Hands on: The 24-in. iMac -- talk about a wow factor

I haven't seen this much in-house attention to an Apple product since the Mac Mini

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The 24-in. display offers 30% more screen than the 20-in. model, Metz said, something readily apparent as soon as you pull the iMac from its box. It's the kind of display, she said, that's tailor-made for something like watching DVDs or working with digital graphics. "It is a beautiful system to look at," Metz added.

It sounds darn good, too. As with earllier iMac iterations, this one has downward-firing speakers that point sound at the desktop. The bigger diplay means bigger speakers, and while it's not likely to replace your AV system at home, the built-in sound system uses four 6-watt digital amplifiers offering a noticeable jump in maximum volume and clarity. The sound from the speakers is about the only sound users will hear by the way. It's as quiet as a mouse.

So, if I were in the market for an iMac, is this one the I'd get? Given my penchant for computing speed and size, I'd have to say yes. But I'd likely cut a few corners when outfitting it in an effort to save a few dollars. According to Metz, the speed difference between the standard 2.16-GHz and the 2.33-GHz chips is linear, meaning most users won't notice a big difference from the extra 170 MHz. While I'm all for getting the fastest processor possible, I'd probably stick with the basic chip and the stock 250GB hard drive. Savings: $450.

iMac Screen

The iMac's screen is 40% brighter than predecessors, and makes a MacBook Pro seem dim. I'd opt, however, for the faster video card with more video RAM -- extra cost $125 -- and I might even go ahead and buy the additional 1GB of RAM I'd want from Apple. Here's why: the iMac comes with 1GB of RAM, but it uses two 512MB RAM modules. To buy my own 2GB of RAM, I'd have to ditch the modules that come with the iMac and try to sell them myself. Yes, Apple's RAM tends to be more expensive, but in this case, getting memory on my own from my usual third-party supplier is going to cost $284. Apple charges $175.

Rather than pay more now, and try to recoup some of that expense later by selling the 512MB modules, it's just plain easier to let Apple do the work.

Total cost for my 24-in. iMac: $2,299.

I asked Metz how the new iMac is selling, and whether it is meeting Apple's expectations. She declined to get into specifics, except to say, "It has gotten very favorable response."

If the attention slathered on it here is any sign, I'd say there'll be quite a few of these things showing up on desks and in living rooms and offices in the coming months. Just follow the crowd.

Editor's postscript: I had seen reports late last week that Apple's Boot Camp software wouldn't work on the 24-in. iMac. An updated version, Boot Camp 1.1.1, that the company has just released solves that problem. And no, Release Candidate 1 of Windows Vista wouldn't install. So if you're planning to run Windows on a new iMac, you're stuck with Windows XP for now.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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