The Practical Mac

Beginning My Macintel Adventure

- 2006.09.21 - Tip Jar

When the announcement was made that the entire iMac line would move to the new Intel Core 2 Duo processor, I knew that a life-changing event was on the horizon. For the first time in over ten years, I would own a computer with an Intel processor. I have owned some PCs in last ten years, but they all had AMD processors.

I knew I would be returning to the Intel fold, because I also knew from experience that as soon as the Core 2 Duo iMacs were released, the "old" Core Duo iMacs would be moved to the Special Deals section of Apple's online store. And when that happened, I knew they would be steeply discounted.

Just as I expected, it happened. And as soon as it happened, I became the owner of a new "old" 20" iMac 2 GHz Intel Core Duo, and at $500 discount from what it had sold for only the day before, and with free shipping even!

The iMac was advertised as being refurbished, and it came in one of the Apple brown boxes that all their refurb products are packaged in. I have a sneaking suspicion that it is not really refurbished, but was in fact a new iMac merely repackaged to differentiate it from the current models. I base this conjecture on absolutely no inside knowledge or hard facts whatsoever, merely a gut feeling.

I have no need, and in fact not much desire, to be on the bleeding edge. I have not purchased a truly new Mac since before the PowerPC era began. I always buy factory refurbished or the previous model once new models arrive. I suppose you could call some of these purchases "new", because they had never been out of the box - even though they weren't the current model - but you get the idea.

The iMac replaced our 17" PowerBook G4/1 GHz. The 20" iMac dwarfed the 17" PowerBook even more than the PowerBook did when it replaced our previous 15" PowerBook Titanium G4/500.

I must admit, I was initially skeptical about Apple's move to Intel. It seemed anathema to the idea of thinking different. However, as soon as I fired up the iMac, I was a convert. The boot-up was incredibly quick, undoubtedly owing in large part to Intel's Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI), a replacement for the old legacy BIOS still used in the Windows world.

The iMac was very responsive when running any Intel-native program. Performance understandably slowed a bit when running PowerPC apps through Apple's Rosetta translation program (which really is seamless, by the way).

The display is crisp and bright, and the angle at which you can still see the screen is noticeably better than the PowerBook. I won't recite all the specifications (you can click on the link at the beginning of the article to check them out for yourself), but suffice to say I am very pleased with the standard features. I plan on writing more in-depth on the features and accessories, such as Mighty Mouse, built-in iSight, and Front Row, in a later column. But I am already impressed.

The programs I use most are Mail, Word 2004, Safari, iTunes, Pages, and Quicken 2004. Quicken and Word are not Intel-native, and both are a bit slower to launch. However, once open, both of these programs are more than acceptable in their responsiveness.

My wife, Kay, primarily uses Word and Entourage 2004, Safari, iTunes, iPhoto, iWeb, and Quicken 2004. Entourage shares the same sluggish startup as Word, but things move along well once it's launched.

More programs are becoming available daily in Intel versions or updates. Typically, they are released as a Universal Binary, which contains both PowerPC and Intel versions of the program. If my brief experience is a long-term indicator, as more programs run natively on Intel, the speed problems should disappear.

I don't plan on using Boot Camp to install Windows. However, I will definitely be trying out Parallels Desktop for Mac with Windows. I'm intrigued by this product's use of Intel's virtualization technology to run Windows alongside Mac OS X without having to reboot.

The only compatibility issue I've run into is from the ClamAV antivirus program. I had to update the scan engine to run on Intel. However, the program told me this as soon as it tried to launch it, and it provided a link to download the update. This is exactly the way programs should handle this situation; kudos to ClamAV.

Right now, the iMac is still in stock form. The only upgrade we have planned is boosting the standard 512 MB of RAM to either 1 or 2 GB. That in itself should help speed up programs running through Rosetta.

I'll post updates and observations periodically. For now, I am looking forward to my Intel adventures! 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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