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Yet Another Phony PC-Is-Better-Than-Mac Comparison

August 10th, 2008

The headline blares from Electronista: “Average Mac Price Now 2X Windows PCs.”

According to data collected by the NPD group, the average Windows notebook goes for $700, while the average Apple laptop costs above $1,500, dropping a mere $59 in the last two years. And that’s nothing compared to desktop computers.

The average Mac desktop sells for about $1,000 more than the average PC desktop, which sells for a mere $550.

Oy. Here we go again. First, I was unable to find the “NPD” study data (everybody quotes them, nobody links to them, and the study is not up on their site), so I was unable to find out how the study was weighted–did they weight prices by each single available model, or by the number of each model sold, or what?

That aside, the study is horribly flawed based on one basic point: Apple does not sell dirt-cheap, bare-bones systems. They just don’t make a computer which sports a Celeron or Sempron CPU and cut corners in a lot of places. They start at the mid-range level. As I tell my students, if you want a really cheap computer, go with a Windows PC. But that does not mean that Macs and PCs of the same quality have a 2-to-1 price ratio. They’re averaging prices of cheapo units to mid-level units–not very honest or accurate. That does not take value into consideration at all.

The second flaw is the lack of attention to details, if not outright fabrications:

…a Dell Inspiron 518 tower nearing the $700 mark features two more processor cores, three times as much memory, and twice the hard drive space of an $1,199 entry-level iMac despite both coming with near-equivalent LCDs.

If you check out Dell’s web site, the Inspiron mentioned starts at $724, for the bare-bones version. No monitor, no WiFi, no antivirus, no webcam. Add these little details and the price jumps to $1173, slightly more than the $700 suggested. Then there’s the issue of “two more processor cores, three times as much memory, and twice the hard drive space.” They’re right about the cores (more on that below), but the basic Inspiron 518 has a 320 GB HDD and 2 GB of memory; the iMac has a 250 GB HDD and 1 GB of memory. So, not quite. Upgrade the Mac to match the HDD and RAM, and it’s $1349, less than %15 more expensive, not 50%. Wait for the next iMac release and all of those discrepancies will likely disappear–or the Mac might actually wind up being cheaper.

In fact, that brings up another dishonesty in the comparison: the article uses a brand-new, just-released Windows PC taking advantage of the latest CPU releases and component price decreases, and compares it to a Mac which has not been upgraded in a while. The next iMac will very likely have quad-core CPUs, and will follow the trend in other Mac lines to have 2GB RAM minimum, not to mention a 320 GB or better HDD.

Also not to mention that with a Mac, your machine will likely break down less, and tech support will be far better. Installs and maintenance will take far less of your time (what is that worth?), and you won’t have to fret about keeping malware away or keeping your antivirus up to date. Plus, the Inspiron is a big, fat box, while the iMac has an attractively slim footprint. Not to mention that the Mac runs a far superior OS. In the end, even at the current price differences, the Mac is still probably a better value. Especially in notebooks, which is why Macs are selling like hotcakes in that category.

So if you see one of the stories saying how Macs are prohibitively expensive, remind them that these overblown, biased hit pieces are a common occurrence and should just be ignored.

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  1. August 10th, 2008 at 17:33 | #1

    Well, I’m still not convinced about the inherent superiority you seem to perceive in the Mac OS (although I confess I have not yet used Vista), but the price argument is a pretty compelling one for many people.

    The MacBook that I’m writing this comment on right now set me back about 200,000 yen (after memory upgrades and whatnot). I had originally planned to take it with me to use while I commute, but I ended up finding it too much of an investment to risk taking it on the trains (where it could easily get whacked by careless commuters). Instead I ended up buying an Eee PC for that purpose for just a little bit more than 50,000 yen. A machine like that I don’t worry about nearly as much—and the result is that I end up taking it with me everywhere I go, which ends up making it more useful to me more often than the more expensive MacBook. I suspect that Apple’s disinclination to make an offering at the lower end of the market is a large part of what fuels the perception that Macs are inherently more expensive.

    In any case, I’m not sure I’ll buy another Mac anytime soon. The Mac OS is nice (my wife mentioned recently that she really likes it—something she has never said about any of our previous computers), but I also find that it kind of forces me to subscribe to Steve Jobs’ notions of what an OS should be, rather than simply doing what I want an OS to do.

