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Hardware reviews

Apple’s iMac, Evergreen’s Pocket HotDrive, and EasyShare’s camera dock.

Apple’s Cube is the iMac’s proud papa.

With the new flat-panel iMac, Apple has done it again.

This offspring of Apple’s underappreciated Cube and the original iMac, the new consumer model isn’t a perfect machine, but it may well be the perfect machine for schools, small offices, and most homes. It’s elegant and powerful. When Apple unveiled the totally revamped consumer systems in January, it surpassed everyone’s expectations. The flat panel display was no surprise, but few predicted consumer systems running the high-end G4 processor or, on certain models, a SuperDrive for playing and burning CDs and DVDs.

The new iMac features a 700 MHz or 800 MHz PowerPC G4 processor and includes three models, starting at $1,299. I’ve had the pleasure of using the $1,799 model, which may well offer the best value of any computing system on any platform.

This model comes standard with an 800 MHz G4 processor; SuperDrive; 256 MB of RAM; NVIDIA GeForce2 MX graphics with 32MB of DDR memory, which triples the 3D performance over previous models; and Apple Pro Speakers. Unlike its predecessors, the new iMac runs Mac OS X fluidly, which is good, since Mac OS X is now the default operating system on all new Apple hardware. The iMac also comes with a fantastic bundle of software, including Apple’s “digital hub” software (iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, iDVD), AppleWorks, and more.

The 15-inch LCD flat screen has a resolution of 1,024 by 768 and offers approximately the same viewing area as a 17-inch CRT display, but is twice as bright and three times as sharp as old-fashioned CRT displays and has zero flicker. It’s very easy on the eyes, but it’s the monitor’s “neck” that’s really ground-breaking.

The display is attached to a stainless steel neck, which is attached to a rounded snow-white base 11 inches in diameter. You don’t see the arm when you’re seated in front of the iMac, making the screen appear to float in space. The monitor swivels up to 180 degrees, tilts 35 degrees, and can be raised or lowered more than seven inches, making the new iMac the first computer where the display’s position can be adjusted so easily.

Without seeing one of the new iMacs up close, it might seem as if the screen would make it topple over. No way. All told, the system weighs 21 pounds, and the base is designed to keep it from tipping while the display is manipulated. Plus, the round base takes much less desktop space than other desktop computers.

Besides appearances, one of the things I love about the new iMac is that it’s whisper-quiet, thanks to an “intelligent,” variable-speed fan. The temperature is kept low due to the base’s design, in which cool air is drawn into the system through vents in the perimeter of the base.

However, the new iMac isn’t perfect. It has a 100 MHz bus instead of the 133 MHz bus present in all other Macs except the iBook. Would it really have been that much pricier to add the larger bus for a tad more oomph?

The Apple Pro speakers, though decent, won’t satisfy the true audiophile. You’ll at least want to buy a $59 iSub subwoofer to beef up the sound. Some folks have also complained that all of the iMac’s ports, including the power button, are on the rear of the base, making it a bit awkward to plug in peripherals or power on and off.

And, as with its precedessors, the new iMac doesn’t offer any internal expansion capabilities beyond one slot each for extra memory and an AirPort card. But it’s not designed for expansion; if you like supercharging your system, go for a Power Mac G4 mini-tower instead.

Evergreen’s Pocket HotDrive

Serendipity is a great thing. Every now and then a product crosses a reviewer’s desk about the same time he’s casting about for just such a device. This happened when Evergreen Technologies sent me one of its fireLINE 20GB Pocket HotDrives for review. I had just purchased a new silver Power Macintosh G4 computer, and needed to move copious amounts of files, including many large image files over to the G4.

Evergreen’s fireLINE Pocket HotDrive is an external drive that’s designed to work through USB 2 or FireWire connectivity. IEEE 1394 (aka FireWire, aka iLink) is the industry standard for digital multimedia devices because it provides transfer speeds up to 400Mbps, supplies power to the connected device, and offers hot-swap and plug-n-play convenience. The USB 2 standard enables data transfer speeds up to 480Mbps, and is backward-compatible with the original USB 1.1 standard that delivers speeds up to 12Mbps.

