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  • Lies, and the Liars Who Tell Them

    August 29th, 2007

    So I'm reading a CNET review of the high-end Mac Mini, recently revised to include a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive. The unsung hero of the Mac line, CNET found ways to malign it, some accurate and some downright misleading.

    Indeed, you have to put this machine into perspective. It's just an entry-level computer, with no pretense of offering a fat, fast hard drive, or a speedy graphics card for gaming. But both are big deals to CNET's writers and editors, who seem to believe that such features are would be required by buyers of such a box, and they therefore downgrade the mini as a result.

    Another major negative is that CNET feels the competition from Dell and HP offers better pricing for the same features? But do they?

    Although Dell has supposedly simplified its pricing and option structure, CNET doesn't seem to understand how to do a proper comparison. For example, they used Dell Inspiron 530s and 531s in their price-checking attempts, but stuck with models equipped with cheaper AMD processors rather than the versions that include an Intel Core 2 Duo, so as to match the Mac mini. What's more, the Dells are preloaded with Windows Vista Basic, which is no better than XP, and certainly no match for Mac OS X, so I went with Vista Ultimate.

    I thus rechecked and built a 530s and attempted to match it as closely as possible to the $799 version of the Mac mini, which means no display, keyboard or mouse, and I also deleted the modem and, to keep the price as low as possible, speakers.

    Of course, this process isn't always so easy. For example, the Dell comes with Integrated 10/100 Ethernet, and there is no Wi-Fi option in the option list that I consulted. I was, however, able to add FireWire, and the closest equivalent I could locate to Apple's iLife '08 software in the Windows arsenal.

    The price I arrived at was $797. Now maybe Dell has discount coupons or special rebates that would lower the price, but adding the speedier Internet option and even 802.11g Wi-Fi would, together, add roughly $50 to the purchase price if they were readily available. Of course, they are, if you spend a little more time at Dell's site or just go into your local consumer electronics outlet and check around.

    To be fair, the Dell offers a much larger hard drive: 320GB, compared to 120GB on the Mac mini. You can get a 160GB drive for the latter from Apple, but you'd do better consulting third party options for something more robust.

    By the way, I did not add the annual cost of providing malware protection on the Windows box. That would be roughly $50 for every year you own it, unless you opt for freeware applications instead, and that's something the average user should be really cautious about, without some outside help.

    In the end, it's clear to me that CNET's claim that the competition offers more features "at a better price" is just not true. But they won't admit that.

    If this happened only on occasion, I wouldn't object, but they seem to go overboard looking for negatives in their reviews of Apple products. In this case, I cannot believe the writer was unaware of the shortcomings of the price comparison, unless the editors intervened and insisted that it be done that way. Either way, this review, while superficially favorable, once again tells lies about Apple's prices as compared to other PC makers.

    The other flaw is far more serious than whether the Mac mini costs a little more or a little less than a similarly-built PC. You see, CNET -- and even Consumer Reports -- evaluate the Mac and the PC as if they were the same.

    Even Microsoft would admit that Windows and the Mac OS, though superficially similar, reside in different environments. I think even a fan of the former would admit that without hesitation, so putting them in the same sandbox is just not fair to either.

    I suppose one could attack CNET on a number of grounds for continuing to perpetuate lies in their Mac coverage. Without actually knowing the current editors, however, I can only suggest they might want to write this drivel to look different and more hard-hitting as compared to other tech outlets that routinely give Apple much higher grades for their products.

    Of all the possibilities, that's the most charitable answer and I'll stick with it for now. However, in light of CNET's acquisition of MacFixIt, I do hope that things will soon take a big turn in a positive direction.



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    16 Responses to “Lies, and the Liars Who Tell Them”

    1. Bill Scott says:

      You hope that things will take a positive turn in light of CNET's acquisition of MacFixIt; we can only hope it doesn't mean a negative change for MacFixit. I hate seeing sites that I rely on being acquired by PC-oriented sites. It makes me wonder if they will be forced to toe the party line when it comes to telling the whole (awful) truth when they write about Windoze and/or M$.

    2. zato says:

      You hope that things will take a positive turn in light of CNET’s acquisition of MacFixIt...... dream on. CNET works for Microsoft. The acquisition of the great site MacFixit further extends Microsoft's near total control of all tech news on the net, including many Mac sites.

