Fri, 08 Aug 2008

Mac vs. PC - $78 to $355 difference!

I've covered the topic of the Mac vs. PC price myth before, but a couple of recent developments led me to redo the comparison.

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'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.

Name/Blog: stiiky
Title: International...?
Comment/Excerpt: Hi, I have been reading many, many of these fighting comparisons between folks, on which is the better option and one is more expensive than the other etc etc. What i find interesting is the narrow scope to which all of these comparisons adhere. I live in Australia, and i will say that the Mac price gap is far more extended here. The same spec'd mac mini here costs $849. Now, to my mind, the comparison becomes blurred at that point. I recently put together a system, on paper, comparable to the top end imac (from a hardware point of view) for under $1000 (including 24" samsumg monitor). When you start comparing things at a performance level ,where the niche factor of board size plays less role, it is more difficult to compare. I know that there is the argument, as ever, that the OS is what you pay for. But if you are the type of person to assemble your system yourself, you are likely to be able to manipulate your OS to get he most out of it. And even for the mac experience there are Linux flavours which offer (admittedly impersonated) features like the mac: eg dashboard and the windows/file manager layout/spotlight. I am not saying either way, i have both, just saying that it changes for individuals as well as for locations. Many wishes for your future Blogging. Stiiky

Name/Blog: Khan
Title: Response to stiiky
Comment/Excerpt: You make a good point, the price comparisons can vary from country to country, and product by product. I will say, however, that comparing to the "top end imac" which is an all in one form factor, may not be a fair comparison for some people... For those who care less if their CPU and display are separate units, your comparison will demonstrate the value of a PC. On the other hand, finding an enclosure that you can build a PC to the back of an LCD, well, that's custom work that will not be cost competitive to "build yourself"...

Name/Blog: Stiiky
Title: The points are never not valid
Comment/Excerpt: This will go back and forward forever. Of course, form factor will be a factor in it all, and the eye candy associated with things is the only feature to distinguish between anyone's "guns". If that was to be taken out of account, you could always set up a good, strong PC, hook it up to a decent projector and, for about the cost of the iMac, you have an ENORMOUS screen, form factor is not an issue and everything is hunky doory :p I don't often comment on these things, because there are so very many threads which do contest this exact point of view. I only chose to here, because i thought you presented a very well balanced and level headed argument. I want to say that, having read some of the other posts on here, i like the cut of your jib andi will concede that personal flavour and taste are the biggest factors between people. i look forward to reading many more posts in the future. regards, Stiiky PS a Vesa mounton the back of your lcd coul solve the form factor :p

Name/Blog: Khan
Comment/Excerpt: I think you made my point there, though. :) That is, if a PC costs the same as an iMac, you can hook the iMac up to the projector and voila... Enormous screen, and form factor is not an issue. In that case, then it simply comes down to user preference... If you ever want to run OS X (legally) you have to choose the Mac. If you want to run Windows or Linux, pick either the Mac or the PC, both will run either OS well enough.

Name/Blog: stiiky
Comment/Excerpt: just to clarify...i meant you could get the pc AND the projector(where i am at least) for the cost of the iMac. Bit of a difference there.

Khan Klatt

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