Is Apple's 17-Inch MacBook Pro Expensive? Round 2: The Competition Goes Consumer

By  |  Tuesday, April 7, 2009 at 11:42 pm

Is the MacBook Pro Expensive? Round 2Last week, I tried to conduct an objective price comparison of 17-inch Apple’s MacBook Pro and similarly-equipped Windows laptops. After I did, my friend Steve Wildstrom of BusinessWeek pointed out one basic problem with such comparisons: They’re impossible. By which he meant that there’s no way to do one that’ll strike everybody as sensible and fair. No matter how hard you try, you can’t configure a Windows PC to precisely match a Mac’s hardware. No two people will ever agree on the relative worth of the multitude of features you examine. Hardware comparisons like the ones I do intentionally ignore the enormously important question of the relative quality of Windows and OS X. Some folks will even contend that any analysis of PCs-vs.-Macs is incomplete without discussion of resale value.

In last week’s story, I came to the conclusion that the MacBook Pro’s pricing wasn’t out of whack with its Windows-based rivals–if there was a “Mac Tax,” it was matched by some of the other machines I looked at. Judging from the almost 200 comments on my story to date, a lot of Windows users thought I was unfair to Windows, and a lot of Mac types thought I gave the Mac short shrift. I choose to take discontent from both camps as a sign that I did a decent job overall. But I wanted to come back and address one gripe that came up repeatedly–that I compared the MacBook Pro against high-end, workstation-class laptops.

I don’t think I made a mistake by doing that. The MacBook Pro is Apple’s highest-end notebook, with specs that were similar in most respects to the Windows systems I compared it to. (And when the Windows machines outclassed it–as some did with graphics, for instance–I noted so.) Several commenters contend that the MacBook Pro is a consumer notebook, but that’s not really right: It’s Apple’s only 17-inch notebook. If you’re a business customer and want a 17-inch Mac notebook, it’s the one you’ll buy.

But the fact remains that most other computer companies divide their product lines into business and consumer lines in a way that Apple doesn’t, and that the consumer systems tend to be cheaper than the top-of-the-line corporate models. So here I am comparing the 17-inch MacBook Pro again–this time against consumer-class models. This isn’t a replacement for my earlier comparison, but a complementary piece. I’m guessing I’ll fail to make everyone happy this time, too, but Lord knows I’m trying…

Let’s begin with my traditional mini-FAQ, repeating some items from last week’s story as appropriate:

Q. How did you choose the laptops?

A. I went back to the configure-to-order sites of three Windows-centric manufacturers in my earlier story–Dell, HP, and Lenovo–and picked big-screen laptops from their consumer lines, then configured them to get as close as possible to the base MacBook Pro’s specs. These still aren’t bargain 17-inchers like the HP Pavilion that Microsoft commercial ingenue Lauren bought, but they’re considerably cheaper than the ones from last week. (I skipped Sony this time around, since the model I liked at in the previous article was pretty consumery already.)

The laptops in this article include Dell’s Studio 17

Dell Studio 17

And HP’s HDX 18t Premium…

HP HDX 18t Laptop

Not to mention Lenovo’s IdeaPad Y730

Lenovo IdeaPad Y730

…and, inevitably, Apple’s 17-inch MacBook Pro.

Q. Are you going to tell us which machine is the best value? Or the best one overall, regardless of price?

Nope–this isn’t a hands-on review. There’s tons of stuff I’m not attempting to assess, including most issues relating to industrial design. Nor am I accounting for the fact, for instance, that two screens that sound like they should be similar based on specs can look quite different when you lay your own eyeballs on them. I admit without hesitation that this is a superficial comparison, but it’s more than most people who talk about the “Mac Tax” or lack thereof are doing.

Q. Best Buy has some consumer machines that aren’t quite as well-equipped as the ones here, but they come close–and they’re much, much cheaper. This Dell, for instance. How come you didn’t include them?

A. Because I’m trying to configure Windows laptops to be as close to the MacBook Pro’s specs as possible, since that’s the best way to determine if there’s a Mac Tax hiding in Apple’s prices. But I may come back to look at some of those Best Buy systems in a future story.

Q. Are you saying that comparing one Mac to four Windows PCs can tell us whether Macs in general are more expensive than PCs in general? For instance, the Mac Mini looks underpowered and overpriced to me.

A. Nope–like I say, I’m trying to be as specific as possible. Draw no conclusions from this article about any other Mac models. Or, for that matter, any Windows laptops which I don’t mention here.

Q. Aren’t you aware that Windows laptops have Blu-Ray and eSATA and DVR capabilities and HDMI and embedded mobile broadband and a whole lot of other nifty features that you can’t get from Apple at any price?