    3. John Fallon says:

      AVG free edition is a reasonably competent anti-virus. None of them are perfect anyway. For the rest of it, it's mostly the argument that the machine is totally unexpandable, not very configurable, and uses slower (and more expensive) laptop parts. Gigabit Ethernet? nice, not relevant to most of us. Slow graphics? well, yes. 90 days support for a machine costing a fair bit of money is not acceptable, as is the lack of options for getting at-home service (somebody might be able to get AppleCare to come to their house, but I couldn't).

      CNET (and Consumer Reports ) simply view these issues differently than we Mac zealots do. They are looking for the mythical mid-range xMac and not finding it anywhere in Apple's lineup. Apple puts up the mini as the substitute for the standard decently priced desktop, and it's not.

      Speaking as someone who just bought a fully upgraded 2.0 Mini because my Dell monitor blows away those new iMac monitors, who is quite happy with his new Mini, and who has other things to do with the money a MacPro costs... If I thought there were any chance of a decent Mac desktop, I'd have waited for it. If the single processor G5 had not come out, I'd have probably migrated to some Linux version, figuring Apple didn't want my business.

    4. AVG free edition is a reasonably competent anti-virus. None of them are perfect anyway. For the rest of it, it’s mostly the argument that the machine is totally unexpandable, not very configurable, and uses slower (and more expensive) laptop parts. Gigabit Ethernet? nice, not relevant to most of us. Slow graphics? well, yes. 90 days support for a machine costing a fair bit of money is not acceptable, as is the lack of options for getting at-home service (somebody might be able to get AppleCare to come to their house, but I couldn’t).

      CNET (and Consumer Reports ) simply view these issues differently than we Mac zealots do. They are looking for the mythical mid-range xMac and not finding it anywhere in Apple’s lineup. Apple puts up the mini as the substitute for the standard decently priced desktop, and it’s not.

      Speaking as someone who just bought a fully upgraded 2.0 Mini because my Dell monitor blows away those new iMac monitors, who is quite happy with his new Mini, and who has other things to do with the money a MacPro costs… If I thought there were any chance of a decent Mac desktop, I’d have waited for it. If the single processor G5 had not come out, I’d have probably migrated to some Linux version, figuring Apple didn’t want my business.

      If you are doing a feature-for-feature comparison, you have to be as accurate as possible. This has nothing whatever to do with whether or not you need a higher-performance Ethernet, or Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Otherwise, the comparison is bogus. This is what CNET and Consumer Reports do not understand.

      Apple's decent Mac desktop is the iMac. The mini is no doubt a concession to folks who want a cheap Mac, but little more.

      Besides, two thirds of Mac sales are notebooks anyway.

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. Andrew says:

      Gene, you are just as guilty of scewing your comparison as CNET is in theirs. You say that the Mini is an entry-level machine not designed for high-end games or applications, and then add a whopping $200 to your Dell for Windows Vista Ultimate, which is aimed at power users, gaming and media enthusiasts and others who want all of the bells and whistles. Vista Home Basic, bundled with the Dell, is what buyers in this price range will buy.

      You talk about how the Mini lacks some features that larger PCs have, such as large desktop drives and expandability, but then go piling things like Firewire and an iLife substitute that buyers of low-end computers won't likely need or want.

      An "Entry Level Computer" needs Vista Ultimate and FireWire as much as the cheapest Mac Mini needs blistering graphics and a 320GB hard drive. And why do we need to compare them with the same processor? Is there anything that a Core2Duo will do that an AMD won't? Once down in the performance basement with integrated video, who cares if one processor is a few percentage points faster than another.

      Were I comparing price, I'd look at the cheapest processor option and only add the features that I, the end user, would need. This reminded me of an eMac vs. PC comparison I read a few years ago where the author added $40 to the price of the PC for the Nanosaur game bundled on the Mac. Of course I would add a retail copy of Nanosaur when buying a PC so that I could keep a fair comparison or would consider myself $40 ahead when buying the Mac,....NOT!

      Comparisons by price only work for a specific user's needs, not matching configurations and spec sheets. Even on different PC brands you can't match everything as each will have superfluous components and are just a waste of your money while each may also have "surprise and delight" features that you won't know how you ever lived without.

      How much is the backlit keyboard on a MacBook Pro worth, or the swappable optical drives and docking of a ThinkPad? How do you cross-shop the two as those two features are not available on the other platform?

