• 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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    15 Responses to “Perpetuating the Myth of Expensive Macs”

    1. Russ says:

      It continues to amaze me that Dell, Lenovo, HP, etc don’t get criticized for their high prices. I recently configured notebooks from each of htese manufacturers and compared it to one I can build myself with all sorts of great custom components. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the brand name computers were 20 to 30% more expensive!! OF course my time to assemble my own is meaningless. Why criticize Apple for “high prices” when they are usually priced about the same as other brand name computers? I had a similar issue a few weeks ago when I heard how expensive a Ferrari was compared to a Kia. What does a Ferrari do that a Kia can’t?

    2. setomi says:

      I mostly agree. But even your comments are somewhat misinforming. I think every modern day desktop and laptop comes with firewire. Yes, several years ago it was an extra $$$ add-on but not anymore.

      You say Apple won’t sell stripped down models? Then why do the pro laptops lack dual-layer DVD burners? Why are the consumer models locked in with 13″ screens? Why does the black model costs more than the white one? Why is it suddenly OK to have integrated graphics card (instead of dedicated) in the iMac and MacMini? Why does the iBook and iMac lack dual monitor support? (we know Apple crippled it). Where’s the surround sound support in games?

      Consider the iBook (the last couple of years). Can you honestly tell me that the iBook matched up with Intel laptops of those days? Sorry it did not. But today’s a different story. You’re right, the CNET article is way off base. The MacBook is hard to beat. In fact, I’m considering to drop my PowerMac for the portability of a MacBook or MacBook Pro.

    3. When I say stripped down models, I am more interested in ditching wireless networking, gigabit Ethernet, the Web cam and remote control. Some of these examples were mentioned in the article. As to integrated graphics, well lots of lower-cost Windows notebooks are using the very same chip, and unless you are into gaming, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

      Oh, and by the way, the 17-inch MacBook Pro DOES come with a dual-layer DVD burner, and there is a legitimate reason, from a design standpoint, why the regular MacBook Pro doesn’t. When slimmer devices are available, this will change.

      As to matching the iBook against Intel laptops of “those days,” well the comparison I did was based on today’s products, of course 🙂


    4. Jeff says:

      Apple offers a fairly substantial array of built-to-order options that allow the user to customize their machines for most common tasks, but when people insist that sub-$1000 laptop also function as a high-end gaming machine or demand that options that they’re not immediately planning to use like FireWire 800 or Bluetooth be optional for a “stripped down
      model , the’re only increasing Apple’s logistical costs.

      All of the options on the MacBook and MacBook Pro line are fairly modular and can be added at the factory with little effort. When you start asking that a different logic board be available that doesn’t contain certain ports, you’re also asking that Apple maintain a stock of those boards and do some kind of demand planning on them.

      I suspect that the Blackbook is a test to see how well it’ll do, and if it is popular and there is enough demand for the color, they can negotiate a lower cost with the supplier to bring it in line with the white case.

    5. RobInNZ says:

      Gene, I normally really enjoy your articles and often visit MNO.

      I DO take exception to this supposed myth that Apples are NOT more expensive than similar name brand machines in PC-Land.

      This might be the case for the US (and even then usually only when the writer starts getting creative with money added/removed for bits that people dont generally care about) but its NOT the case for us here in New Zealand. Unfortunately, we dont have official Apple presence here, and so the local distributer takes a cut as well.

      Similarly configured (1.83 proc, 512MB Ram, wireless, bluetooth) and including the 12.5 NZ sales tax (called GST).

      Dell Inspiration 640M: NZ $1990 (~ US$1250)
      Apple MacBook Combo: NZ $2360 (~ US$1485)

      Dell is missing webcam and gigabit ethernet. Neither of which I would include on a MacBook if I had the option.
      Dell gains by a 80GB HDD, a dual-layer SuperDrive, a single 512MB RAM module AND has the ability to address up to 224MB of RAM for video.

      Just to give you an idea, that price difference is 2/3rds of a post-tax weekly average wage in NZ. Yes, Im in the computer industry and earn considerably more than that, but as a systems engineer I still blink at paying that much extra Mac Tax. And the MacBook IS one of the closest ever to a similarly configured PC. Go up to the MacBook Pro, and you are starting to talk ~NZ$1k difference, or ~US$650

      To go up to a SuperDrive (which to me is an essential these days, and I cant believe that Apple still consider it to be an option), I have to go to the 2GHz CPU model, an extra NZ $500.

      To various people that comment that the difference between the MacBook and the MacBook Pro only counts for gamers and professionals, take into account several of Apples own applications, Motion and Aperture. I suspect the MacBook doesnt even implement enough of the requirements to make it fully Core Image compliant. To me, given the empahsis that Apple place on Core Image and Quartz3d, this is inexcusable!!!

