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Manufacturer: Apple

iMac 2002
May 7, 2002 | Richard Hallas

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Games Performance
Enough with the technical benchmarks! Suffice it to say that the iMac is fast; this is IMG, so we want to know how well it plays games.

The succinct answer is 'very well'. More verbosely, I tried out a good number of my favourites and found few problems; a couple failed to work in Classic mode, but of course worked as before (and correspondingly faster than on my G3) if I rebooted into Mac OS 9. Occasionally I encountered a minor glitch; for instance, in Tomb Raider Chronicles (which claims to be Mac OS X compatible) the QuickTime movie that begins the game played with audio but no video; the one in the intro sequence, though, had worked fine. The game itself worked perfectly.

To really test the iMac's performance, I chose American McGee's Alice, as this uses an enhanced version of the Quake III engine to provide some of the most impressive and demanding graphics of any game currently available; it also works natively in Mac OS X. I installed it on both machines for direct comparison. The game's minimum requirements are a 400 MHz G3 and 148 MB of free RAM; my Power Mac G3 isn't a great deal slower than this at 350MHz, and has 256Mb of RAM, so I thought it might just about manage the game.

In fact it did, but only just. At the smallest resolution of 640x480, with all quality settings turned down as low as possible, the Power Mac G3 delivered a frame rate of around 20fps from the game, which made it quite playable. However, the low resolution and fuzzy graphics left much to be desired. I tried turning up all the quality settings as high as possible and running at 1024x768. Now the game was totally unplayable, rarely rising above 5fps and usually running at no more than 2 or 3fps.

The iMac was a completely different story. Running at 1024x768 with all quality settings turned up to maximum, I got a similarly playable game to the G3 at the lowest resolution and quality settings. The frame rates in Alice do vary rather considerably depending on the action, but even at the highest possible settings I could get as much as 40fps out of Alice, dropping down to 15fps only for the most complex scenes. Nevertheless, the whole game felt very fluid and responsive at all times, and generally seemed to average around 20fps.

For comparison, running Alice at 640x480 with all the quality settings turned down to minimum gave frame rates of between 40 and 100fps depending on complexity. Overall, it seemed as though I was getting around five times the performance out of the iMac as from the G3 in Alice, which was a lot better than the relative processor speeds would suggest. Alice certainly felt extremely fluid and playable at all times. I tried the game in both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X on the iMac, but there was no discernable difference in performance between the two.

To test a game in the Classic environment, I chose my favourite strategy game, Heroes of Might and Magic III Complete. This game is more demanding on the machine's processor than on its graphics capabilities, and on a slow machine you can end up sitting around for quite a while during the computer's turn.

Direct speed comparisons are not possible as there are no performance measurements in the game, but without a doubt Heroes III played much more smoothly on the iMac than on the G3. There were never any jerks or pauses, switching between town and world views was quicker, and there was noticeably less time involved in the CPU taking its turn. I was therefore very pleased to find that the game played appreciably better than before.

The only game in my collection which did not perform quite as well as I'd hoped was Fly! II. This is of course a fully-featured, heavy-duty flight simulator and as such is a pretty demanding piece of software. Turning up the resolution and quality settings to maximum produced a disappointingly low frame rate. Whilst the software was by no means unusable, and turning the resolution and quality down improved the situation, I had hoped that it would have worked better. So if you're a flight simulator buff, perhaps a Power Mac G4 would be a better choice!

Overall, though, I'd say that the iMac is a great games machine. Its inbuilt GeForce 2MX card may not be cutting-edge, but it's more than adequate for the needs of most games and gamers. In terms of what it can do, and as for performance, it certainly doesn't feel like a 'compromise graphics card'. Unless you absolutely insist on having the best possible graphics card (in which you're the sort of person who would buy a dual-1 GHz G4 Power Mac), it's absolutely fine bearing in mind that the iMac can only ever drive a single monitor to a maximum resolution of 1024x768.


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