Why Macs aren’t more expensive than PCs

MacBook ProThe Psystar v Apple case has brought into focus again the debate over whether Macs provide value for money. It was inevitable that at some point, a company would try and make Macs appealing to those who seek lower budget PCs as Psystar rather illegally tried to do so.

Firstly, it’s important to point out that as far as portables go, there’s no way that Macs can compete with lower-end PC laptops. There simply aren’t any Apple Macbooks costing in the region of $600 like there are with PC laptops. However, when it comes to the higher end portable computer market and the mid-range standalone machines, Macs actually work out cheaper. The devil as they say, is usually in the detail i.e. the software.

Let’s take a look at the Dell Studio XPS Studio 16 for an original retail price of $1,642 v The Macbook Pro with an original retail price of $1,699.

DellBoth have a 15 inch screen, Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB RAM. The Macbook Pro has only a 250 GB Hard Drive compared to 500 GB in the Dell. The MBP has an NVIDIA GeForce 9400m graphics card while the Dell has an ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3670 Graphics Card. The MBR has a 7 hour battery while the Dell has a “6 cell” battery.

For an extra $150, we can add an extra 250GB to the MBP to bring it’s specifications to exactly that of the Dell (although you can buy external 250GB external hard drives for just $60).  However, for arguments sake, lets pay Apple’s rather pricey $150 online purchase upgrade so the total price comparison is MBP $1,849 v Dell XPS Studio 16 for $1,699. Total price difference means the Dell is $150 cheaper – so far.

Mac MiniLet’s also take a look at a standalone like the Mac Mini for an original price of $599. The closest Dell equivalent is their own mini the Inspiron Zino HD for an original price of $442. The Mac Mini has a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor compared to the Zino AMD Athlon 2850e (512K, L2, 1.8GHz). The Mac Mini has 2GB of memory compared to the Zino’s 3GB. The Mac Mini has 160GB of hard drive space compared to the Zino’s 320GB. Both have an 8x CD/DVD ROM drive and the Mini has an NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics card compared to an Integrated ATI Radeon HD3200 Graphics card. Total price difference means the Zino is $157 cheaper than the Mini.

Now let’s get onto the subject of software. Windows 7 basic is provided free with both Dells and Snow Leopard is includedDell Zino for free with the Macs. However, if you factor in additional software costs to the Dell such as Vista Ultimate, it adds another $130 more to the cost of a Dell and the Windows 7 Home Ultimate upgrade adds another $122 more to that. If you were to treat yourself to a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements & Premiere Elements (broadly similar to elements of iLife) on top, that would be another $99.

This would add another $351 to the cost of the Dell XPS Studio and Dell Zino taking their total costs to $2,050 and $793. That would make the Dell XPS Studio $201 more expensive than the MacBook Pro and the Zino $194 more expensive than the Mac Mini.

In addition, Macs also come bundled with iLife which normally sells separately for a very modest $79 and includes iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb and Garageband. In my opinion, this collection of apps are worth considerably more too. You don’t get anything like iLife bundled with a new PC. You do get some basic household management software in the form of Microsoft Works, but it’s of pretty poor quality – and much less exciting. If we subtract this $79 from the value of the Mac, it makes the Dell $280 more expensive than the MacBook Pro and the Zino $224 more expensive than the Mac Mini.

However there is one big caveat to all this. Dell regularly run price offers on their products whereas Apple usually don’t. For example, at the time of writing, Dell are offering a generous $323 off the price of the XPS Studio 16 and $93 off the Zino. This still makes the MacBook Pro only marginally more expensive than the XPS Studio and the Mini remains cheaper than the Zino.

Of course, this is a very crude price comparison. There are some things that simply won’t show-up in such an exercise and that’s time efficiency and usability. Time is money as they say and over the lifespan of both my Mac and PC, the Mac’s superior stability and efficiency has been priceless.

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