The Apple Mac Cost Misconception

Note: This isn’t a guide to evangelize and convert people from Windows to Mac OS X. It’s a guide to give people options. If you’re happy with what you’ve got, great! But if you’re interested in alternatives read on.

After my first article on Macs and OS X, there were several readers who just down right bashed Macs for pricing and OS X without solid reasoning or legitimate hand’s on experience of Macs. So this is a follow-up.

Let’s get straight to the point. Tom’s Hardware isn’t about being a "PC fanboy." It’s about finding the best hardware, revealing up and coming tech and debunking predetermined notions. That begs the question, especially here: what’s so special about a Mac anyway?

Here’s the short answer: nothing really, just some very elegant aluminum chassis designs. The key, is the operating system. Even still, let’s settle this issue about price.

In a recent comment, someone came up with an analogy that a Mac isn’t really a BMW, but rather a Hyundai dressed up in a nice exterior. One problem: Hyundai’s don’t have nice European car exteriors. And to generalize it this way shows the lack of willing to understand the core of the Mac: it’s operating system. Because that’s really what it’s about. But for the sake of these first few pages, let’s leave Mac OS X out of the picture for now. Let’s just see where Apple comes in on hardware.

In terms of hardware, there’s nothing really special about a Mac aside from elegant designs, be it a Mac Pro or MacBook Pro, that makes it incredibly more worthwhile than the PC equivalent. And there’s no doubt that you can get an equally equipped PC, or build one yourself, for less money. In fact, I mentioned this in my previous article, although some people seemed to have completely missed the page where I complained about Apple’s outrageous prices altogether. However, building a PC to do the same isn’t the point, because you can always buy a cheaper car to get you from A to B. Instead, let’s see what you can get for $2000, from Apple and from others. For $2000, do you really get much less?

Let’s take a quick look at some of Apple’s competition and their pricing structure compared to Apple’s:

We went to Dell’s website and picked out what Dell indicated was a serious gaming laptop. We also took the XPS model that was priced the same as the baseline MacBook Pro. Let’s take a look at the results.

Apple vs. Dell Price Comparison
$1999 MacBook Pro$1999 Dell XPS M1730
2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo
2 GB of RAM2 GB of Shared RAM
NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT with 256 MBNVIDIA GeForce 8700M GT with Shared MB
200 GB HDD200 GB HDD
15.4-inch LED LCD17-inch LCD
Dual-Layer DVD BurnerDual-Layer DVD Burner
802.11n Wi-Fi802.11g Wi-Fi
Built in WebcamBuilt in Webcam
Backlit KB with Ambient Sensor       
Optical Audio Output/InputSPDIF through Dongle
Dual-Link DVI OutputDual-Link DVI Output
MagSafe PowerStandard female/male Jack
5.4 lbs10.6 lbs
1 inch thick2 inch thick

For the most part, the two systems are comparable, indicating that at least for a laptop, Apple’s pricing fits in line with comparable hardware. Certain things like shared memory for graphics leave some performance desires for the XPS, but the XPS has a strong leg up on the MacBook Pro with the larger screen size.

Apple’s MacBook Pro has several small advantages over the XPS, mainly with the MagSafe connector and it’s nearly take-for-granted use. I have seen several incidences where people have tripped over or through someone else’s MacBook Pro power cord and the MagSafe design literally saved the laptops from flying.

The biggest differences are the screen size, weight, thickness, and shared memory. For absolute performance, the screen size won’t matter here, but the slow shared graphics memory on the XPS will. For a laptop that Dell indicates is a gaming machine, shared memory is a disappointment, as graphics is an important area for 3D gaming.

For another comparison, let’s look at the MacBook Air to VoodooPC’s Envy 133:

Apple vs. VoodooPC Price Comparison
$1799 MacBook Air$2099 Envy 133
1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo
2 GB of Shared RAM2 GB of Shared RAM
Intel GMA X3100 Shared RAMIntel GMA X3100 Shared RAM
13.3-inch LED LCD13.3-inch LCD
External eSATA Super Multi Drive
802.11n Wi-Fi802.11n Wi-Fi
Built in WebcamBuilt in Webcam
Backlit KB with Ambient SensorBacklit KB with Ambient Sensor
MagSafe PowerStandard female/male Jack
3.0 lbs3.37 lbs (with SSD)
0.16 to 0.75 inch thick0.70 inch thick
iLife ’08 SuiteNo software package

At this point, the Envy is $300 more expensive than the MacBook Air. Although the Envy 133 does include an external optical drive, tacking on Apple’s quite expensive $99 MacBook Air SuperDrive to the purchase of the MacBook Air still leaves a $200 gap.

