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  • Perpetuating the Myth of Expensive Macs

    May 25th, 2006

    Over the years, I’ve weighed in on the fact that claims that the Mac is much more expensive than a comparably equipped Windows PC are not true. This is one of the myths that has survived since the early days when Apple did charge a large premium for its products, but things have changed substantially in recent years.

    One major cause of this perception is the fact that Apple won’t sell stripped computers, models lacking the iLife digital lifestyle suite, FireWire, and so on and so forth. Yes, you can find competing models that appear to be much cheaper, but as soon as you click “Customize” on the ordering page, things change considerly.

    Sadly, some tech writers continue to be taken in by the illusion of costly Macs, and that’s unfortunate, because they should be in the forefront of providing facts rather than repeating misleading information. Of course, the same can be said for all that FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) some are spreading the Mac is as vulnerable as Windows to malware, and it will only take a higher market share to inflict misery upon us. Just you wait and see, they say. But the real truth is that such issues are not yet serious, except for social engineering-related threats, such as phishing scams.

    Well, over the years, I have had mixed feelings about CNET, a major source of online technical news and reviews. I once worked for the organization, and I do recall being told on a regular basis to make a strong effort to unearth potential negatives about a product, which I resisted when it seemed I was pressing the issue beyond logic.

    That posture persists, alas. Take CNET’s review of the MacBook, just released. It garnered a 7.2 rating, which is “very good,” but hardly stellar. Among the negatives is the claim that “higher-end configurations are much more expensive than similarly configured Windows laptops.” Writers Justin Jaffe and Michelle Thatcher make the mistake of using a $1,400 Sony VAIO SZ for comparison, because it has a PC card slot and media reader, two features the MacBook lacks.

    Taking them at their word, I went ahead and attempted to configure the Sony at the company’s site, just to see how it really compares. Understand that the cheapest VAIO SZ comes with a 1.66GHz Intel Core Solo processor, same as the $599 Mac mini. There was no way to eliminate the two features that are not part of the MacBook’s feature set, but I did arrive at $1928.99, which is extremely close to the basic MacBook Pro. Even if you subtract $100 for the value of the card slot and media reader, the Sony is clearly much more expensive than a MacBook.

    So where does CNET come up with the claim that the MacBook is more expensive?

    All right, a Sony isn’t the cheapest PC on the planet, so I checked out another note-book used for comparison, the Dell Inspiron E1405. Understand that configuring a Dell is difficult, because prices and special offers change often. But I tried to keep things as fair as possible. Now a base system starts at $699, but when you begin to check off the option list, things add up quickly. The closest match was an Ultimate Home Entertainment version, which, when the appropriate extras were selected, came in at $1,554, but it didn’t have a Web cam, nor gigabit Ethernet. Since it offers a 100GB drive, compared to 60GB on the mid-range MacBook, and a dual-layer DVD burner, let’s call it a wash.

    Now if you look hard enough, I’m sure you can find lower cost models from second-tier manufacturers, and perhaps they will end up being somewhat cheaper than a comparable MacBook. But it won’t be a night and day difference.

    So, basically, CNET’s claim is pure fiction, and that’s unfortunate, because it seems that they made a concerted effort to give the MacBook a thorough examination. Maybe they inserted this negative just to have something extra with which to fill “The bad” category, but I would think telling the truth ought to have a stronger appeal.

    Regardless, I can see where you might make the claim that Apple should build special models that lack a few features for the educational and business markets where they may not be needed, and might, in fact, create potential security complications. Take the remote control and Web cam, for example, and these alone would strip more than $100 from the price of admission. You could also make the argument that wireless networking and Bluetooth could be excised as well, and that’s another $100.

    I realize, however, that Apple isn’t playing in that market and it probably keeps production costs down to restrict themselves to only a few model variations.

    In any case, you will continue to see articles that spread misleading information about Apple’s premium pricing. Conventional wisdom, even if it’s not correct, is awfully hard to correct, and I don’t expect my humble efforts to make much of an impact.



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