      Aperture is not even SUPPORTED on this BRAND NEW model. Supposedly it does work and not too badly, but its still UNSUPPORTED and thus likely to NOT work (or get locked out) in future. Im NOT a professional photographer, yet I find Aperture to be a major benefit to my personal photography workflow.

      For a laptop, I want a relatively portable field photography solution and for overseas travel. Pounds count on airlines these days and the MacBook size/weight barely fits that criteria as it is. The Mac Book Pro 15″ doesnt even come close with regards to size (there is negligable weight difference). I dont want Aperture to be a rocketship on it, I just want it to work and be supported so I can use it for basic functionality in the field.

      For Aperture, I dont need a particularly fast processor, I need a better graphics option!!!

      /rant off

    6. Robin, you raise an important issue that really requires more information. When I perform a comparison, I am matching features as much as possible, without fudging. I accept the fact that this situation may be different in other countries, and I would ask you readers to consider doing the same thing. But remember: Don’t dispense with features on the Windows computer because you think you might not need them. To be fair, ALL features have to be matched! Also, I use Windows XP Professional in all my comparisons, because its features are closer to Mac OS X than the Home edition.


    7. David says:

      Another fine resource on the price issue can be found at:

      How to Switch Part Five: The Misconception Macs Are Too Expensive


    8. Joel says:

      One more thing… the MacBooks can run Windows.

    9. Switchblog » Blog Archive » Compare Mac and PC prices says:

      […] The myth that Macs are expensive are being debunked. Here’s one article to start things off. via Newsvine […]

    10. “Why is it suddenly OK to have integrated graphics card (instead of dedicated) in the iMac and MacMini? Why does the iBook and iMac lack dual monitor support? (we know Apple crippled it). Where’s the surround sound support in games?”

      Whoa, hey, now who’s misleading?!

      – The iMac doesn’t have integrated graphics, it has an ATI Radeon X1600 with 128 or optionally 256 MB memory.
      – The iMac and MacBook both support external displays in Extended Desktop mode, nothing “crippled” there
      – From what I can tell by the specs, at least the iMac and PowerMac support 5.1 surround through the optical audio out

      Specs pages for you:

      Next time, don’t accuse someone of being misleading when you follow it up with a load of factually incorrect statements.

    11. Alan says:

      I just bought a new Dell E1505 15.4″ 1.83ghz Core Duo laptop with 2GB RAM, 256mb ATI Video Card, and 100GB 7200RPM SATA Hard Drive. The screen resolution is 1680×1050. I checked HP, Gateway, IBM, Apple, etc… and no one else can match Dell’s displays. If I wanted 1680×1050 from anyone else, I’d have to buy a 17″. Anyway, the Dell cost me $1500.34 USD after tax and shipping. That also includes a full 3-year warranty for everything including accidental damage.

      A comparable 15.4″ MacBook Pro with those same specs, and including Apple’s Protection Plan would run me $3345.85 with tax. And I’m willing to give you back $300 of that because my PC has 533mhz RAM as opposed to 667mhz, as well as the fact that the MacBook Pro is a 2ghz machine. $300 is probably a little generous, actually, but that makes it $3024.89, with tax. So yeah, my PC cost about $1524.55 less than a MacBook. Oh yeah, and the display for the MacBook is 1440×900.

      There is no myth about expensive Macs. It’s just the truth.

    12. I just bought a new Dell E1505 15.4″ 1.83ghz Core Duo laptop with 2GB RAM, 256mb ATI Video Card, and 100GB 7200RPM SATA Hard Drive. The screen resolution is 1680-1050. I checked HP, Gateway, IBM, Apple, etc., and no one else can match Dell’s displays. If I wanted 1680-1050 from anyone else, I’d have to buy a 17″. Anyway, the Dell cost me $1500.34 USD after tax and shipping. That also includes a full 3-year warranty for everything including accidental damage.

      The resolution issue is questionable, since some regard the typically higher setting of a Windows notebook as too small for easy readability. In any case, I also examined the Dell E1505, and attempted to configure it with precisely the same options as the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro, with processor, etc., and found out that their “Customize” option doesn’t make it possible. As of the time I checked, for example, Dell didn’t offer gigabit Ethernet, keyboard lighting, an equivalent to the Sudden Motion Sensor, nor a Web cam. So conclusion isn’t “just the truth,” but actually a bogus comparison.

      This isn’t to say that some might prefer to buy a cheaper PC notebook, even if it lacks some features standard on a Mac. You can’t argue about one’s budget. It is also a fair argument to suggest that Apple might consider shedding a few features to be more price competitive, but that’s not the issue here.


    13. PeterZRH says:

      I accept a lot of what is said here but the exercise is somewhat flawed from the start because whatever baseline you choose, the opposition is always going to have problems being competitive once you start customizing things at the factory. This is especially true for Apple as some of their specifications are somewhat idiosyncratic. As Alan before has said repeat the exercise the other way around trying to match an Apple with a Dell machine and the result isn’t even close. I also think that most sensible people would probably buy the base model and then upgrade things like RAM for half the price from an online vendor whatever the platform.

