Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Myth: Macs are more expensive

I think a common misperception of Macs is that they are expensive. As a recent laptop shopper, I would like to share experience comparing the prices of machines on the market. I did my best to compare apples to apples ;) but, of course, the comparisons are just a best guess (and lack all qualitative factors - like: do you feel good that when you buy a Mac not a single dollar is going to Microsoft?). My underlying conclusion is that Macs are not more expensive than PCs of similar quality. In fact, it seems like Macs are cheaper.

So why listen to me anyhow? Here's my abridged history with computers: in 1983, I helped my dad put together our IBM XT; programmed in Basic on our IBM AT in 1985; summer job formatting 5 1/4" floppy disks in 1989; dad helped me put together my first computer (Acer) in 1990; parents helped me buy my second computer (Compact - Pentium 66mhz) in 1993; taught computer course for university students in 1997; bought third computer (IBM Thinkpad A21m - PIII, 750Mhz) in 1999; worked on Dell laptop at work in 2002; worked on Dell desktop at work in 2004; bought my fourth computer (Mac - G4, 1.33Mhz). So, after all this experience with Windows, why did I buy a Mac?

Of the laptop PC makers, it seems like IBM and Dell are among the most popular brands. Using the sites of Apple, IBM and Dell, I tried to find machines that were as equivalent as possible. I chose the IBM T41 and the Dell 300m (customized with similar specs as the other machines) to compare to a Mac Powerbook. For IBM, I was thinking of using the IBM T31 (which is more expensive than the T41) but I wanted to give IBM the best chance possible. For Dell, it could be misleading when you first look at the 300m because you'll see its base price at only $1399 (the same as the Mac!) but then you wouldn't notice that it's a very basic machine. So, I customized it to include the features standard on the Powerbook. OK, here's my best side-by-side comparison:

.....................Mac ................IBM T41................Dell Inspiron 300m
CPU:...............G4 - 1.33Mhz..........PM - 1.7 Mhz..........PM - 1.2 Mhz
RAM:..............512 MB...................512 MB.................386 MB
Monitor:...........12.1"....................14.1"....................12.1 "
Hard Drive:.........60 GB...................60 GB..................60 GB
Weight:.............4.6 lbs...................5.0 lbs................3.0 lbs
CD/DVD:...........CD-RW/ DVD-ROM.....CD-RW/ DVD-ROM......External CD-RW/DVD
WiFi/ Bluetooth:...Built-in..................Built-in................Built-in

Price (retail - USD)..$1599.................$2,899...................$1915
Price (edu. discount).$1399...............n/a (?).................$1715
Best Price........... $1275.................$2,249.................$1599


OK. You tell me: have I forgotten anything? Yes, of course. As I've said, it's almost impossible to compare these machines on a level playing field - even when you disregard all their qualitative aspects. For example, how does a G4 compare with a Pentium M? And how does IBM's support compare with Dell's or Apple's?

In my experience, IBM has excellent international support. When I was in Japan I had a problem with my Thinkpad and a UPS guy was at my door within about an hour! Then about 2 days later, it was then delivered to me with a new motherboard. But is that worth the extra $900?

4 Comments:

At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you're right that Mac laptops can be had for about the same price as a mainstream brand name Wintel laptop (although you'll find if you look around that off-brand ones can be had for much less). This is because you always pay a 'laptop tax' reflecting the specialized proprietary components that go in to making a small computer.

Where Mac really start to seem like a poor deal is when you look at their desktops. For example, the mid range iMac is as follows:

17-inch widescreen LCD
1.25GHz PowerPC G4
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 Ultra
64MB DDR video memory
256MB DDR333 SDRAM
80GB Ultra ATA hard drive
SuperDrive (DVD-burner)
Price: $2429 CAD (On June 7)

Here's a similarly configured Dell:
17" LCD Flat panel monitor
3 Ghz Pentium 4 (much faster)
Geforce FX5200
512MB dual-channel DDR-RAM (twice as much as the mac)
160GB Hard drive (twice as much)
1 DVD and 1 DVD+RW drive (ie, a reader AND a burner)
Price: $1798 CAD (on June 7)

Not an insignificant savings for a computer that, if anything, is much more powerful than the Mac. Combine this with the fact that the iMac is not very easily upgradable (no extra drive bays, slots, etc, and a permanently attached monitor), and it starts to look like an even worse deal.

As slick and nicely designed as Macs are, they are also a luxury item. Apple, who started out bringing personal computers to the masses in the form of the Apple I and II, seems to have abandoned this market.

 
At 1:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As well as being richer, looks like Mac users are smarter too (see the following): http://www.macnewsworld.com/story/35130.html

Maybe their richer and smaret BECAUSE they use Macs?

 
At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoops, I meant richer and smarter... Looks like I'm 0 for 2...

 
At 6:57 PM, Anonymous Demexii said...

Macs are nice computers by the are indeed expensive. Their cheapest models are more than a thousand which is more than most people are willing to pay on a computer. And if your going to be putting a lot of money into a machine I would rather customize it to what I want instead of whatever Apple decides should be in it.

 

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