First, on a mailing list I'm on, one reader remarked, "[I] can't find a way to justify the ultra premium price which I find to be approximately 4x what I can build a Linux box for".
Second, Tom's Hardware recently published an article on "The Apple Mac Cost Misconception", where they compared a $2000 laptop from Dell and Apple, and a $2780 Mac Pro vs. a comparable home-built PC. The results, unsurprising to me, is that the Mac Pro is about a latte's difference ($5.87) away from the PC, which you have to take the time to put together yourself and doesn't come with an integrated warranty.
The problem with Tom's comparison, however, is that they didn't look at the low end of the scale. Now, all comparisons can be assailed in some fashion, including mine. What's important to state first and foremost is the thesis of the comparison. Namely, what could you get for your money if you were thinking about spending $599 for an entry-level Mac Mini from Apple? To make the comparison as fair as possible, I tried to replicate the market segment of the Mac Mini, by selecting the mini-ATX PC form factor (17cm x 17cm), and as similar as possible hardware.
I long ago (in 1998) abandoned the PC market, so I don't claim to have used the cheapest PC components. Surely, some of these can be found cheaper, but I think it's still illustrative to the point of "is a Mac really more expensive?" Rather, I followed in Tom's footsteps, for better or worse, as much as I could, to get pricing for the components. (I, like them, used Newegg.com's pricing and chose the cheapest, but most comparable component they sold. If anyone is interested, I'll post the URLs of all the products separately.)
Without any further ado, here's the price comparison: (boldface indicates line item winner)
Apple Mac Mini $599.00 Homebuilt Mini-ITX PC Chassis Included APEX Mini-ITX Case $ 55.99 Intel Core2Due 1.83Ghz CPU Included Intel Core2Duo 1.83Ghz CPU $278.75 Apple integrated motherboard Included JetWay Socket M Motherboard $189.99 1 External 400Mbps 1394b port Included 1 Internal only 1394b port Included 10/100/Gigabit Ethernet Included 10/100/Gigabit Ethernet Included 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM - 2x512MB Included Transcend 512MB RAM x2 $ 63.98 80GB Serial ATA drive Included TOSHIBA SATA 80GB drive $ 52.99 8X Slot-loading Combo drive Included ASUS 16x Combo Drive $ 13.99 Built-in Bluetooth 2.0 Included cirago USB 2.0 Bluetooth Dongle $ 6.50 Integrated consumes 1 USB Port Built-in 802.11g Wireless Included Zonet 802.11g PCI Adapter $ 13.99 MacOS X Leopard Included Ubuntu Linux Media $ 1.75 ---------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------- Total $599.00 $677.93 Extras: Apple iLife 08 Not Available w/iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb, GarageBand Optical SPDIF Input & Output Analog input/output only Front Row Media Center Software Not Available Apple Infrared Remote Not Available
In summary, the Mac mini is hands down a winner in just about every conceivable category. The attractive chassis is designed for the computer, and offers a convenient slot drive, and ports on the back for all of the features of the computer. For example, the handbuilt model has on-board firewire, but no external firewire port. Sure, you can buy a simple Firewire PCI card for less than $15, but the motherboard, chassis, and design spec of a mini-computer doesn't have room for it.
The one area the PC outpaces the Mac mini is in its 16X combo drive, compared to the mini's 8X drive. But this is more than made up for, in my mind, by the slot-loading drive which doesn't compete with other stuff on your desktop when the tray ejects.
Aside from this, the Mac mini runs up the score in every other category. Built-in bluetooth means no need to consume a USB slot with a clumsy dongle. The Mac mini has optical input and output via SPDIF mini jacks, which you'd have to buy a separate card for on the PC-- if you're willing to lose 802.11g. But even in that configuration, the price drops by $14 (lose 802.11g) and climbs by at least $25-30 or more dollars to get the optical SPDIF in/out ports via the PCI slot.
The gap widens a little more, or a lot more, depending on the software comparison. I compared the configuration to Ubuntu Linux, which isn't quite for everyone. However, the poster on the mailing list I'm on mentioned Linux, so I included the $1.75 media cost for Ubuntu. The price difference is dramatically different if you consider the comparison, as Tom's Hardware did it, with Windows Vista Ultimate, at another $277.49!
Finally, the Mac comes with all the hardware installed, a guarantee that the particular hardware configuration is going to work out of the box, no hardware or OS installation required, with no driver tweaks or OS support nightmares, a 1 year warranty, and the ability to take the box to an Apple store to have it serviced, if necessary.
Only those who already have (and discount the cost of) a spare wireless card, bluetooth dongle, DVD drive and spare 2.5" laptop drive could come close to the price of a Mac mini. More realistically, depending on the OS and specific options, the general public would be looking at a premium of anywhere between $78 to $355 more for a comparable PC than for a Mac mini.