Today in Apple history: iMac G5 takes a page out of the iPod’s playbook

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The iMac G5 looked like the world's biggest iPod.
The iMac G5 looked like the world's biggest iPod.
Photo: Matthew Pearce/Flickr CC

August 31: Today in Apple history: iMac G5 takes a page out of the iPod's playbook August 31, 2004: Apple launches the iMac G5, a distinctive, white plastic computer that looks a little like the world’s biggest iPod.

Housed in a 2-inch-thick enclosure reminiscent of Apple’s Cinema Displays, the new all-in-one machine bridges the gap between the pleasing plasticity of the iconic G3 iMac and the minimalist form factor of today’s ultra-slim aluminum Mac desktops.

iMac G5: One big panel

Unlike the bulbous iMac G3, which packed all its internals into a bulky cathode ray monitor, or the sunflower-inspired iMac G4, which had its guts built into its base unit, the iMac G5 design compressed everything into a single panel.

G5
There was no mistaking the fact that the iMac G5 came from the people who brought you the iPod.
Photo: Apple

Today, we’re used to Macs incorporating the CPU, motherboard, drives and speakers into the all-in-one computer’s monitor. But in 2004, it was something few people had seen before. (The package got even more comprehensive the following year, when Apple added an integrated iSight webcam to the final iMac G5 revision.)

Likewise, we’ve become accustomed to the larger screen real estate Apple helped pioneer. But the iMac G5’s choice of 17- or 20-inch widescreen display still felt incredibly fresh and opulent. (It wasn’t a total first for Apple, since some iMac G4 models also included a similar 20-inch screen).

The computer’s iPod-inspired design served another important function. It consciously linked the new iMac G5 with Apple’s most popular product at the time.

I constantly speak with people whose first Apple computer was the iMac G5. While 2004-era Apple had come a long, long way from its 1990s nadir, there were still plenty of people taking their first tentative steps into the Apple world.

By crafting a computer that closely resembled its iconic music player, Apple capitalized on the “halo effect” that later worked so well for the company and its ecosystem of iPhones, iPads and other interconnected devices.

iMac G5: Under the hood

In terms of components, the iMac G5 came with a 160GB hard drive, 256MB of 400MHz SDRAM, an Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra graphics card and a vertically mounted, slot-loading DVD-R SuperDrive. For connectivity, users could take advantage of Apple’s Emmy-winning FireWire technology, USB 2.0 and optional support for both AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth.

Because the iMac G5 ran hotter than its predecessor, Apple engineers used three “ultra-quiet” fans to cool the computer. The fans drew in cool air via the speaker grille and a slit in the back of the case.

The last PowerPC

For all its advances, however, the iMac G5 also marked an important closure point. It was the final iMac to use a PowerPC processor (more specifically, a 1.8GHz PowerPC 970 (G5) processor). Apple announced the switch to Intel CPUs in June 2005.

In practical terms, this meant the iMac G5 was the last model capable of natively running Mac OS 9 (Classic) applications.

It was also the last iMac to be easily upgradeable by an average user. Opening it up required the unscrewing of just three screws on its underside. Then the owner could lift off the entire back of the machine to access its innards.

This process didn’t feel like it required an advanced engineering degree. Just about anybody could swap out the iMac G5’s hard drive, increase its RAM or simply clean its internal fans.

Do you remember the iMac G5?

Do you remember the iMac G5? Were you one of those people who took the plunge into Apple-ville for the first time with this gorgeous computer? Leave your thoughts and recollections below.

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