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  • The Mac Hardware Report: Stop Saying Macs Cost More!

    August 29th, 2006

    It’s pretty much agreed now that, for the time being at least, the Mac Pro is cheaper than a comparably-equipped Dell Precision Workstation 690. That won’t stop some from saying otherwise, but that’s not important in the scheme of things.

    However, what annoys me is the fact that far too many tech writers and bloggers still insist that this is something brand new, that the Mac was previously more expensive, that this represents a new tact on the part of Apple. That’s not quite true, to put it mildly.

    You see, once someone gets a reputation, particularly an unfavorable one, it’s not easy to overcome. Back in the bad old days when John Sculley was CEO of Apple, it was perfectly true that Macs cost a lot more. There’s no dispute of that. Through the years even after Sculley departed, you had to pay a premium to go Mac, even if the cost of upkeep was less. Apple made some bad decisions in those days, and, eventually, those decisions killed the company.

    Even the iPod was once thought to be a more expensive product, until Apple secured those killer deals when it cornered the Flash memory market, that is. Then things became a lot more competitive. But a price difference of perhaps $50 isn’t so significant if you’re spending $300 or more on a consumer electronics product. If you factor that increase onto a product costing five or ten times as much, however, pretty soon you have real money.

    When Apple moved to Intel processors, again the online chatter had it that prices would go down, forgetting that the prices for parts from either IBM or Intel weren’t all that different. In fact, some suggested that Apple paid a higher price to switch, and might have to eat the difference or pass it on to you and me.

    Regardless, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it now: In recent years, a Mac has been extremely competitive with name-brand PC boxes with similar configurations. Now that Intel is inside both, the comparisons might be easier, but the end results still show that a Mac is not more expensive, and hasn’t been for awhile.

    For the moment, let’s put the top-of-the-line aside, and look at the Mac mini. Yes, I know there are rumors that a new model may be in our midst soon enough, but, based on Apple’s current strategy, I don’t expect prices to change much. It may be faster, of course, and perhaps have more multimedia features, but that’s not the point.

    Now we all know that getting consistent pricing on Dell is a needle-in-a-haystack quest, but since they are the number one PC maker, I’ll continue to compare them with Apple, even if it requires reading a few tea leaves.

    The basic Mac mini, at $599, has a 1.5GHz Intel Core Solo processor, 512MB RAM, a 60GB hard drive, an integrated Intel GMA950 graphics processor with 64MB of shared memory, a Combo drive, gigabit Ethernet, built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and a remote control.

    The least expensive Dell equivalent I could locate was a Dimension E310 P4 Vista Capable, which has a 3.06GHz Pentium 4, which you cannot compare directly to the Core Solo or Core Duo, an 80GB hard drive, an older Intel GMA900 graphics processor, a remote control and FireWire. I couldn’t locate a gigabit network interface, though in fairness to Dell, it does have a modem, which the mini lacks, so let’s call it almost a wash in terms of hardware. Dell’s price is $565, reduced from $678.

    A basic set of multimedia software and an optical mouse, to match what Apple provides, boosts the price to $622. This may, of course, change by the time you get to check it, but I expect the basic trend will be similar enough for the sake of this highly informal window shopping session.

    Yes, there are cheaper boxes from Dell, but you have fewer options to customize, so you can’t really do an honest comparison. Just as important, the Dell I configured, though it is supposedly capable of running Windows Vista, contains older Intel chips, and performance is apt to be inferior, even though the processor has a higher clock speed rating.

    But even if performance could be regarded as equivalent or close enough not to be significant one way or the other, you can’t make the argument that a Mac mini is more expensive. You can do similar comparisons down the line and prices will also be highly similar, until you get to the Mac Pro, where Apple has a huge advantage.

    So why are the pundits saying otherwise? As I said, it’s hard to erase the memory of a bad reputation, even when it is disproved over and over again.

    However, I’m more interested in the truth, even though that’s something a few out there still can’t handle. No, the Mac is not more expensive! This myth has to end here and now, and if someone tells you otherwise, insist they check their facts first.

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