The fireLINE 1394 and USB 2 Pocket HotDrive is an attractive, compact, 2.5-inch package that easily fits into a pocket. All the cables, software, and instructions you need are included for working with either Macintosh or Windows environments. Evergreen bundles an AC adapter, which I used to make sure all of my data was safely transferred. To get started, I installed the driver software on the Power Macintosh G3, but none was needed for the G4 because it was running OS 9.2.1, which recognizes almost all FireWire devices after they’re connected.

Evergreen offers four fireLINE Pocket HotDrives with 10GB to 40GB capacities and prices (direct Web purchase) from $199 to $399. I was concerned that the 20GB model wouldn’t provide enough capacity for my particular application, but after I eliminated application software on the G3’s two built-in (20GB and 30GB) drives, I could fit all of the data files into 18GB. Some techies will tell you that hard drives can experience problems if their capacity is more than half-full, but I optimistically chose to look at the fireLINE 20GB Pocket HotDrive as half-empty.

When I tried to transfer 16,700 files representing about 6GB from one of my G3’s hard drives to the Pocket HotDrive, it choked early in the process of copying files. This has happened with this particular computer and other brands of external FireWire drives before, and I believe it’s a function of the notoriously fragile FireWire connection of these early blue and white G3s and not a problem with the Evergreen unit. After I connected it to my new G4, it performed flawlessly, and I never experienced any data loss before, during, or after the transfer process.

The fireLINE 20GB Pocket HotDrives are a great storage solution for users on the go who need to back up large amounts of data or those who have to share data between multiple systems. Offering both PC and Mac compatibility, they are an excellent choice for computer users who need to transfer data between the two environments. Consider them the ultimate sneaker net.

EasyShare’s Camera Dock

Docking stations for digital devices are hardly new. The original Palm Pilot had one, and now digicam manufacturers are offering them too. Fuji offers a Palm-like dock for its FinePix 4800 model. But Kodak’s dock for its EasyShare series of digital cameras provides an easier-to-use physical and software interface.

The EasyShare DX3700 digicam delivers 3.1-megapixel (2,160-by-1,440) resolution in a compact point-and-shoot form factor. Storage is via 8MB of internal memory and a MultiMedia Card/Secure Digital memory card slot, although neither type of memory card is bundled with the camera. Lens is a fixed focal length f/3.3 with a 35mm equivalent of 37mm, making the DX3700 ideal for snapshots. To offset the fixed focal length, Kodak includes a 3X digital zoom, but quality conscious computer users will only use this as a last resort because it simply crops the image without any corresponding quality increase. With an ISO film speed equivalent of 100-200, with 200 being the default, you’ll need the built-in flash for low light photography. The small flash has a red-eye elimination mode and a maximum range of 7.9 feet.

The EasyShare Camera Dock expedites image transfer and uploading. When you place the DX3700 in the small-footprint dock and touch its single button, pictures are automatically transferred to your computer for e-mailing, manipulation, or printing. The dock also recharges the optional battery pack, so you’ll always be ready to take pictures. Kodak’s software for both Mac OS and Windows computers produced a pleasant surprise. When I inserted a CompactFlash card from another digicam into my SmartDisk card reader, it automatically launched the Kodak software, allowing me to transfer that camera’s JPEG files to my computer.

My preferred method for image composition is the DX3700’s optical viewfinder, reserving the 1.6-inch LCD preview screen for reviewing images and deciding which ones to keep and which ones to dump. Image files are captured in JPEG format and you can store up to seventy “Good” (640-by-480) quality mode pictures in the built-in memory. The DX3700 supports the Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) specification, which lets digicam users select photos they want printed in the camera without the need of a computer.

In real-world testing, the Kodak EasyShare DX3700 proved to be an able companion creating excellent quality images in prints or digital form. My only quibble is the power button is small and recessed and proved to be a challenge for me to turn on (it was no problem to turn off), although my wife never had any problems. The dock, on the other hand, proved itself an indispensable accessory that made it easy to transfer images, order prints through [email protected] online, or e-mail digital files to friends and family.

The DX3700 has a lightweight feel that belies its ability to capture images of sufficient quality to make great-looking 8-by-10-inch prints, and its ergonomics are superb with almost no learning curve. The Kodak EasyShare DX3700 is sold with and without the dock, but don’t even think about buying the camera without it.

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