Bottom line: Macs aren’t "way more" expensive than PCs. So where do things get really hairy with Apple? Upgrades. Apple really stabs you in the face when you’re upgrading your Mac. All goes well when you want to buy a base system, but as soon as you want to add options, be prepared to be murdered. I’ll talk about this later.

Let’s take a look at desktops.

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  • The OS is proprietary since the EULA states you cannot use it on non-Apple hardware. Not because it doesn't have market share. Because it does.

    My gripe with apple's pricing is that there are no real budget oriented options. The cheapest macbook is 1000$+. The cheapest laptop I can find with Vista is 600 or less at Costco/Sams Club.

    Everyone says that OS X is faster and yada yada yada. I know people are going to shoot me for this, but I find all of the fancy desktop effects to be VERY laggy except on laptops with a dedicated video card. The Laptops especially slow to a crawl unless they have >2gb of ram. Like Vista. I work on these every day and if I ever bought one, it'd be for the looks- the OS is nothing special IMO. I'd install Vista on it.
  • rodney_ws
    Cherry picking over-priced PCs does little to prove your point. I realize that when you're going the Apple route you don't have many options, but those of us on the PC side have TONS of options... and even the most basic among us would be able to purchase higher performing, lower cost PCs than the ones you selected to go up against the Apples.

    For $1549 I purchase an HP laptop w/ 4 GB of RAM, 20.1 inch screen, Blu-Ray, 5 speakers, and an Nvidia 8800 GTS. My system absolutely crushes that $2000 MacBook Pro in every category... and still cost $450 less.

    Don't get me wrong... I "get" Apple. They look awesome, are well built, have an awesome retail presence, and they are right for some people... just not for me.
  • compy386
    If you're stupid enough to pay retail for a Dell, then Apple just might be the computer for you.
  • ouch1
    Funny how you are comparing base model MAC's to bleeding edge PC's. That my dear journalist is not comparing apples to apples. It is comparing apples to apple pie. Big difference. That just goes to prove for that same cost as a very high end PC you can get a base model MAC with a very proprietary OS (i.e. can't install it on anything but a mac with invoking the Jobs cops, check the EULA). Please if you make the mistake of buy an Airbook have fun changing the battery (you can't) or watching a DVD while on the road (again you can't no built in DVD drive).
  • hixbot
    Wow, you took a PC desktop with identical hardware and proved that it would cost the same as the baseline Mac Pro.
    What's the point? You can build a PC with hardware that isn't identical but PERFORMS better for CHEAPER. Picking the same overpriced PC components doesnt prove anything.
  • customisbetter
    i read the first page and stopped. Apples are designed to look good and be reliable. I get that and many other people do as well. They really aren't designed to be performers for cheap. The PC will ALWAYS win in the price category (and usually performance as well) because you pay for the reliability and style of Apple. Please stop comparing the two.
    Just to humour you though. The ENVY has a Carbon Fiber Chassis. BAM! There's 300 right there.
    BTW i am both a PC and Mac Owner.
  • angry_ducky
    I don't think that comparing the MacBook Pro and the XPS M1730 is a good comparison; the XPS is a desktop-replacement gaming machine, and is therefore bigger and heavier than the Mac. Also, the 8700M GT will outperform the 8600GT, and I am unable to find where it specifies that the 8700 has shared graphics memory.

    Dell sells the XPS M1530 which is a 15.4 inch laptop designed more for multimedia than for gaming (similar to the Mac). The M1530 starts at $1000, and with identical specs to the MacBook Pro (and Vista Ultimate), the price is $1650.
  • jwl3
    The main point is that with PC's you have hundreds of different vendors I can buy a computer from. Due to competition the price is always lower. The author is being disingenuous by picking for comparison laptops at non-discounted prices. Dell ALWAYS has deals with $400-$500 off. Apple NEVER discounts their products.

    I bought an Acer laptop from 2 weeks ago for $399. It came with a Dual core pentium, 120GB HD, and 1GB ram. What can you get for $399 at the Apple store - a tricked out ipod?

