt to stay with what they currently know: a Windows-based PC tower, which costs a fraction of this price and is configured at component level to their exact specification. However, this leaves them without the possibility of running the popular Final Cut Pro...
To avoid the Mac Pro's expense but to provide an opportunity of running Apple's video applications, next in Apple's desktop range is the all-new iMac. Unlike the Mac Pro, the iMac is, and always has been, a consumer computer and like previous iMac incarnations, it is an all-in-one device.
The new iMac is available in two screen sizes: 20in and 24in. We feel the 24in version is the best choice for video editing work. It enjoys a respectable 1920 x 1200 resolution as opposed to the 1680 x 1050 resolution you'll find in the 20in model.
This new iMac is designed to handle consumer-based tasks with speed and grace, and for the most part it accomplishes this remit. There are, however, limitations.
Apple has evidently brokered a great deal on aluminium, as the fourth issue of the iMac features a similar glass and aluminium look to the MacBook Pro, Apple Displays, iPhone and iPod Touch.
The new iMac uses the same pedestal design as the Apple Cinema Displays. It is simple and requires very little pressure to tilt the screen to the desired angle. The outside fascia is bereft of screws and seams, bar one screw panel on the underside of the screen that gives access to the two memory slots.
On the right of the screen is the slot-loading optical drive, while the rear of the screen provides the following ports, three USB 2.0, one FireWire 400, one FireWire 800, headphones, microphone, digital/analogue out, gigabit networking and video out.
While the iMac boasts Bluetooth and wireless networking there is no external sign of them. The built-in iSight camera is equally well-concealed, housed top-centre of the screen, along with a built-in microphone.
Personal reaction to the design will vary but it is difficult not to admire the build quality of the system. It is a beautifully manufactured piece of technology with a more purposeful look than previous iMacs.
A glass-covered screen was something we had reservations about. The glass screen laptops we've previously looked at have always generated mixed opinions. However, the iMac dispelled these concerns. The display is crisp, uniformly bright and free of dead pixels.
This model also comes supplied with Apple's new keyboard design, and this has proved to be yet another contentious item of hardware. It is aluminium in style and incredibly slim, but from a tactile perspective we found it more similar to a laptop keyboard.
Our supplied keyboard also had an intermittently working right arrow key. Furthermore, while the new keyboard matches the aesthetics of the aluminium iMac, the supplied Mighty Mouse and remote control remain in white plastic. It seems even Apple is not beyond the odd aesthetic faux pas!
The Mighty Mouse itself is a double-edged sword. Many users will love the lateral scrolling capability, which is great for shifting around areas previously un-scrollable, and the mouse does offer a significantly quicker experience than using the keyboard.
On the other hand (pun intended!) some users have experienced discomfort after just a few days use, so it might be wise to have an alternative mouse.
To speed things up, almost as soon as we had unpacked the iMac we added a further 2GB of memory. The iMac utilises laptop-style DDR 667 SODIMM modules and upgrading memory is a simple matter of removing the memory slot cover (a single cross head screw) and pushing the new module in place.
4GB is the system's limit and additional memory can be sourced inexpensively. For example, our additional 2GB module cost just £60. With 3GB of memory installed the iMac zips along, running the entire Final Cut Studio package without complaint.
Hard drive space in our review model was a 7200RPM, 320GB SATA drive. That the iMac uses a 3.5in hard drive is an impressive feat itself given the meagre depth of the iMac. Standard storage space is more than enough for all the applications we could ever want to install and acceptable for limited DV material. However, the space soon gets eaten up as DVDs are built and longer projects assembled.
Build-to-order options from Apple do allow for up to a terabyte of storage but always as a single drive. This is a sticking point as a separate physical drive for media is almost always preferable. External storage is the obvious answer but while the iMac caters for FireWire and USB2 drives, it lacks an eSATA port.
Considering the Apple desktop range we feel the Mac Mini is underpowered, the iMac restrictive and the Mac Pro is overkill. What we want from Apple is a Mac 'Middle'. A consumer tower with the same computing heart as the iMac but including the options of easy storage and video card upgrades with the ability to run a monitor of choice.
Whether such a machine will be forthcoming we can only hope. Suffice to say we'll be watching the next Apple keynote speech with fingers crossed. The new iMac is a great system but just not perfect for the frequent video editor.