A few days ago I came
across a rather stereotypical comment by Richard Gardner, a Salomon
Smith Barney research analyst. He was quoted saying that Apple's
"Power Mac desktop offerings are now up to 35 percent more expensive
than comparably equipped systems from Dell." His remarks prompted me
to revisit the age-old topic of Mac vs. PC pricing.
The origin of this alleged percentage difference is pretty
transparent. If you take the lowest priced iMac at $899 and compare
it to the cheapest Dell Dimension model at $679, the cost difference
is indeed equal to 32.4 percent. For extra impact, this number can
be conveniently rounded up to 35 pecent.
I wish that market analysis could be as straightforward as
Gardner makes it sound.
In reality, it is rather difficult to objectively compare
different computer architectures side-by-side. While certain
features, such as hard drive sizes or CD-RW functionality, can be
compared directly, dealing with processor speeds is rather tricky.
For instance, few people would contest the fact that an
"entry-level" SGI O2
workstation rated at 300 MHz can run circles around a $500 Windows
PC rated at twice the speed. Similarly, megahertz for megahertz,
PowerPC G3 and G4 chips are undeniably faster than their Intel
Celeron and Pentium III counterparts clocked at the same level.
Still, Apple computers are not "twice as fast." But in my own
experience, Power Macs rated at about two-thirds of the speed of
their Intel-based counterparts perform just about as well. You might
dispute this assumption all you want, but I just had to draw the
line somewhere, and this is it.
Below you will find a set of comparisons between Apple machines
and their equivalents from various major PC makers. Detailed specs
can be found here.
The Low End
Let's first match the newly introduced "Flower Power" mid-range
iMac against Compaq Presario 5000, a
popular consumer model. A 500 MHz iMac outfitted with 128 MB of RAM
and a CD-RW drive will set you back about $1,299. A comparably
equipped Presario with an 850 MHz Duron and a TNT2 video card can be
had for about $1,057, which means that the iMac commands a 23
percent premium. Groovy colors notwithstanding, the iMac is no
The iBook, however, is
a different story altogether. The basic "Indigo" model is sold for
just $1,499, while a comparable Gateway Solo
5300cs retails for about $50 less. But the latter ships with
mediocre S3 Savage video and no built-in Ethernet capability.
Considering the unique rugged design of the iBook and the fact that
it can be upgraded with a wireless AirPort card, the 3.5 percent
price difference is really a non-issue.
I was particularly interested in the value offered by the
multiprocessor Power Mac
G4, so I selected Dell's Precision
Workstation 420 for comparison. It turns out that for just about the
same amount that Apple charges for its dual 533 MHz machine, Dell
offers a dual 800 MHz Pentium III. For around $2,699, you could get
either one with 256 MB of RAM, 40 GB of storage, and a CD-RW drive.
These are "bare-bones" machines. No monitor. No speakers. No modem.
Just raw processing power.
There are a few notable differences between the two. Apple
includes a Radeon DDR card, while Dell comes with an arguably more
powerful GeForce2 GTS. On the other hand, gigabit Ethernet is only
available from the fruit company. And yes, you can save $6 if you
order from Dell. That amounts to a whopping 0.22 percent in savings!
As for PowerBooks,
let's compare those to Sony laptops just like Steve Jobs does. The
closest thing to a $2,599 400 MHz Apple is a $2,225 Sony Vaio FX150 with a 750 MHz
PIII. However, the price differential of just under 17 percent is
more than justified. Remarkably, the PowerBook is much thinner than the
Vaio and almost 2 pounds lighter.
It is also blessed with a larger and better screen that supports
higher resolutions, thanks to a superior video adapter. Not to
mention the titanium casing.
Here's the tricky one. In my opinion, when it comes to raw sex
appeal, nothing compares to the G4 Cube.
But if anything comes close, it's just gotta be NetVista
X40i from IBM. When judging a $2,299 all-in-one 800 MHz NetVista
against a 500 MHz Cube with a 15-inch flat panel screen priced at
$2,498, it is important to keep in mind that the Cube is clearly a
far better conversation piece.
In addition to that, Apple once again includes a more powerful
video card, which is also upgradeable. Considering the target
market, a price difference of less than 9 percent is not a big deal.
On average, Apple's offerings are about 10 percent more
expensive, a far cry from Mr. Gardner's alleged 35 percent. And, in
all cases but one, the premium price can be easily justified. Still,
old stereotypes die hard.