iMac has met its match in a new PC contender

Profile 4: Gateway's compact machine has a design similar to that of Apple's ace, but offers the familiarity of Windows.

August 29, 2002|By James Coates | James Coates,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ever since Apple Computer Inc. introduced the first iMac in August 1998, there really has been no question regarding the superiority of the design.

Here was (and is) an elegantly designed, high-powered, all-in-one home computer with a small desktop footprint and a sticker price to match.

Apple followed those original cathode ray tube iMacs with today's futuristic flat panel LCD iMac, another artistic triumph that offers leading-edge computing power in a form worthy of the front lobby of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Nothing better fits the needs of young folks going off to college, or even just starting a new school year at home, than a compact, all-in-one computing powerhouse.

Apple's fashion sense and engineering acumen in designing these splendid machines, with their economy of lines and adroit use of modern materials, cannot be surpassed.

But matched?

Yes, at last.

Gateway Inc. has been moving toward a full-blown iMac challenger with Windows for some time with its Profile line of compact models. Now it's shipping the Profile 4, a polished, ultramodern all-in-one boasting a high-resolution flat-panel screen with a Pentium computer built into the back.

The low-end Profile 4, with a 15-inch LCD display, starts at $999. The top-of-the line model, with a 17-inch screen, starts at $1,499.

For this early review, Gateway lent me one of the latest pre-production high-end Profile models, and I was suitably impressed.

No, it's better than that.

Behold, a computer that matches the style, grace and power of iMac, but runs the far more popular Windows operating system.

The Profile 4 came out of the box ready to stand up on my desk. The power supply comes by way of a black brick-sized transformer.

Next, I plugged in the PS/2 keyboard and the USB mouse, popped the phone line into the modem, and my room looked better than it had before adding this piece of technological art.

The 17-inch monitor is framed with a brushed metal case, and a small black strip at the bottom holds left and right stereo speakers, the DVD-CD/RW drive and the floppy drive.

The whole affair floats on a stand of burnished rounded metal and takes up about the same amount of space as my laptop.

Gateway executives noted that the footprint is just a bit under 8 inches, while the iMac takes up just a tad over 10 inches.

To accommodate different users and changing light conditions, the flat panel can be moved about 20 degrees - which is Gateway's answer to the iMac's famous extensible LCD screen that hangs from a chromed pipelike support and moves back and forth and up and down.

The biggest single iMac-type feature is a pair of the FireWire (or IEEE 1394) connectors on the side of the Profile that allows one to connect a huge and growing number of high-speed peripherals - everything from digital camcorders to DVD burners.

On the negative, the Profile's IEEE 1394 connectors are the four-pin variety rather than the Apple standard six pins. This means that users will need to get special cables with four-pin connectors on both ends to hook peripherals with these ports. Since the extra two pins are used to carry power from the computer to the peripheral, it is necessary to have power connected to peripherals before they can talk to the Windows PC.

The Profile offers four high-speed USB 2.0 ports, a parallel port and an old-fashioned serial port, but lacks a game port for joysticks or music devices.

As a master stroke, the Profile comes with a laptop-type PC Card expansion port that can be used to add all kinds of peripherals that normally connect to PCs by opening the case and plugging boards into PCI slots.

I was delighted with the results when I plugged a laptop card for a new Micro Solutions Inc. USB 2.0 CD-RW drive into the Gateway by way of the PC card hatch.

I am going to hope that Apple's Steve Jobs will keep his lawyers muzzled as the Profile 4 debuts. It's time that there's an iMac experience available for the rest of us.

James Coates writes for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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