    6. Gene, you are just as guilty of scewing your comparison as CNET is in theirs. You say that the Mini is an entry-level machine not designed for high-end games or applications, and then add a whopping $200 to your Dell for Windows Vista Ultimate, which is aimed at power users, gaming and media enthusiasts and others who want all of the bells and whistles. Vista Home Basic, bundled with the Dell, is what buyers in this price range will buy.

      You talk about how the Mini lacks some features that larger PCs have, such as large desktop drives and expandability, but then go piling things like Firewire and an iLife substitute that buyers of low-end computers won’t likely need or want.

      An “Entry Level Computer” needs Vista Ultimate and FireWire as much as the cheapest Mac Mini needs blistering graphics and a 320GB hard drive. And why do we need to compare them with the same processor? Is there anything that a Core2Duo will do that an AMD won’t? Once down in the performance basement with integrated video, who cares if one processor is a few percentage points faster than another.

      Were I comparing price, I’d look at the cheapest processor option and only add the features that I, the end user, would need. This reminded me of an eMac vs. PC comparison I read a few years ago where the author added $40 to the price of the PC for the Nanosaur game bundled on the Mac. Of course I would add a retail copy of Nanosaur when buying a PC so that I could keep a fair comparison or would consider myself $40 ahead when buying the Mac,….NOT!

      Comparisons by price only work for a specific user’s needs, not matching configurations and spec sheets. Even on different PC brands you can’t match everything as each will have superfluous components and are just a waste of your money while each may also have “surprise and delight” features that you won’t know how you ever lived without.

      How much is the backlit keyboard on a MacBook Pro worth, or the swappable optical drives and docking of a ThinkPad? How do you cross-shop the two as those two features are not available on the other platform?

      Andrew, I value your friendship and your loyalty to our site even though we we seldom agree on many points.

      FireWire is great for backup drives and, of course, for camcorders.

      Remember that Mac OS X is fully-featured out of the box, and you don't have to pay extra for any essential features. If you want to compromise, you can stick with Vista Home Premium on the PC, which is a little cheaper.

      iLIfe substitutes? Well, we are doing a feature-for-feature comparison, meaning you want to match them as closely as possible on both sides of the equation. This is never an argument as to whether Apple should shed some features to lower the price. Their marketing plan calls for fully capable personal computers regardless of whether it's the entry-level or the high-end.

      If a model has features not available on the other platform, you either try to find something unique in the product where it's missing, or just factor that as part of your price comparison. One of those asterisk points you can do nothing about.

      The Mac mini, for example, is complete and ready to perform a variety of tasks, other than 3D rendering and gaming no doubt, without having to buy any options except, perhaps, a memory upgrade. Yes, it's basically a MacBook without the screen, but who ever said the MacBook was a slow computer? If you're moving from a PC that's a year or two old, or even a Power Mac G4, you'll find the mini to actually represent a noticeable improvement in most respects.

      In fact, I have two friends who did just that -- migrated from older Power Macs. They are delighted with the performance of the mini, happy they could stick with their older displays and input devices, and they are ready for Leopard when it ships. Let's not denigrate the mini because you can buy a PC with fewer features for less money.

      Should Apple provide a slightly more expensive desktop with some expandability -- say a headless iMac with similar performance? Absolutely. I've campaigned for that for quite a while, and some of my friends and colleagues at Macworld have also made similar points. But Apple is, I suppose, happy with the status quo.

      Peace,
      Gene

    7. Andrew says:

      Gene,

      I think you misunderstood me, I love the Mac Mini and own a G4 model. My complaint is that feature-parity is not the way to compare systems, use parity is.

      Picture a typical Mac Mini buyer. Clearly they didn't buy it for high-end games, so lets assume he or she uses it for other stuff, like connecting a digital camera, writing reports, email, surfing the web and perhaps burning music CDs for the car. There is more than enough power here for watching movies and if this person owns a modern camcorder it will connect. I think most people in the Mini's target audience aren't into high-end camcorders, and if they are, they connect them to their high-end computers rather than to the Mini in the bedroom.

      For this user, the Mini is a great system that matches the user profile perfectly. Look at a different user, however, and everything changes. How about the user who doesn't own a camcorder and isn't into tweaking their photos, only emailing them. Digicams use USB, not FireWire, and every cheap PC has USB (many also have FireWire). That cheap PC also has card readers built-in that are much faster than connecting the camera to USB and don't tie-up the camera.