    Oh and another thing - if you play games at all, you can forget the Apple. Games just aren't made for it and the ones that are come out 1 year after the PC release.
  • jwl3
    Additional thought:

    The author's main point is that Macs are similarly priced to PC's. Then halfway through the article, he states that MAC prices are at a premium because it's from a top-shelf manufacturer and it is sold to cater to a "lifestyle. "

    Which one is it you duplicitous fool? Are you actually acknowledging that Macs are severely overpriced vs. PC's?
  • wow they messed up big time with this article. comparing thickness and weight of a 17" laptop vs a 15" macbook pro. sounds fair to me. also lets go ahead and say that the 8600m GT is faster than the 8700m GT. who wrote this, honestly? anyone who knows even a small amount about graphics cards should know that an 8700m GT does not use shared graphics memory. The 200GB drive in the dell is also most likely a 7200rpm vs the 5400rpm in the macbook pro. 802.11n wifi is a $20 upgrade on the dell, had to not include that to make the mac look better. Also that dell is designed for SLI graphics cards upto two 8800m GTX with 1GB of memory, lets see the 6lb macbook pro do that. Different machines designed for different purposes. Pick a better comparison tom, seriously!
  • Wow Tuan? Why compare prices with a Dell XPS? How about you go down to your Local Frys/BestBuy or w/e and look at prices.

    Sony, with the same processor, better graphics, double the ram, bigger hard drive, and a Blue Ray drive, for $200 less.

    How much does it cost to get 4GB of ram on an Apple, oh yes another $200, so thats a $400 gap, and you still have a smaller screen, no blue ray drive, a smaller harddrive, and half the video memory.

    Your Component list, and Laptop comparisons were clearly set up to put the mac at an advantage. Because there are so many many PC vendors, it should not be hard to find one that is screwing its customers like apple and charging too much; but the prices at the store shelf tell the true story.

    Furthermore you choose two out of three products that are low volume special use items. The number of people that want a super thin and light notebook, or need a Dual Quad Core Machine, are very few. What program are you running that you need 8 processing cores? High End specialty systems are always going to draw a high price; that is to be expected; that Apple is competitive in the $3000 range does not matter to the vast vast majority of people who spend not even half that.

    But when you compare Apple against a Mid range system, which the average buyer will be purchasing, the Mac falls short every time.

    How about Mac Monitors?
    20" $600 really?

    That blazing 16ms response time is insane.
  • hixbot
    Seriously, I have NO IDEA why he compares the MACS to PCs with the EXACT SAME OVERPRICED HARDWARE. The point is you can pick a PC with cheaper hardware that can perform better. I completely agree that OSX is awesome and so are Mac's ergonomics. Those things may justify the extra cost for some, but this article attempts to prove that Macs are the same price. That's ridiculous. You can get a better performing PC for a fraction of the cost, and its not a misconception. The hardware in the PC will be cheaper, faster alternatives... obviously if you build a PC with the exact same overpriced hardware, it will be exactly the same price. Good grief. Tomshardware used to be my favorite site, because it had objective, technical articles. This is garbage.
  • PMR100
    MacBooks are way overpriced. Just look at the laptop below. The person who wrote this article should be more objective. He just tried to make macbook look better and compared this macbook to a totally different laptop that is priced equally with the macbook. This will not work.

    MacBook Pro, 15-inch, 2.4GHz $1,999.00
    Part Number: MB133LL/A
    2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
    2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM - 2x1GB
    200GB Serial ATA @ 5400 rpm
    SuperDrive 8X DVD+R DL/DVD+RW/CD-RW)
    MacBook Pro 15-inch Widescreen Display
    Backlit Keyboard

    HP Pavilion Entertainment dv5t $1,124.99

    * – Genuine Windows Vista Home Premium with Service Pack 1 (32-bit)
    * – Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo Processor P8600 (2.4 GHz)
    * – 15.4" diagonal WXGA High-Definition HP BrightView Widescreen Display (1280 x 800)
    * – FREE Upgrade to 2GB DDR2 System Memory (2 Dimm) from 1GB DDR2 System Memory (2 Dimm)
    * – 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT
    * – FREE Upgrade to 250GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive with HP ProtectSmart Hard Drive Protection
    * – HP Imprint Finish (Mesh) + Microphone + Webcam
    * – HP Color Matching Keyboard
    * – Intel(R) WiFi Link 5100AGN and Bluetooth(TM)
    * – SuperMulti 8X DVD+/-R/RW with Double Layer Support
    * – 6 Cell Lithium Ion Battery
  • Preytor
    You may think I just down right bashed your last article.
    However I do have solid reasoning. I also have legitimate hand’s on experience of [with] Macs.

    I see no point to your obvious Mac-fanboyism, though I'm sure you'd argue there is a point and that you are not a Mac fanboy.

    You attempt to argue Mac's are similarly priced to PC's. You then say Mac charges a premium.

    BTW a Mac is a PC! PC = Personal Computer.
    Mac is a brand name, so is Dell, HP, Alienware, Voodoo... These are all personal computers.
  • emp
    I respect the fact that you 'tried' (Keyword here is tried) to show the good qualities of Mac computers, however this is mainly an enthusiast site, so you will be VERY hard pressed to fool us into thinking apple offerings are anywhere near as good as others (especially on price/performance ratio). We KNOW what we're buying, we KNOW what each piece of hardware is capable of doing, you can't just throw fancy numbers at us and expect us to fall for it.

