The Apple Mac Cost Misconception

Macs and Their Prices

Note: This isn’t a guide to evangelize and convert people from Windows to Mac OS X. It’s a guide to give people options. If you’re happy with what you’ve got, great! But if you’re interested in alternatives read on.

After my first article on Macs and OS X, there were several readers who just down right bashed Macs for pricing and OS X without solid reasoning or legitimate hand’s on experience of Macs. So this is a follow-up.

Let’s get straight to the point. Tom’s Hardware isn’t about being a "PC fanboy." It’s about finding the best hardware, revealing up and coming tech and debunking predetermined notions. That begs the question, especially here: what’s so special about a Mac anyway?

Here’s the short answer: nothing really, just some very elegant aluminum chassis designs. The key, is the operating system. Even still, let’s settle this issue about price.

In a recent comment, someone came up with an analogy that a Mac isn’t really a BMW, but rather a Hyundai dressed up in a nice exterior. One problem: Hyundai’s don’t have nice European car exteriors. And to generalize it this way shows the lack of willing to understand the core of the Mac: it’s operating system. Because that’s really what it’s about. But for the sake of these first few pages, let’s leave Mac OS X out of the picture for now. Let’s just see where Apple comes in on hardware.

In terms of hardware, there’s nothing really special about a Mac aside from elegant designs, be it a Mac Pro or MacBook Pro, that makes it incredibly more worthwhile than the PC equivalent. And there’s no doubt that you can get an equally equipped PC, or build one yourself, for less money. In fact, I mentioned this in my previous article, although some people seemed to have completely missed the page where I complained about Apple’s outrageous prices altogether. However, building a PC to do the same isn’t the point, because you can always buy a cheaper car to get you from A to B. Instead, let’s see what you can get for $2000, from Apple and from others. For $2000, do you really get much less?

Let’s take a quick look at some of Apple’s competition and their pricing structure compared to Apple’s:

We went to Dell’s website and picked out what Dell indicated was a serious gaming laptop. We also took the XPS model that was priced the same as the baseline MacBook Pro. Let’s take a look at the results.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
$1999 MacBook Pro$1999 Dell XPS M1730
2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo
2 GB of RAM2 GB of Shared RAM
NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT with 256 MBNVIDIA GeForce 8700M GT with Shared MB
200 GB HDD200 GB HDD
15.4-inch LED LCD17-inch LCD
Dual-Layer DVD BurnerDual-Layer DVD Burner
802.11n Wi-Fi802.11g Wi-Fi
BluetoothRow 8 - Cell 1
Built in WebcamBuilt in Webcam
Backlit KB with Ambient SensorRow 10 - Cell 1
Optical Audio Output/InputSPDIF through Dongle
Dual-Link DVI OutputDual-Link DVI Output
RemoteRow 13 - Cell 1
MagSafe PowerStandard female/male Jack
5.4 lbs10.6 lbs
1 inch thick2 inch thick

For the most part, the two systems are comparable, indicating that at least for a laptop, Apple’s pricing fits in line with comparable hardware. Certain things like shared memory for graphics leave some performance desires for the XPS, but the XPS has a strong leg up on the MacBook Pro with the larger screen size.

Apple’s MacBook Pro has several small advantages over the XPS, mainly with the MagSafe connector and it’s nearly take-for-granted use. I have seen several incidences where people have tripped over or through someone else’s MacBook Pro power cord and the MagSafe design literally saved the laptops from flying.

The biggest differences are the screen size, weight, thickness, and shared memory. For absolute performance, the screen size won’t matter here, but the slow shared graphics memory on the XPS will. For a laptop that Dell indicates is a gaming machine, shared memory is a disappointment, as graphics is an important area for 3D gaming.

For another comparison, let’s look at the MacBook Air to VoodooPC’s Envy 133:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
$1799 MacBook Air$2099 Envy 133
1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo
2 GB of Shared RAM2 GB of Shared RAM
Intel GMA X3100 Shared RAMIntel GMA X3100 Shared RAM
13.3-inch LED LCD13.3-inch LCD
Row 6 - Cell 0 External eSATA Super Multi Drive
802.11n Wi-Fi802.11n Wi-Fi
Built in WebcamBuilt in Webcam
Backlit KB with Ambient SensorBacklit KB with Ambient Sensor
MagSafe PowerStandard female/male Jack
3.0 lbs3.37 lbs (with SSD)
0.16 to 0.75 inch thick0.70 inch thick
iLife ’08 SuiteNo software package

At this point, the Envy is $300 more expensive than the MacBook Air. Although the Envy 133 does include an external optical drive, tacking on Apple’s quite expensive $99 MacBook Air SuperDrive to the purchase of the MacBook Air still leaves a $200 gap.

Bottom line: Macs aren’t "way more" expensive than PCs. So where do things get really hairy with Apple? Upgrades. Apple really stabs you in the face when you’re upgrading your Mac. All goes well when you want to buy a base system, but as soon as you want to add options, be prepared to be murdered. I’ll talk about this later.

