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Let downs: Snow Leopard, backward boot disc compatibility, Seagate HD issues and UPS delivery
on 10 January 2010
This review is for the i7 quad core version of the 27 inch imac. Overall, I'm pleased with the machine - prior to delivery I had anxieties following reviews of iMacs arriving with cracked screens and dead pixels, stories which abound across the web, but thankfully, mine seems to be fine. As soon as I turned it on, there has been a software update for the graphics card which I expect was to address the screen flicker issues. I was also concerned about glare from the screen - and it remains a slight nag (I don't want to see my reflection when I'm working). Against that, photos do look a lot better. It would be good if Apple offered customers the choice of specifying a matte screen for their new iMac range.
The main problem, as seems to be the case increasingly with Apple, are the teething problems with the new OS, Snow Leopard: lots of Finder restarts required, forced quits, the absence of Print to Adobe PDF is really annoying and means I will not be giving up Tiger on my Macbook Pro any time soon. Its similar with what happened when Leopard came out and many of the problems regarding core software like Acrobat are emerging again with Snow Leopard.
The new Magic Mouse finally introduces native two button clicking (Apple finally accepts that they were wrong with earlier designs). The scroll is OK, but not as accurate as using a regular wheel with intervals, so I still have a £10 Logitech laser mouse connected to do CAD on. The swipe action is also a bit hard to get used to. But definitely an improvement over the Mighty Mouse.
The bluetooth wireless keyboard is quite a novelty, with its total absence of numeric keypad, meaning it is both slim and small. Its quite fun, a bit Space 1999. The only issue I've noticed so far is the CAPS LOCK key is a bit sticky and puts up a bit of a fight going on and off. The downside of a wireless keyboard is that there are no USB slots now easily accessible, so it means scrabbling behind the screen to access the ports. There are 4 x USB and one firewire 800 sockets. Both the mouse and the keyboard helpfully both take standard size AA batteries (2 in each) so that means you can easily fit rechargeables when the factory fitted standard ones run out.
Aside from the glare / refection issues, the screen is glorious - I had been worried about it being too big on my desk, and I'm still adjusting a little to the size. The best thing is the way it can double as a decent size TV through the addition of something like the Elgato Eye-TV USB dongle in the back. The picture for watching TV and films was very good.
Performance wise, apart from the issues from the OS, the machine ticks along at a rare old pace - as you'd expect from something costing this much.
The only other major issue I have is apple's preferred delivery partner - UPS. I spend so long trying to get them to understand the most basic of instructions, but they still managed to mess up 2 out of the 3 deliveries associated with this order, which is quite some achievement given how much time had been spent on the phone by me and apple staff making sure they had the correct details. A lot of time and energy was waasted due to the failings of UPS, and Apple probably needs to review if they are the best courier company for them to be using.
EDIT: Because Snow Leopard is SO VERY BAD, I've revised my rating down from 4* to 3*. Most of my day has been wasted trying to sort out Font Book issues because of Apple's approach to Helvetica Neue and also now when I turn my printer on, my imac grinds like a ZX81 and effectively SBBOD or just hangs. I have never had these problems with my MBP and Tiger. I cannot clear the print memory, it seems that even going in to CUPS and trying to do it that way, doesn't work, so effectively to use my laser printer I'm going to have to look into reinstalling the OS. What a shocker Apple are having of late. They've become the new Microsoft.
EDIT 2: another annoying thing you should know is the way the logicboard works regarding Boot DVDs - I have spent most of today trying to repair my HDD using TechTools Pro and DiskWarrior, only to be told by a top level expert at Apple that the logicboards on the 27 inch imacs won't actually read the boot data from these DVDs. Drive Genius also does not boot up. I even tried copying the DVDs to a USB key to try to boot from there, but no success. So a lot of hardware / software backward compatibility issues to take account of. The only way you can run any third party disk repair software on a quad core imac is to use transfer mode on boot and connect your imac to another mac and run the disk repair software from that.
Consequently, given Apple's slowness in releasing the logicboard code to the market, you might want to wait a while before buying a quad core mac, to be sure that there is software available to support it.
EDIT 3: the new 27inch imacs with the 1TB HDDs also are quite noisy. Do a search and see. Just searching the web and the HDD clicks every 10 seconds. Its quite offputting if you are used to the quietness of macs.
EDIT 4: Having spoken to the top level applecare expert about my Seagate 1TB hard drive (I was getting missing thread record errors which would recur a week after being fixed via DVD disk utility), I was advised to do a complete reformat and reinstall. I did this - and, disappointingly, the problem is back. So the Seagate 1TB drive is faulty and the machine will have to go back. Again, if you google you'll find a few people talking about the problems with the Seagate drives.
EDIT 5: So back to the apple store the i7 imac went, to be confirmed by the genius that there were serious firmware and hard drive issues. A replacement was issued after about 10 days of waiting. And guess what? The new machine displays exactly the same problems as the previous faulty i7 did - missing thread errors, directory count errors. So it looks like the second imac is going to have to be returned as well now.
I'm not sure how much time apple think we all have to effectively beta test their retail products for them? I have so far had to do 4 x complete reinstalls on two separate machines. A total waste of my time.
Apple really does need to improve its reliability - particularly for machines at this price.
EDIT 6: I have revised by rating down to one star. I have just received an email instructing me that the 1TB Seagate Hard Drive in my imac has been recalled. So this is the THIRD time I will have to replace my machine because of the hard drive issues, meaning a reinstall and the hassle of taking the drive to the store. This follows on from the faulty graphics card I had in my macbook pro.
Want to know why apple makes 30% operating margins? Because it uses poor quality components. I've learned my lesson alright.