The eMac Turns 20

Here in April 2022, we’re enjoying a rare treat for us Mac nerds — an entirely new Mac desktop.

Beyond the Mac Studio, we’ve had the iMac Pro, the Mac mini, and of course, a couple of different attempts at the Mac Pro.

But 20 years ago, there was another — the eMac G4.

In April 2002, the iMac G4 was basically brand-new, and while there was technically still an iMac G3 on sale, Apple wanted to do something new for its education customers that had purchased so many iMacs over the previous few years.

Those customers weren’t thrilled with the new iMac’s higher price point and beatiful-but-probably-too-fragile-for-schools design.

The eMac G4 was the answer. Like the iMac G3, it was an all-in-one, but built around a larger 17-inch CRT.

While the recipe was the same, all the ingredients were upgraded. At the heart of the machine was a G4, making the bundled applications like iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes and AppleWorks fly. I/O was also improved, with a total of 5 USB ports and 2 FireWire ports.

Original eMac

The whole thing was wrapped in a white plastic enclosure, complete with a large fan, something that wasn’t present in the iMac G3 this replaced. Up front, a tray-load optical drive was flanked by a set of speakers, but gone were the headphone jacks that adorned the front of the iMac. Clearly the design was cut from the same chunky cloth.

It came with Apple’s update white keyboard and Pro mouse, and could be used with an optional $49 clear acrylic stand to lift it up off the desk and provide tilt and swivel adjustment.

eMac with stand

Here you can see the optional stand, paired with the standard keyboard and mouse. Also note the white grilles that were added to protect the speakers. On the original model, the speakers were left in the open, in danger of being poked by students.

The 50-pound eMac itself started at just $999, and seemed to check all the boxes it needed to for Apple’s education customers.

In fact, people beyond schools were interested, so in June 2002, Apple announced that the eMac would be available to all customers, not just those in the education market. Here’s a quote from Steve Jobs in the press release:

Consumers have pounded on the table demanding to buy the eMac, and we agree. The eMac’s production ramp is ahead of schedule, so we’ll have enough eMacs this quarter to satisfy both our education and non-education customers.

When considering this machine, you may be tempted to think that Apple would be content to let models age, but the company upgraded the eMac several times. In fact, there were five generations of eMac over just three years. The machine got faster CPUs, going from a 700 MHz G4 in the first model to eventually topping out at 1.42 GHz. Likewise, the eMac’s GPU improved over the years, and the machine even ended up with USB 2.0 by the end.

eMac history

At the same time, Apple was able to bring the starting price down to $799, some $600 cheaper than an entry-level iMac G4 at the time.

In the fall of 2005, Apple pulled the plug on the eMac. At that point, the iMac G5 has been out for a year, and it was clear the time had come for CRT-based Macs. Apple replaced it with a low-end iMac specced for education, marking the end of the CRT era.