Let’s take a look at desktops.

  • The OS is proprietary since the EULA states you cannot use it on non-Apple hardware. Not because it doesn't have market share. Because it does.

    My gripe with apple's pricing is that there are no real budget oriented options. The cheapest macbook is 1000$+. The cheapest laptop I can find with Vista is 600 or less at Costco/Sams Club.

    Everyone says that OS X is faster and yada yada yada. I know people are going to shoot me for this, but I find all of the fancy desktop effects to be VERY laggy except on laptops with a dedicated video card. The Laptops especially slow to a crawl unless they have >2gb of ram. Like Vista. I work on these every day and if I ever bought one, it'd be for the looks- the OS is nothing special IMO. I'd install Vista on it.
  • rodney_ws
    Cherry picking over-priced PCs does little to prove your point. I realize that when you're going the Apple route you don't have many options, but those of us on the PC side have TONS of options... and even the most basic among us would be able to purchase higher performing, lower cost PCs than the ones you selected to go up against the Apples.

    For $1549 I purchase an HP laptop w/ 4 GB of RAM, 20.1 inch screen, Blu-Ray, 5 speakers, and an Nvidia 8800 GTS. My system absolutely crushes that $2000 MacBook Pro in every category... and still cost $450 less.

    Don't get me wrong... I "get" Apple. They look awesome, are well built, have an awesome retail presence, and they are right for some people... just not for me.
  • compy386
    If you're stupid enough to pay retail for a Dell, then Apple just might be the computer for you.
  • ouch1
    Funny how you are comparing base model MAC's to bleeding edge PC's. That my dear journalist is not comparing apples to apples. It is comparing apples to apple pie. Big difference. That just goes to prove for that same cost as a very high end PC you can get a base model MAC with a very proprietary OS (i.e. can't install it on anything but a mac with invoking the Jobs cops, check the EULA). Please if you make the mistake of buy an Airbook have fun changing the battery (you can't) or watching a DVD while on the road (again you can't no built in DVD drive).
  • hixbot
    Wow, you took a PC desktop with identical hardware and proved that it would cost the same as the baseline Mac Pro.
    What's the point? You can build a PC with hardware that isn't identical but PERFORMS better for CHEAPER. Picking the same overpriced PC components doesnt prove anything.
  • customisbetter
    i read the first page and stopped. Apples are designed to look good and be reliable. I get that and many other people do as well. They really aren't designed to be performers for cheap. The PC will ALWAYS win in the price category (and usually performance as well) because you pay for the reliability and style of Apple. Please stop comparing the two.
    Just to humour you though. The ENVY has a Carbon Fiber Chassis. BAM! There's 300 right there.
    BTW i am both a PC and Mac Owner.
  • angry_ducky
    I don't think that comparing the MacBook Pro and the XPS M1730 is a good comparison; the XPS is a desktop-replacement gaming machine, and is therefore bigger and heavier than the Mac. Also, the 8700M GT will outperform the 8600GT, and I am unable to find where it specifies that the 8700 has shared graphics memory.

    Dell sells the XPS M1530 which is a 15.4 inch laptop designed more for multimedia than for gaming (similar to the Mac). The M1530 starts at $1000, and with identical specs to the MacBook Pro (and Vista Ultimate), the price is $1650.
  • jwl3
    The main point is that with PC's you have hundreds of different vendors I can buy a computer from. Due to competition the price is always lower. The author is being disingenuous by picking for comparison laptops at non-discounted prices. Dell ALWAYS has deals with $400-$500 off. Apple NEVER discounts their products.

    I bought an Acer laptop from 2 weeks ago for $399. It came with a Dual core pentium, 120GB HD, and 1GB ram. What can you get for $399 at the Apple store - a tricked out ipod?

    Oh and another thing - if you play games at all, you can forget the Apple. Games just aren't made for it and the ones that are come out 1 year after the PC release.
  • jwl3
    Additional thought:

    The author's main point is that Macs are similarly priced to PC's. Then halfway through the article, he states that MAC prices are at a premium because it's from a top-shelf manufacturer and it is sold to cater to a "lifestyle. "

    Which one is it you duplicitous fool? Are you actually acknowledging that Macs are severely overpriced vs. PC's?
  • wow they messed up big time with this article. comparing thickness and weight of a 17" laptop vs a 15" macbook pro. sounds fair to me. also lets go ahead and say that the 8600m GT is faster than the 8700m GT. who wrote this, honestly? anyone who knows even a small amount about graphics cards should know that an 8700m GT does not use shared graphics memory. The 200GB drive in the dell is also most likely a 7200rpm vs the 5400rpm in the macbook pro. 802.11n wifi is a $20 upgrade on the dell, had to not include that to make the mac look better. Also that dell is designed for SLI graphics cards upto two 8800m GTX with 1GB of memory, lets see the 6lb macbook pro do that. Different machines designed for different purposes. Pick a better comparison tom, seriously!