The Practical Mac

eMac Test Drive

- 2002.07.09 - Tip Jar

If your wallet has prevented you from trading in that old G3 or Power Mac for a new top-o-the-line G4, your wait is over. The new eMac adds G4 power to Apple's consumer line of Macs.

The eMac was introduced in April, amid much fanfare, as an "education only" model. Featuring a 700 MHz G4 processor, a 17" CRT display, and starting at $999, the eMac represented the most bang for the buck in the entire Apple lineup. Several weeks ago, responding to consumer demand, Apple made the eMac available for purchase by anyone.

All models include a 40 GB Ultra ATA hard drive, Nvidia GeForce 2 MX with 32 MB of DDR SDRAM video supporting resolutions of up to The eMac1280 x 960, two FireWire and three USB ports, 128 MB of RAM (expandable to 1 GB), a 100 MHz system bus, a 256k on-chip level 2 cache that runs at processor speed, built-in 10/100 Base-T ethernet, an Apple Pro keyboard and mouse, and are AirPort-ready.

The $999 education-only base model does not have a modem and has a 32x CD-ROM drive; the $1,199 education model has a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive and a 56k modem. The consumer-only $1,099 model ships with a 24x10x32x CD-RW and a 56k modem.

Apple has not scrimped on the extras, as all models also feature an internal 16-watt digital amplifier, a built-in microphone for speech recognition and audio recording, a mini headphone jack, an analog audio input minijack, a video mini-VGA output port, and support for video mirroring (an external display's image is identical to that shown on the built-in display).

I tested a consumer model that had been upgraded to 256 MB of RAM; I later spent some time with another eMac that had only the standard 128 MB of memory.

The first thing you notice when you sit down in front of the eMac is how much extra screen real estate the 17" display provides over the iMac's 15" monitor. Even set at the maximum resolution of 1280 x 960, the display is clear and crisp and does not strain the eyes.

The next thing you realize is that the G4 is noticeably faster than the G3 at the same MHz (but then, that is why it is called the Megahertz Myth). All programs launch faster than on a comparable G3. Some applications, such as Connectix' VirtualPC, run several times faster on a G4. I have never seen Windows95 run as fast as it does on a G4/700. On the other hand, on a G3/600 iMac it can seem like Win95 is actually running on a virtual 486.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the eMac is the fact that it does not take up anymore desktop space than a 15" iMac and is, in fact, slightly less deep than the original iMac. Advances in CRT technology, coupled with Apple engineering savvy, have managed to pack more features into less space. The eMac does, however, weigh a whopping 50 pounds, which is undoubtedly why, unlike the CRT iMac, it does not have a "handle" built into the top of the case.

The eMac's CD mechanism is operated via an eject button on the keyboard. It does not have a manual eject button or even a paper clip hole. Apple provides a laundry list of measures to try in case the optical drive eject mechanism fails to operate. The only obvious method of manual operation, however, is to flip down the door and yank on the drive tray, a method we certainly do not recommend.

An upgrade of the standard 128 MB of RAM to at least 256 MB is highly recommended. Although performance between the 128 MB and 256 MB models was comparable while running a single program, there was significant degradation of speed on the 128 MB model when multiple programs were opened.

The eMac includes all the software you need to become productive immediately. Mac OS X 10.1.x and OS 9.2 are pre-installed. AppleWorks, QuickTime, iMovie 2, iPhoto, iTunes 2, Mac OS X Mail, Microsoft Internet Explorer, AOL, Quicken 2002 Deluxe, and World Book are all included as well.

Some commentators have criticized Apple for what they see as "muddying" the product line with too many choices. I disagree. The eMac fills at least two voids in Apple's product line. It provides high-end G4 power to the education market for less than $1,000 per unit, and it gives consumers an entry-level G4 for only $100 more than the high-end G3 iMac. Maxed out with 1 GB of RAM, the eMac would be acceptable even as a graphics workstation for the budget-minded.

More choices (within reason) = better. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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