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Price Wars

May 6, 2009 - Dave Hecei
We’ve all seen the I’m a Mac ads. These ads became an instant classic and will probably be remembered for many years (just like the original 1984 Macintosh ad). These ads are, of course, just that, advertising. While the ads contain plenty of truths, some do push the truth a bit. They do make you laugh. Microsoft tried to make their own ads to combat I’m a Mac with Jerry Seinfeld – they failed miserably. There was supposed to be a dozen ads all together, they only aired three that I know of. Microsoft has finally started a new campaign touting the price difference, or that Macs are too expensive. This is a good point, even if not totally true.

The one thing that I want to point out about the new Microsoft ads – they don’t sell computers, they sell software. In all the ads that I have seen, the people are shopping for a laptop and they end up at a store that sells 99% Windows Machines. Interestingly, each of the shoppers bought an HP.  (I don’t know this as fact - but  HP must be helping to pay for these ads).

I’d like to see a commercial about someone going out to buy a new Operating System in a retail box, which is what Microsoft actually makes. Microsoft Vista is available as Home Premium for $240, Business for $299, and Ultimate for $320. Mac OS X Leopard is $129. No Business, no Ultimate, no Basic to choose from, just one version for everyone. (Apple does sell a ‘Family Pack’ for $199, which allows you to install OS X on up to 5 machines. Try installing Vista on more than one computer and see what happens.)

The Microsoft commercials do make their point – the Mac is priced much higher than the typical consumer computer. I say it this way because the Mac is not a typical consumer computer. If we compare Macs and Dells, a fairer choice than HP, there are specific models of Dells that correspond to specific Macs. The Mac side has only a few models to choose from – the mini, the iMac, the Mac Pro are the desktops. The MacBook, MacBook Air, and the MacBook Pro are the laptops.

Dell has their own version of the mini, which they call the Studio Hybrid. When you configure the Dell with the same components as the Mac mini, the price is the same. The Mac does come with the iLife software package (iMovie, iDVD, iPhoto, Garage Band, and iWeb) that would be an extra add-on for the Dell (they offer either the Adobe Elements studio or Sony Video studio for around $100). The mini does not come with a keyboard or mouse, which the Dell does include (add another $40 for a Microsoft keyboard and mouse). While there are some variables between these two, they are practically identical. There is one part that is available on the Dell and not the mini, an optional Blu-ray DVD drive. This can be ordered instead of the standard DVD burner drive for an additional $200. A bit pricy, but this is not even an option on the Mac side.

The iMac is the most popular desktop from Apple. The latest design of aluminum and glass is nothing less than stunning. The iMac is available in two sizes, a 20-inch and 24-inch model. Dell recently came out with their own all-in-one design called the Studio One, also in 20 and 24-inch models. While I would call the design of the Studio One an homage to the iMac, Dell did add some nice touches that set it apart from some of the other all-in-one PCs on the market. The one thing that impressed me was the lighted controls on the right side. There is also a blue arc that lights up to show that a disk is in the optical drive.

Just like the Dell Studio Hybrid, the Studio One has an option for a Blu-Ray DVD player. Add this and the included TV tuner and the Studio One becomes a nice all-in-one entertainment system. Of course you can always add a TV tuner to the iMac, they start around $70 (I prefer the Elgato EyeTV 250+ with its better features and software for about $170). In the end, and when configured part for part, the iMac and the Studio One are practically the same price.

Going to the Mac Pro is a different matter. Even though this is a tower computer, and there are plenty of tower PCs that run Windows, the Mac Pro is not a typical tower. The Pro is considered a workstation. In the Dell line we need to look at the Precision series. I chose the Precision T7500 and decked it out to match the parts in the base Mac Pro. The Mac Pro is $2500, which doesn’t seem like a bargain, but with the Dell coming in at $3700, it actually becomes a bargain.

On the notebook front, PC do rule the price war, but Mac is still one of the best selling notebooks out there. The price you pay for a Mac notebook is 50-100% more than a comparable Windows notebook, barring the high-end luxury models. The MacBook is only available with a 13-inch display and is priced in the 16 and 17-inch PC notebook range. The MacBook Pro must be considered a luxury notebook. That’s the way it’s designed. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Apple could make a ‘cheap’ notebook, even though it would probably sell very well.

Apple’s biggest problem is that they do things their own way; some call it the Steve way. There is no Mac that competes with a cheap PC tower. Right now on the Windows side, the top selling computers are the sub $400 netbooks from MSI, Acer, and Asus. Dell and HP regularly have tower systems that start in the $500 price range, and that’s with an LCD monitor. Is Apple missing the bar by not having a cheap box? I have often said that they needed something in between the Mac mini and the iMac. Something in the $600-$800 range, without a monitor. This should be something Apple could do. Still more money than a comparable PC, but not everyone wants or needs and all-in-one design. Plus, having something bigger than a mini makes it possible to easily upgrade RAM, drives, and expansion cards (video, networking, USB, Firewire, etc.)

Yes you can buy a PC for next to nothing these days. Macs do cost more. For those of us who prefer to use a Mac do so in full knowledge of this fact, one that can be painful in the finances. I feel that the Intel Macs are just as fast as any PC, and are built better and look better than most Windows boxes. Mac OS X Leopard is miles ahead of Vista. Sure it would be nice if Apple lowered the prices on all their computers, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. But who knows, maybe in these troubled economic times Apple could work harder on their pricing.


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