The holidays mean retail therapy. You were ignoring this fact until Thanksgiving, but now you’re beginning to sweat it. What does Aunt Claire want? How about the Wife? If you’re list hasn’t formally written down, it’s, at least, sitting in some form inside your head.
I’ve been planning on spreading the love Apple-style this year. Frequent readers will know that I recently (and painlessly, I might add) made the transition to OS X at work and other than a pretty shaky networking architecture, it’s slick.
Really, the only piece of Apple hardware that falls inside my current price range for family and close friends is the iPod and even that is a stretch with current iPods running from $299 to $499. As I was losing sleep over my Christmas list, I realized, “Hey, there are probably a lot of other MP3 players that aren’t going to fleece me for three bills.”
If you ask someone why they haven’t bought a Mac, they’re going to give you one of two standard answers. Answer #1: It doesn’t run software application X (where X is usually equal to some type of video game) – this topic is probably worthy of another column, but for now, let’s talk about Answer #2: Macs are too expensive.
This answer bugs me because my instinct tells me that it’s true, but I actually haven’t done the math which is why we’re here. We’re going to figure out how much more Mac hardware is relative to comparable PCs in four categories: Tower, desktops, notebooks, and, for kicks, iPods.
A NOTE ON THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD: This is an experiment fraught with assumptions. If, while reading this, you discover a particularly heinous assumption, I will listen to your argument and probably ignore you. Go for it. In particular, if you’re a hardware geek who knows every damned chip on a motherboard, I’d love to hear from you.
ANOTHER NOTE: In this column, I’ll be referring to the Apple Luxury Tax. This is a “for fun” statistic which is computed by first selecting a piece of Apple hardware and then finding a comparable piece of PC hardware. Using the lower price (usually the non-Apple piece of hardware… go figure) as a baseline, the price differential between the two is computed as a percentage and this is the Apple Luxury Tax. What I think this number represents is what you, the consumer, are being taxed for “Thinking Different”.
Let’s start with something simple and without a lot of options. I picked the top of the line 10GB iPod. A cursory scan of the web, revealed the most comparable player to be the Creative Nomad Jukebox.
Here’s the breakdown:
|iPod||Creative Nomad Jukebox Zen|
|Weight||7.2 ounces||9.5 ounces|
|Size||1.8 inch drive||2.5 inch drive|
|Ports||Firewire||Firewire + USB|
|Apple Luxury Tax||42%|
For pretty much the same piece of hardware, you are paying roughly $150 extras dollars. This is an Apple Luxury Tax of roughly 42%. Youch.
Showing off my painful Apple bias would be unwise this early in the column, but for your Apple zealots, you can SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM if you want to read why I believe iPods (and Mac hardware in generally) are much better.
Comparing actual computers starts to get hairy mostly because of the advanced voodoo surrounding processors. There is a wealth of information on the web stating that PowerPCs outperform faster Pentium chips running certain programs and tasks. Unfortunately, all this processor hoo-hah is about year old and most people have shut up since Intel broke the 3Ghz mark and PowerPC continues to hover around 1Ghz. Apple has attempt to make up this growing distance by offer dual processor machines, but it is a myth that twice the processors gives you twice the speed, I’d peg it at a 50% increase per processor although I’m sure people would like to yell at me about this.
For this comparison, I chose the iBook and then built a Dell Inspiron with the components that mostly closely resembled the iBook. Here we go…
|Memory||256MB SDRAM||256MB DDR SDRAM|
|Storage||300GB Ultra ATA||300GB Ulra ATA|
|Video||ATI Radeon 7500 (32MB)||NVidia GForce2 (32MB)|
|Optical||CD-RW/DVD Combo Drive (24x)||CD-RW/DVD Combo drive (24x)|
|Apple Luxury Tax||22%|
Some notes worth noting:
1) The Dell includes the WordPerfect Productivity Pack w/ Quicken New User Edition. Adding Microsoft Office to this machine would add $130 to cost of the Dell and $199 for the Apple.
2) FOR ALL of these comparisons, I just have no idea how to compare video cards. In general, I attempted to match memory size and type, but as every fan of Quake knows, it’s the graphic processor chip which really helps you cut the mustard. Again, if someone would like to weigh in on this subject, go for it.
This is where the head scratching really began. I started by comparing the Power Mac with the Dell Dimension and the higher end Dell Optiplex and there simply was no comparison ($3299.00 for the Mac versus $1744 for a comparable equipped Dell Optiplex). After watching an hour or two of Sunday afternoon football, it dawned on me. The Apple desktop to compare was, duh, the iMac.
Take a look…
|Apple iMac||Dell Dimension|
|Memory||256MB SDRAM||512MB DDR SDRAM|
|Storage||60GB Ultra ATA||120GB Ultra ATA|
|Video||NVidia GeForce2 MX (32MB VRAM)||NVidia GeForce4 MX (64MB DDR)|
|Optical||Apple Superdrive (24x)||CD-RW/DVD Combo Drive (32x)|
|MS Office||Not include||Included|
|Apple Luxury Tax||5% (~19% w/ Office for Mac)|
1) Processor on the Dell just wails, I don’t care what the Velocity Engine on the Mac is doing for you.
2) Microsoft Office. If you use the Inspiron’s Microsoft Office cost, this means there is an additional $130 against the Mac which would bring the Apple Luxury Tax to 19%.
|PowerMac G4||Dell Workstation|
|L2 Cache||256k @ 1.25Ghz||512k @ 2.66Ghz|
|L3 Cahce||2MB @ 50Mhz||None|
|Memory||512MB DDR SDRAM||512MB ECC RDRAM|
|Storage||120GB Ultra ATA||120GB Ultra ATA|
|Video||ATI Radeon 9000 Pro (64MB DDR)||ATI Fire GL (64MB DDR)|
|Optical||Apple Superdrive (24x)||CD-RW/DVD Combo (32x)|
|MS Office||Included||Not Included|
|Apple Luxury Tax||54% (~60% w/ Office on Mac)|
54% No wonder Dell and Gateway drool over Apple’s fat profit margins. Apple isn’t even close on the workstation hardware. Dang.
What you just learned
HOLY GOD RANDS MACS ARE MORE EXPENSIVE – HERE’S AN AWARD.
Overall Cost: If we average the four Luxury taxes above, you get a rough tax of 30%. If you wanted to use this number in every day conversation you would say, “I heard that if you want to buy Apple hardware, you’re paying 30% extra for the honor. (Rands said so)”
Competition: Really the only place where Apple can actually go toe-to-toe with Apple is on the iMac and that is with HALF the processor the comparably equipped Dell Dimension. My guess is this is Apple’s most popular (ie: affordable) model and; therefore, they can make it up in volume.
Processors: As every Apple rumor site is fond of pointing out (daily), what is up with Apple’s processor strategy? This is the festering sore on some otherwise very appealing hardware.
Who, in their right mind, would buy slower hardware at a 30% premium? Well, lots of people. Myself included. The biggest reason is simply because Apple owns both sides of the problem: the hardware and the software. Nothing frames OS X like the lines of the iMac or the Cinema Screen HD and when it comes to balancing ease of use with performance, Apple software consistently delivers.
I’m of the opinion that Apple’s success is primarily based on their ability to evoke an emotional reaction with their products. Their goal is to have you walk in a room, see their product on the table, and say, “Holy shit, what is that?”