  2. Velvet Elvis
    August 10th, 2008 at 20:59 | #2

    If Macs become as popular as you seem to want, Luis, then they will become targets for viruses and malware. Right now the hackers don’t really care to waste their efforts hacking Macs but that could change. It would become prestigious to hack the Mac to death if they were a larger part of the comsumer market. Be careful what you wish for.

  3. Tim Kane
    August 11th, 2008 at 04:11 | #3

    Last summer, in a pinch, I got lucky, and managed to buy a Compaq Presario C500 for $450 from best buy. It was dual core, had 1 gig of memory and excellent speakers to boot (I quit using my purchased speakers for most uses). It was obviously a close out price, right after I bought it the price went up to $600 and then right after that Compaq started using a different (and inferior) design for their PC. The only down side is the Vista. I had three uber-geeks, including my brother who works for Intell, try to put XP on it but all gave up after a while.

    I have no illusions, people who buy an Apple are getting a better product. It’s the difference between almost any car and buying a BMW. Interestingly, none of my geek friends are own an Apple, mostly because they are all incredibly cheep and being geeks, the cost of a PC screwing up is not exceedlingly high.

    My brother admits that the Apple is superior. He says the reason the battery life on an Apple is longer than a normal PC has to do with the fact that Microsoft operating systems are constantly going wrong in the background and so are constantly launching little jobs to fix whatever went wrong. That’s an indication of just what a kluged job MS operating systems are. Sooner or later, I think, the world will migrate towards open systems architecture as the dominant platform. I don’t see any reason why China or India would want to make their nation’s computer base dependent upon American companies proprietary software. When some two billion of the worlds three billion users (those are floating point numbers) are using an open source operating system, the rest of us will follow.

    I can see a day where Microsoft will go the way of the dinosaur if they don’t improve their product, but Apple will always be the BMW of the computing world – at least for the forseeable future. I hope some day I can afford one. Maybe in two or three years.

  4. Paul
    August 12th, 2008 at 05:32 | #4

    Dude… like it or not, for what a lot of people want/need a computer for, the Apples *do* cost a lot more. Yeah, it’s like comparing apples to oranges (haha) because the base Macs are still pretty powerful machines, but the reality is that for a typical household or even office workstation, a Windows-based PC is often cheaper.

    That’s not to say that it’s BETTER, only that it costs less.

    There are a great many reasons to choose between the various options. Price is one, and like it or not, people perceive a price difference between Apples and Windows-based boxes because there IS a price difference between Apples and Windows-based boxes.

    There is real competition in pricing for the hardware on Windows boxes- that’s why you see them in Costco, for example, but you never see a Mac there. Frankly, Apple gouges their customers a bit on the hardware end of things becase they can. They’re just as evil as Microsoft is in that regard, and don’t let your evangelistic fervor for how nice the Apple system is hide that fact.

  5. Luis
    August 12th, 2008 at 10:34 | #5

    What’s being said here is generally what I pointed out: Apple doesn’t make cheap, low-end machines. They begin in mid-range, their cheapest being the Mac Mini starting at $600. But I don’t agree that they gouge so much: feature for feature, part for part, Apple’s offerings are not that much more expensive than Windows machines–they are more often on par, and sometimes even cheaper, especially if you take into account the extras necessary to fill in the gaps with the Wintel boxes. It looks that way because where Apple makes on or at most two offerings in one range, there are dozens of Windows machines in the same range, and usually only the cheapest ones are ever trotted out to mae the Mac look expensive. If you look just as hard, you could very likely find as many examples of Windows machines with the same parts which are more expensive than the Mac. The BMW analogy is not completely accurate.

    In fact, take form factor–something which is *very* important in computers, else LCD screens would not have taken off they they did–into account, and Macs become the cheaper alternative. The Inspiron is an excellent example, because it’s a big, fat box with a separate monitor being compared to the iMac’s more-friendly chassis. Limit your search to computers which have smaller footprints and suddenly the iMac is a much better bargain. Similar for the Mac Mini, Windows alternatives in that form factor are usually if not always more expensive.

    That doesn’t stop cheap Windows boxes from being cheap–if you want cheap, big, unattractive–but functional–Windows machines are absolutely the way to go, no doubt about it. But people are willing to pay more for a computer that doesn’t hog desk space, or even just one that looks good. It’s not that Apple is overcharging on computers (some products, absolutely–look at the Mac Pro, and Apple’s recent RAM upgrade tactics). But their mainstream computers are not that badly priced for what they are.

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