      Let’s not loose sight of the main issue here. That is a sweet spot for laptop buyers of an approximate spec of:

      1 “a dual core intel CPU” (the exact model really doesn’t matter that much – Intel core duo is so damn good)
      2 1 gig of RAM
      3 around 80-100GB of HDD
      4 wired/wireless networking

      ..the rest is largely immaterial. Especially the remote and the firewire connector (which apart from DV video seems to be going the way of the dodo anyway – even Apple didn’t bother in their latest Mini). I’d gladly swap both and the gigabit networking for a decent media card reader and card slot. The isight is good but not the invincible device Apple people seem to think it is. For example Lenovo easily beat it: http://www.notebookreview.com/default.asp?newsID=2968&review=V100

      As it happens, I want a 13″ widescreen as a compromise between usability and portability an the Macbook is actually the cheapest option for me here in raw Swiss francs. I came very close to buying one. However what stopped me was:

      1. I can’t get a black one at a reasonable price. I don’t want the “white” becoming “grey” model.
      2. Apple knobble the Intel chipset for no obvious reason and limit the video memory to 64MB which makes it less useful in windows.
      3. Apple fill the slots with 2*256MB RAM which is utterly idiotic from an upgrade point of view. Many PCs now come with a single 512MB in the base model (eg Toshiba). It makes far more sense to sacrifice dual-channel memory temporalily for upgradability. Neither OS X or Windows Vista is satisfactory with less than 1GB and lack of dual channel is the least of your problems with a restricted system.
      4. No iSight drivers for windows is simply spiteful.

      In the end I bought a cheap Toshiba satellite with a slightly larger screen which came with a free laptop bag for 999CHF which compares to around 1700CHF if I upgrade a macbook to a useful 1024MB of RAM myself, presumably binning those stupid memory modules.

      So yes, a Macbook can be cheaper, but only by virtue of spurious argument. In the real world it’s still at least 50%+ more expensive. However one has to factor in OS X. What price do you put on that? That’s what it boils down to today as it always has done in the past. I applaud Apple for what they have done recently and if they removed the caveats I mention, I would definitely be writing this on one today, even paying the premium. As it is, I believe the “perfect” budget laptop may only be a single generation away from Apple.

      Close but no cigar.

    14.   I’m telling you for the last time by kernanigans says:

      […] “Macs are more expensive” is pretty much a myth […]

    15. Derek says:

      I know this is an old post, and it seems to be getting annoyingly spammed till… ^^^^

      How almost a two years later, and I have to let anyone know who stumbled on to this page, that it still holds true today. While you may be able to get a lesser laptop (mine cost $650, Toshiba – I do windows development), it came with the horrid Windows Vista, which KILLS the performance on a sub $800 laptop, it doesn’t have anywhere near some of the features as a Macbook, which would have only cost me $350 more.

      I bought this laptop, before making the Mac switch however. My day job is a analyst, who crafts Microsoft Solutions for the banking industry. However, when push came to shove, and it was time to buy a new desktop computer, I chose an iMac! Why? I wanted ALL the bells and Whistles. I chose the baseline model. 20″ Widescreen Display, 250 GB SATA 7200RPM, 1Gb Ram (easily 3rd party upgradable, and much more affordable), DVD Super Drive, AND – Bluetooth 2.0, Gigabyte Ethernet, and Gigabyte Wireless. Webcam, Microsoft, Stereo Speakers. Complete with FireWire 400 AND 800 for my precious DV, ATI HD 2400xt and 2.0 Ghz Core 2 Duo. Not to mention the standard mouse is a laser 4 button mouse. And it all comes in a beautiful Aluminum case, with a beautiful new keyboard.

      I tried several different things, I always had my eye on the Mac, but I started by configuring other systems. The Dell, the Gateway (dont even get me started on the over priced One!!!), the HP.

      By configuring all the bells a whistles I was going to get with the Mac, I would easily meet, or exceed what the cost of the Mac was! After deciding to get a Mac, I went to Newegg, and started to price out part by part, choosing lesser components than Apple would have used, and I actually came out spending MORE than I did just buying the Mac. And that was on the closest to the exact specced hardware. Now I know enthusiast can build more powerful computers for the a lower cost. I used to do that, this time I didn’t want to.

      Everyone has their own use, but my uses were specific. I wanted to run on Unix compatible hardware (Mac- Done. Wintel box – maybe, self built – yes with research), AND I wanted an all in one, with all the bells and Whistles, Including a beautiful display – that I could get for an great cost. Apple has persuaded me, and I’ve become a full convert, esp. since I know the great value in their machines!

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