My current desktop is a 2006 iMac – the first generation of Intel desktops, with a Core Duo 2.0ghz processor and ATI X1600 card. Strip away the numbers, and what you get is a computer that still handles everyday tasks like watching videos and browsing the web with perfect ease. Unfortunately, when it comes to games, my iMac was never particularly fast, even when it first came out; it handles games like Team Fortress 2 and Portal reasonably well, if I turn off enough settings, but playing Spore – hardly the most demanding game – is a painful experience (and not just because it’s a mediocre game, either).
I’ve been wanting to upgrade to a new iMac that can handle modern games like Empire: Total War, Left 4 Dead, and Call of Duty, for a few months now. Speeding up applications like Microsoft Office and video editing will also be nice, but it’s really the games that I’m bothered about.
When the updates to the iMac and Mac Mini were announced today, I was a little disappointed. Given the pound’s precipitous slide against the dollar, I’m not surprised that the price has increased – as far as I’m concerned, Macs are just back to their normal high prices again. The fact that the processors aren’t any faster than they were a year ago is irritating, but I was mollified by the optional ATI HD 4850 graphics card, which will be more than sufficient to play games from the next couple of years.
Looking around the forums, a lot of people are far more disappointed than me; why no quad core processors? Where’s the LED backlighting for the monitor? Why no USB 3.0 or Blu Ray drive? When you think about it, specifications-wise, the iMac is a complete rip-off, and there’s no question about it. You could get a faster Dell computer for hundreds of pounds less. And so there are myriad predictions that Apple has shot itself in the foot, abandoned hopes of reaching mainstream success, turned its back on the market, etc etc.
However, most people have absolutely no idea what ‘quad core’ means. Most people don’t want Blu Ray; and they don’t know what USB 2.0 is, let alone USB 3.0. The iMac is good enough, just in the same way that the Nintendo DS – sorely outclassed, technically-speaking, by the Sony PSP, is good enough. The iPhone, again outclassed (in terms of screen resolution, megapixels, etc) by many other phones out there, is good enough.
No-one cares about technical specs any more. I don’t – even my three year old iMac is fast enough to run anything I can throw at it without stuttering, so what difference does it make if someone else has a faster computer that doesn’t result in a qualitatively better user experience?
All this is to say that Apple has never really cared about having the fastest computers, marketing-fluff notwithstanding, because most people don’t care about having the fastest computer. They just want something that will run the stuff they need – hence the first question on most people’s lips when buying an Apple is ‘can it run Office’?
But if you can get a faster Dell for less money, why buy an Apple? In fact, if all I need a new Mac for is to play games on, why don’t I just put together some Windows box that I only turn on for that purpose? This is where the tech-geek perspective falls over once again. I don’t want three computers on my desk, thank you – two is quite enough (I have an iMac and a MacBook here). And I don’t want to turn on another noisy computer to run games, I want to run them on my quiet main computer. Finally, I really like OS X, and if I tried to return to Windows, I’d be constantly frustrated. Those are the reasons why I don’t buy a Dell – reasons that have nothing to do with specifications, but are just as valid as wanting the fastest box on the block.
Still, I won’t deny it – you pay a heavy premium for Apple products. Them’s the breaks.