      What about the home user who DOES want to play higher end games. With a cheaper PC it is easy to add a mid-range video card for under $100, an option that doesn't exist for the Mini. Sure, an iMac is aimed at this user, but not everyone wants a built-in display and many gamers do their best to avoid widescreens as many games don't support it and you can't always get black borders instead of characters and objects with lots of horizontal stretch.

      My point is that adding things to a PC to compete with a Mac just makes no sense, a user will only add the things that he or she wants or needs. The concession of Vista home premium instead of Vista ultimate also fails to make things fair for the user who doesn't want or need the media center application and doesn't care about the eye candy. You didn't add the cost of the largest hard drive to the Mini to make it comparable to the Dell, for instance.

      Adding those things that aren't wanted or needed only serves to artificially inflate the price, and in this type of article is usually done by the proponent of one platform to make the other look bad, rather than in both directions. I can easily imagine a usage situation that the Mac Mini matches well and in that instance, PCs will likely cost more. There are also usage patterns for which a Mac Mini is either overkill or inadequate, and which would be far cheaper on the PC platform than on a Mini or an iMac.

      Of course there are also business users, many of which will find most of the features even Apple's cheapest Mini to be overkill. Spreadsheets, word processing, web browsing and email don't require much out of a computer, and anything from the last 3 or 4 years will have power to spare. Your Dell's AMD processor is more than adequate here, and no FireWire, iLife-substitute or media center application is required, though you may need to shell out for Vista Business to get the domain features (OS X has it included).

      The fact is Macs and PCs are different tools that have overlap, like a car and a van. Both will go from A to B and carry stuff, but the car will usually be a better car and the van will usually be a better van. You can make a van car-like and a car tall and roomy, but in the end, they are different tools with advantages, disadvantages and simple differences.

    8. It comes down to the same thing: If you are comparing a Mac and a PC by price, they need to be equipped as closely as possible. Period.

      This has nothing to do with reducing features on the PC to provide a better price-point or to eliminate stuff you feel you don't need, or perhaps substitute somewhat lower performing parts that won't make much of a difference to you.

      These two considerations must be separated. Where CNET fails is in point one: Doing a fair price comparison.

      Peace,
      Gene

    9. Andrew says:

      If that is the case, then you have to add the largest hard drive on the Mini (still doesn't match the Dell's) and a PCI expansion chassis, and, and, and.

      There is no such thing as matching features on two different machines unless they share the same system board and similar chassis, and as Apple doesn't use industry standard, that can never be accomplished.

      Sorry Gene, I do not agree with adding something that the user doesn't need to make a comparison "fair". The Mini's FireWire is no more important to a user who doesn't need it than the PC's PCI slots are to the Mac user who doesn't need them.

    10. If that is the case, then you have to add the largest hard drive on the Mini (still doesn’t match the Dell’s) and a PCI expansion chassis, and, and, and.

      There is no such thing as matching features on two different machines unless they share the same system board and similar chassis, and as Apple doesn’t use industry standard, that can never be accomplished.

      Sorry Gene, I do not agree with adding something that the user doesn’t need to make a comparison “fair”. The Mini’s FireWire is no more important to a user who doesn’t need it than the PC’s PCI slots are to the Mac user who doesn’t need them.

      It comes down to the definition of what comparably-equipped means and what "equipped to my particular needs or expectations" means. You are using the latter, I am using the former.

      That has to be the end of this discussion, Andrew. There is no more ground to cover here without repeating the same arguments.

      Peace,
      Gene

    11. David W says:

      I've got to side with Andrew's comments on this one Gene. The PC is a minivan, the Mac mini is a Smart car with it's hood welded shut. Direct comparisons feature for feature are always going to be unbalanced.

      I believe when Apple moved to Intel they opened themselves up to direct hardware comparisons. Enough customers either don't know or care enough about the bundled software differences to make it important to the discussions. Heck, there are lots of people who think Windows is better than OS X. Try telling them to add hundreds of dollars to the PC side of the comparison to make it "fair".
      As for "as close as possible", putting a 160GB 2.5" HD in a mini still doesn't compare fairly with a 320GB 3.5" HD and fair is impossible in the PCI slots department.

