By Harry McCracken | Sunday, October 19, 2008 at 11:38 pm
When I first tried to compare the cost of Macs versus Windows PCs, I said that “Are Macs more expensive?” is one of computing’s eternal questions. It’s not, however, one with anything like an eternal answer. And the pricing analysis I did in that first article was rendered obsolete last Tuesday when Apple unveiled its new MacBook–which turned out to be a substantially slicker computer at a higher price point.
So it’s time to compare Apples and oranges Windows computers again. Let’s begin with a standard Mini-FAQ on the research effort that follows…
Q. The new MacBook has a 13-inch screen, 2GB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive. You can find Windows laptops with more of everything and features no Mac has, like memory-card slots, for half that price. How can you even pretend that it’s not painfully obvious that Macs are incredibly expensive?
A. It’s completely true that you can buy some amazingly well-equipped Windows notebooks for much, much less than the cheapest MacBook. But the goal of this comparison is to see how the new MacBook stacks up against Windows systems that are roughly comparable, and to see if there’s some sort of unique “Mac Tax” that simply doesn’t exist in the Windows world. Those Windows cheapies are simply a different class of computer–just as a Monster Thickburger isn’t necessarily a better sandwich than one that involves less beef for more money.
Q. How did you decide which computers to compare the MacBook to?
A. I looked for ones with 13-inch screens and Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs, and I priced them in build-to-order configurations sold directly by the manufacturers so I could customize them to match the MacBook when possible. My goal was to make the machines as close as possible in terms of specs. I didn’t attempt to include every machine in this class–these comparisons get unwieldy when they involve too many systems.
Q. You should be giving the Mac huge brownie points for OS X, the lack of junkware, and/or the fact that Mac users don’t need to futz around with security software. Or maybe you should dock the Mac for all the things it doesn’t do, such as run most games (unless you install Windows and thereby turn it into a PC).
A. The differences between OS X and Windows are far more significant than any spec I discuss in this article. But I’m trying to focus mostly on speeds and feeds here–things that can be compared in an objective fashion. I cheerfully acknowledge that that’s only part of the equation, but when people talk about Macs being pricey, they’re comparing hardware, not software environments or user experiences.
Q. You can’t come to overall conclusions about the Mac Tax based on comparing one particular Mac system to a handful of Windows ones. Can you?
A. No, you can’t. And so I’ll do additional stories in this series from time to time. For now, I’m just considering this new MacBook and some roughly similar Windows laptops.
Q. You’re going to force me to click through three pages to learn your conclusions, huh?
A. No, no, I’ll give you an executive summary here. The MacBook is close in price to the laptops I looked at which it resembles most closely, all of which target what I think of as the low end of the high end of the notebook market; if there’s a Mac Tax here, it’s not worth worrying about. That said, it’s possible to get a somewhat more utilitarian 13-inch notebook–one that’s better-equipped than the MacBook in some respects, even–for a lot less.
Enough questions and answers–click to the next page, and we’ll meet the laptops in this comparison…