The iPod's Big Brother

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COURTESY OF APPLE

Apple's new iMac G5

The best way to describe Apple's iMac G5, which goes on sale later this month, is to say it looks like an iPod on growth hormones. It's what you'd get if you stretched the pocket-size music player until it was 17 in. wide and 2 in. deep, squished a supercomputer into the casing and mounted the whole thing on a metal stand. The resemblance is not coincidental. More people buy iPods than iMacs these days, and Apple admits that this third-generation iMac is its best shot at luring millions of iPod owners further into Mac world — and inching up its current 3% share of the Windows-dominated market.

Will the strategy work? Only if those iPod owners open their wallets. The new iMac starts at $1,300 for the smaller model with a 17in. screen and goes up to $1,900 for the 20in. screen. That's less than its predecessors but a bit more than the $250 to $500 iPods.

Still, what you get for that money is quite possibly the coolest personal computer yet created. The cool is more than merely aesthetic. Unlike a lot of previous Mac machines, on which you could almost fry an egg, the iMac G5's beautiful white surface does not get noticeably hot. Nor, at a whisper-quiet 25 decibels, does it make enough noise for most people to hear, let alone those who have been blasting their eardrums with the iPod.

Designer Jonathan Ive, who shaped the original iMac and iPod, has gone as minimalist as possible with this machine. There is no separate computer tower or power supply; everything is contained in the display. CDs and DVDs slot in on the side of the screen. The power button is on the back. The speakers are hidden on the bottom, designed to bounce sound off your desk. Throw in the optional Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse, and the whole thing needs only one cable, the power cord. A minor gripe is that those don't come as standard; nor does Apple's wireless Internet card, the Airport. Who wouldn't want to do everything wirelessly with a computer like this?

If Apple's history is any guide, most computers sold over the next four years will have this clean, all-in-one display look. That history also suggests that very few of them will be iMacs. Apple is notorious for not having the supply to keep up with demand. Indeed, the release of this iMac was delayed by a shortage of the superfast G5 chips. At least iPod owners will have something to listen to while they wait.