    12. I’ve got to side with Andrew’s comments on this one Gene. The PC is a minivan, the Mac mini is a Smart car with it’s hood welded shut. Direct comparisons feature for feature are always going to be unbalanced.

      I believe when Apple moved to Intel they opened themselves up to direct hardware comparisons. Enough customers either don’t know or care enough about the bundled software differences to make it important to the discussions. Heck, there are lots of people who think Windows is better than OS X. Try telling them to add hundreds of dollars to the PC side of the comparison to make it “fair”.
      As for “as close as possible”, putting a 160GB 2.5″ HD in a mini still doesn’t compare fairly with a 320GB 3.5″ HD and fair is impossible in the PCI slots department.

      This isn't the argument. It never was. The only argument involved was doing a feature-for-feature comparison to evaluate pricing of both the Mac and the PC.

      You and Andrew are just posing a totally different issue that raises another discussion, which I'll comment upon further in my next article.

      But at it's core, the argument you have raised is no different than comparing a six-cylinder car to an eight-cylinder and praising the former because it's obviously cheaper.

      Peace,
      Gene

    13. JS says:

      Gene's absolutely right. If you are going to compare a products features you have to compare them on a point to point basis when possible. There is no gray area here. How does anyone here know exactly how a majority of people that by a low end computer are going to use it? That is just a nonsensical argument full of error ridden guesswork. Upgradability is also a non-issue for most people that buy these cheap boxes, including businesses. This article was not about a consumer making the comparison. This article was about a technology web site making a comparison. You should't have to play to your sponsors. Fair is fair there is no gray area.

    14. Bill says:

      The new Mini is the sleeper of the 8/7 announcements - essentially, a "headless Macbook" for half the price.

      I was surprised Apple chose to upgrade it, considering the cannibalization issue (vs. iMac or MacBook)

      Those of us happy with the MacBook (mine runs circles around the old Powerbook G4) will likely choose the Mini when it comes to replacing our eMac and G3/G4 towers (we can buy our own cheap 20" screen instead of Apple's)

    15. Joe S says:

      Gene, you are just as guilty of scewing your comparison as CNET is in theirs. You say that the Mini is an entry-level machine not designed for high-end games or applications, and then add a whopping $200 to your Dell for Windows Vista Ultimate, which is aimed at power users, gaming and media enthusiasts and others who want all of the bells and whistles. Vista Home Basic, bundled with the Dell, is what buyers in this price range will buy.

      You talk about how the Mini lacks some features that larger PCs have, such as large desktop drives and expandability, but then go piling things like Firewire and an iLife substitute that buyers of low-end computers won’t likely need or want.

      An “Entry Level Computer” needs Vista Ultimate and FireWire as much as the cheapest Mac Mini needs blistering graphics and a 320GB hard drive. And why do we need to compare them with the same processor? Is there anything that a Core2Duo will do that an AMD won’t? Once down in the performance basement with integrated video, who cares if one processor is a few percentage points faster than another.

      Were I comparing price, I’d look at the cheapest processor option and only add the features that I, the end user, would need. This reminded me of an eMac vs. PC comparison I read a few years ago where the author added $40 to the price of the PC for the Nanosaur game bundled on the Mac. Of course I would add a retail copy of Nanosaur when buying a PC so that I could keep a fair comparison or would consider myself $40 ahead when buying the Mac,….NOT!

      Comparisons by price only work for a specific user’s needs, not matching configurations and spec sheets. Even on different PC brands you can’t match everything as each will have superfluous components and are just a waste of your money while each may also have “surprise and delight” features that you won’t know how you ever lived without.

      How much is the backlit keyboard on a MacBook Pro worth, or the swappable optical drives and docking of a ThinkPad? How do you cross-shop the two as those two features are not available on the other platform?

      All Macs can make good use of a FireWire port. It is the most reasonable way to do complete bootable backups, but I suppose entry level buyers do not need to do backups. I do not know how to do a complete backup that works on my PCs at work, just my selected data on the server is backed up.

    16. steve says:

      The Mac mini is considerably more expensive than an English muffin, and yet if you do a direct feature-to-feature comparison, you'll find that the muffin tastes better and provides better food value. The mini is a lot better at running Photoshop, but most people don't need to do that, and everybody has to eat, so the Mac is way over-priced.

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