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Feeling generous? The right Mac can be the perfect gift

Christopher Breen | Dec. 15, 2014
Only the worst sort of ingrate would complain about finding an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch stuffed in their holiday stocking. But if you want to really impress your favored Apple fan, there's nothing that does the job like placing a brand-new Mac under the tree. But, budget considerations aside, which current Mac is the most appropriate for the Apple lover in your life?

At one time the iMac was considered Apple's "cute-but-not-terribly-serious" desktop computer. They looked great but were a little underpowered and, perhaps, just a little too precious in their design. Those days are long gone. In fact, where the iMac was the computer for "the rest of us," it's now a computer found on the desks of power users and pros.

The iMac comes in two screen sizes--21.5-inch and 27-inch--and ranges in price from $1,099 to $1,999 for non-Retina models. (We'll talk about the iMac with Retina 5K display shortly.) Except for the least expensive model, all non-Retina iMacs hold a 1TB spinning hard drive (upgradable to a Fusion Drive) and each is powered by a quad-core Intel Core i5 processor (save for the least-expensive iMac, which has a dual-core Intel Core i5 processor). Graphics performance kicks up when you hit the $1,500 threshold, with the $1,499 21.5-inch model bearing an NVIDIA GeForce GT 750 graphics card with 1GB video memory. The 27-inch iMacs also have separate NVIDIA GeForce video cards. The two least expensive iMacs have graphics chips that are integrated into the processor.

In regard to ports, the iMac has an offering appropriate for all but the most demanding user with four USB 3 ports, two Thunderbolt 1 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and an SDXC card slot. Like the Mac mini they have 802.11ac Wi-FI and Bluetooth 4.0.

Who should you give it to?
If a loved one within earshot broadly mutters "Boy, I sure would like a new Mac..." they're likely muttering about an iMac. It's Apple's default desktop computer and the one that people picture when they think about a Mac. The depth of your generosity will certainly influence which model you get but, that said, the entry-level iMac is underpowered. Unless the person you're giving the Mac to simply wants to show off any iMac on their desk, you should plan on spending at least $1,200 on the 2.7Ghz 21.5-inch model.

Another determining factor is how much screen real estate you think this person would want. 21.5 inches is perfectly fine for common computer tasks--email, web browsing, texting, and so on--but if the gift recipient is heavily into photography, juggles a lot of windows, or uses their computer to watch movies, you'll want to look at one of the 27-inch iMacs. To narrow your choice from there, consider the kind of high-end work they do on the computer. If they're the family's video archivist who is constantly working with home movies in iMovie or a musician putting together their latest album in Logic Pro, the more powerful the iMac, the better. And speaking of more powerful iMacs...


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