    The thing is, with the first article I thought you were just sharing your personal opinion, however, with this article it's clear you're an apple fanboy and will be labeled as such. And yes, I'm being brutally honest here... it's for your own good.
  • wh3resmycar
    jeremy clarkson will burn this author alive...what a silly comment about hyundai lol
  • Not even close. You should be a little embarrased having published this article. I own a small computer retail chain and we actually have 2 back to school packages (1 Apple, 1 Windows) for the identical price and have yet to sell 1 of the Apple packages. For the same price the Windows Package runs the same CPU, 4GB memory, a 320GB HDD, better graphics, 16" screen 16:9 Widescreen, a choice of 3 nice Cases, Wireless 300N Router, Microsoft Office Home and Student and a Logitech VXNano Wireless Mouse. You still want that MacBook for the same $? Derrr.
  • jeb1517
    I've never used a MAC (OS X I should say) long enough to know anything about it so I'll take your word for it. It's faster. It's more reliable. It has many cool utilities. But let's face it, thats not why people have MACs. Mostly, scratch that, EVERYONE I know that owns a MAC, has it because, like you said, they want to be cool. But you know what, I want to see what all the hype is about. I need an OS for my new system so since OS X isn't proprietary, can you please point me to where I can pick up a copy to run on my computer. Thanks.
  • This article has no intellectual honesty whatsoever. I priced a matching XPS 1530 (same size screen and resolution), with identical specs to the Mac, excepting only the built-in bluetooth, for $1399. So that's a 42% premium for the Mac. Not only that, PC's aren't "sole source", like Macs, leaving open the option to shop around for a better deal.
  • russki
    It would be a shame to regurgitate the above posts, but again, quite lackluster, Tuan. The funny part is that most of the utilities you mentioned when touting OSX are actually present in Vista (most obviously, the accelerated desktop with seamless animations). If you're gonna go comparing, compare latest gen vs. latest gen. Although OSX is *nix (I think BSD) based, *nix it is not. Heck, even Torvalds has been critical of the file system.

    There is yet to be a rational pro-OSX argument aside from the general idea of "usability," which, admittedly, Apple spends a lot of time on and usually gets right. I gotta say though, I was forced to use one of these atrocities at a BestBuy the other day to access internet, and I was quite turned off by several things that appeared to be major annoyances. I am an experienced user, though, and like things to be my way; easily accessible; not screwed up. And I use all 5+ buttons on my mouse and the scroll wheels. The one-button mouse MUST DIE. A painful death.

    Out of the box, for a clueless person, Macs are indeed a good (albeit expensive; read the posts above) option. But c'mon, let's hear something actually convincing.

    How about this. The next version of Photoshop will only natively support x64 in Windows. This does result in better performance with larger files, and the media-junkies are Apple's historical bread and butter (by the way, write about WYSIWYG, color management, etc. for Apple, which is much better, actually). Whoops.

    Anyway. Better luck next time.
  • KITH
    These articles make my brain hurt. Learn some argumentation skills damnit.
  • johnfinn68
    I bought an iMac (the whitel plastic one) but found that Boot Camp wasn't done and that it didn't work with my audio software. A nice machine, good OS, but there's that constant Apple micromanagement of everything on this machine. I returned it a week later. I bought a 17" Macbook Pro when I decided to ditch my desktop for good. Wonderful machine, loved the keyboard. But it was too big (my fault) and got really hot (Apple's fault). Sold it to a friend, who soon after told me that the battery crapped out and Apple replaced it at the store. What did I end up with? A 15" Dell, it was cheap and ran all my software without a problem. Why Dell? Because Apple recommended an update for my Airport Extreme, which I bought for the printer capability, only to have it no longer work with my printer (which is Apple compatible) and I can't get it to roll back and work again. One year old, $300 down the shitter.
  • jimmysmitty
    Wow the second "Why Macs are better" article in 1 month. On THG, a enthusiats site. Thats like going to the Mac lover forums and saying Vista is better because yadda yadda.

    Mac is not bad but every time I price it out with certain specs it cost such a difference I can't see why. They also have a very big lack of decent GPUs.

    Meh Mac is for the snooty people. PCs are for the regular people.
  • eltouristo
    you can get dell inspiron for around 1200-1400, similarly equipped.
    (with coupons) actually, better equipped. (blue-ray, wifiN). Author leaves out that MAC updates are WAY fewer and farther in between. Plus MAC peripherals and compatible cards etc always seem to have a premium.