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December 3rd, 1999

[Editorial] Mac Games and the iMac, Revisited
by Oliver Dueck

In my last editorial "Mac Games and the iMac" I discussed a severe limitation imposed on gamers who purchase an iMac: the lack of upgradeable video performance. Unfortunately, I made some rather erroneous statements about the architecture of the current line of iMacs, and I would like to take the time to correct that.

But first, a bit of history regarding the iMac's video hardware. The very first iMac 233 MHz G3, featured the ATI Rage IIc graphics chipset. This chipset has been regarded as a very mediocre, and the fact that there were only 2 MB of video memory (not four, as I mentioned in my previous article) didn't help either. Thankfully, you could upgrade the memory to a full six megabytes. With the revision B iMac, Apple not only upgraded to the more powerful ATI Rage Pro chipset, they also made 6 MB of video RAM standard.

The current iMacs have ditched that Rage Pro chipset for the new Rage 128 setup, and come with 8 MB of video RAM. But when I made the claim that the new iMacs don't have AGP, I screwed up big time.

The iMac certainly does have 2x AGP, as it shares its basic motherboard design with the new G4s. So while the performance benefits of the 2x AGP implementation are realized, the video hardware is not upgradeable. One reader claimed that he knows an Apple engineer who says it actually is upgradeable, but I have no other evidence to support that, and Apple itself certainly makes no such claim.

Adding an upgradeable AGP graphics card to the iMac should thus be a relatively easy task, provided there is space inside the case to do this. It is sad to see that Apple did not choose to go this route. I think it would be great to offer an 8 MB card with the two lower end configurations, and further distinguish the iMac DV Special Edition by shipping it with 16 MB of video memory.

Such a move would be ideal, as it would offer an adequate amount of memory for most games, and offer the option of upgrading to a better card sometime down the road. As I stated in my last editorial, the price jump from an iMac to a G4/350 is a rather big step; a G4 is not considered affordable by the majority of computer users. On the other hand, the current iMacs lack the firepower to get the most out of the latest and greatest games.

Who knows what Apple will do. All I know is that graphics hardware will continue to get better and better, and Apple will naturally improve its offerings over time. But this will more than likely be offset by ever more demanding games. Hopefully, Steve and company will make us happy and offer increased expandability in the consumer products.

Oliver is a computer science student a the University of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. He has been using Macs since 1986 when his father would bring home a Mac Plus on the weekends. He was one of the original writers for Webintosh, and before that was a contributor to the now-defunct MacSense CD magazine.

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