This article was first published on 2007-09-11. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.
Nothing gets the wingnuts more fired up than a good ol‘ cost comparison between Macs and PCs. Many people use the price comparison as a way to validate their choice for what platform they are using as if somehow saving $109 will justify the all the time spent on this computer rather than that one.
Usually it starts in the comments of an article praising how comparatively cheap Macs are these days. A PC Troll will pipe in giving you a break down of a similar Dell for $300 less. Then the Mac Zealot will counter with how different the specs really are and when he goes to the Dell site, it’s actually $175 more. Cue the recent Dell buyer who claims he got his for $450 below the listed price by using the last Friday of the month special code. Then of course Linux Larry jumps in with how he built his Linux box from spare parts in Mom’s basement and only spent $17 for a new power supply and did it over a fun-filled three day weekend.
My eyes just glaze over when I see that pattern these days.
So what is the real deal with the cost of the Mac versus an equivalent PC these days? Well, the real issue is that the question can be framed so many ways, you can support both sides. Do you just compare the number on the receipt for the computer? What about including the cost of anti-spyware and virus software with subscriptions that PC buyers are advised to get? Or should you look at total cost of ownership (TCO) that includes the amount of downtime and professional support that might be required to keep your computer operational? How about resale value? Should you back number that out? You can see that even getting the right question can be quite a furball.
The easiest comparison is the most limited one which just takes into account the out-the-door price. The difficulties with this reside mostly in finding the right PC to compare to a Mac. Because there are only 14 stock Mac models and a bajillion PC models to pick from, you really need to start with the Mac and find the closest match for the PC from a top-tier manufacturer like HP, Sony, Dell or Lenovo. Framed this way, the Mac fluctuates from a little above to a little below the PC price in general. Yes, there are always special deals someone might know about to tip the balance, but as far as telling your Mom to go buy it on her own, this should hold up. See Mac vs. PC cost analysis revisited for detailed info.
What about what the Mac doesn’t do? PC supporters are usually quick to highlight that they can go get a $299 special Desktop with monitor and the Mac can’t touch that. This goes to the point that Apple just doesn’t play in certain markets.
So where does Apple just opt out? In desktops, they don’t have any stripped down black or beige boxes and they don’t have any mid-range models without integrated monitors. This keeps away the bargain hunters (for better) and the corporate enterprise market (for worse). In laptops, because Apple scales the screen size with features, they don’t have any low-end large screen models or high-end sub notebooks. They also don’t play in tablets, but that market has yet to prove significant enough to go after.
So where does that leave Apple? With a product line-up that’s as carefully designed as their products are. Simple choices usually consisting of Good, Better and Best, each separated by a few hundred dollars. Are they missing out on some markets? Yes, but they are either too small or too low in margin. Ask Dell how the last few years of selling to bargain hunters has worked out for the company.
What doesn’t the PC do that the Mac does? Well, first the obvious answer is, "run the Mac OS." But this has varying value to different people. There are legitimate reasons to prefer one OS over the other. But the Mac can claim to be able to run both Windows and Mac OS (as well as Linux and Unix, which both can do).
Secondly, Windows doesn’t have an equivalent for iLife at any price. You can patch together many of the functions without the finesse, but there is no seamless package which gets you the iLife experience in Windows.
Lastly, there is Apple’s award-winning industrial design to contend with. It’s hard to put a dollar value to, but it’s clear that PC manufacturers have decided not reach for that market just like Apple has abandoned other markets. Even Sony has backed away from having top-tier product design. (I think Sony is happy these days just getting products and services to market that don’t blow-up in their face.)
So where does that leave the comparisons? When you can get an even comparison, you’ll find that sometimes the Mac comes out ahead and sometimes the PC comes out ahead. What that means to me is for the time being, price really isn’t the issue people seem to make it. Yes, Apple used to have significantly higher priced products, but especially since switching to Intel, they are in the same ballpark as the PC. After reading all the comparisons on the web that I have, I’m calling it a draw.
If you are honestly comparing using a PC versus using a Mac, a 10% price difference either way shouldn’t stop you from getting the computer that will really suit your needs. The other differences between the platforms should be much more compelling than the $109 savings you might get judging them solely on price.
Somehow, the price of each sometimes eclipses the value when discussing Macs and PCs. Maybe it’s because I make my living using a computer, but I’d venture to say that if you aren’t getting many multiples of the price in the value of your computer, you picked the wrong one.
Can we put this all behind us now?!
Do people really have opinions on this topic? Let us know yours in the Comments section below!