Since the release of the original iMac in 1998, Apple has steadily refined its desktop machine into a ludicrously attractive and shiny slice of aluminium and glass. And people don’t only like the look of the hardware: from iTunes to its OS X operating system, Apple’s software is powerful and intuitive.
Buoyed by the iPod and iPhone, Apple is one of the strongest brands in the world. Not only has Apple been delivering, but its rivals have slipped up. Windows Vista was, at launch at least, slow and full of meddlesome touches and pointless changes.
PC manufacturers, meanwhile, had raced each other to the bottom to make the cheapest computers possible. Macs are certainly desirable, but there’s a price to pay – buying the cheapest iMac will leave you with just £50 change from £1,000. Mac fans argue that while the initial price is high, you receive a lot with a Mac – Macs include movie, audio and image editing software as well as OS X. There’s also the sense of satisfaction from owning a well-designed piece of kit, and they have a good reputation for longevity too.
On the left, the latest iMac; on the right, our self-built Mac Killer machine
Indeed, Apple has never sold its iMacs solely based on how much horsepower you’re gaining for your hard-earned cash. As a result, it’s fairly easy to build a PC that’s cheaper and faster than an iMac, but it probably wouldn’t be as sexy and quiet, and have the same desirability factor.
We decided to see if it’s possible to beat the latest and greatest 24in iMac at its own game, and set ourselves the challenge of beating it, hands down, on as many fronts as possible, for the same price or less. We wanted to build a PC that looked and performed better, and was quieter and more desirable, and all for less cash. To win, we couldn’t build any old performance system; we needed to craft a beauty from hardware that directly competes with the iMac’s strengths.
Know Your Enemy
To make the challenge a satisfying experience, we decided to pit our wits against Apple’s latest 24in iMac. It’s currently available in two baseline hardware configurations, with either a 2.93GHz Core 2 Duo or a 3.06GHz model. Our test machine featured the 2.93GHz CPU, along with 4GB of DDR3 RAM, a 640GB hard disk, 8x DVD-RW writer and an Nvidia GeForce GT 120 graphics card.
There’s also built in WiFi, Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet, a webcam and speakers. Apple includes a keyboard and mouse, and the 24in screen has a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200. OS X and iLife are supplied, and the total cost of this is £1,499 (inc. VAT) from the Apple Store.