A. Of course–some of the notebooks here have some of those features, in fact. It’s good fodder for a more general conversation on the relative virtues of PCs and Macs. Did I mention I’m doing some articles on that topic for PC World? For this story, however, I’m simply trying to figure out whether Apple is charging a lot more than its Windows-using rivals for the features it does offer on the 17-inch MacBook Pro.

Q. Isn’t it obvious that OS X makes Macs inherently superior to Windows computers? (Or, if you prefer, that Windows makes PCs inherently superior to Macs?)

A. I feel strongly that the biggest difference between a Windows PC and a Mac is the operating system, but I’m willfully ignoring that question in this comparison and focusing on the hardware question. You can’t compare OSes without immediately delving into opinions and subjectivity and personal preference.

Q. Do you really expect me to read this entire article?

A. Well, I’m an optimist, but I’m also a realist. So here’s an executive summary: The MacBook Pro fared the best in my comparison, but it also goes for a thousand bucks more than the costliest Windows consumer laptop I looked at. It’s still on my list of recommended possibilities for folks who can afford to shell out $2800 for a computer–for OS X’s virtues as much or more as for its impressive engineering.  But I wish that Apple made a less luxe 17-inch MacBook Pro at a lower starting price that more people could afford.

If you’re still with me, click on to the next page, and we’ll begin an in-depth comparison of specs and features.

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34 Comments For This Post

  1. xyko Says:

    Interesting that you decided to cave and write a comparison based on the consumer moniker. Good job sticking to your parameters though and not getting involved in the debate. It’s pointless. People will always argue their personal preference, completely disregarding the fact that, what’s better for me is not necessarily better for you. For instance, I am a Mac person, love the design and the OS etc… However, when I talk to people about computers, I do not try to sell people a Mac, If the are just surfing the net or using it to keep in touch with family and friends, a Windows computer is usually fine. But for those using computers for work, I almost always say Mac. You can run windows on it if you need to, the hardware generally lasts longer, the resale value is higher and therefore the TCO is lower. Having one company design the computer and its parts does have it’s advantages.

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    I don’t look at writing a comparison of the MacBook Pro vs. more consumery notebooks as caving–it’s additional info from another perspective. (Like I say in the new story, I may return once again with a comparison of the MacBook Pro against even cheaper Windows laptops.) The great thing about computers is that everyone wants something different, and there’s something for everybody…but that does make it tough for those of us who try to compare what’s out there. Especially when the always-touchy topic of Windows-vs.-Mac is involved.

    –Harry

  3. dragunkat Says:

    once again, I need to point out, as I did in the last one, the unibody aluminum frame traps heat like no ones business and the built in battery is not necessarily a good thing.

    what about the ability to disable the touchpads?

    Other than that, a lot of this seems more personal to me. the keyboard, as you mentioned, is a personal thing. I hate backlit keyboards, and I can type by feel for the most part.

    the advantage of DDR 3 over DDR 2 is negligible, at best, especially at speeds that low. There are some benchmarks that show DDR 2 actually being faster than DDR 3.

    and you gave mac 2 points for one thing. the aluminum body is the reason for the lightness.

  4. BMWTwisty Says:

    It’s like this: if you want to ride a motorcycle you get a BMW; if you want to work on one you get a Harley. If you want to do work with a computer you get a Mac; if you want to work on one you get a PC. (duck’nrun…)

  5. ale Says:

    dragunkat are your drunk?

    “the unibody aluminum frame traps heat like no ones business.”
    Actually aluminium dissipate heat quite nicely, much more than plastic for instance

    “what about the ability to disable the touchpads?”
    Is that a feature you are requesting to be accounted in the comparison??

    “Other than that, a lot of this seems more personal to me. the keyboard, as you mentioned, is a personal thing. I hate backlit keyboards, and I can type by feel for the most part.”
    So you think, that since you don’t need it, it’s not relevant to take it into account when comparing keyboards??

  6. Tannim Says:

    Ale, the aluminium might dissipate the heat, but the problem is that it makes the MBP so hot to the touch that you can easily burn yourself. Especially that area above the F keys. And don’t even think about trying to put that baby on your lap.

  7. GR Says:

    @dragunkat

    You said “and you gave mac 2 points for one thing. the aluminum body is the reason for the lightness.”

    In fact the Macbook Unibody’s are lighter DESPITE their being made of Aluminum. I suggest you look at the relative density of plastic vs. aluminum next time. I would attribute the Macbooks good performance on overall weight once again to excellent design and engineering.

    Typical plastics range from 0.98 to 1.3 g/cm^3
    Aluminum is 2.7 g/cm^3 (About 3x the raw density in some cases)

    http://en.allexperts.com/q/Plastics-2471/Plastic-Calculation-1.htm
    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_density_of_aluminum

    You also stated, “the unibody aluminum frame traps heat like no ones business”.

    Again, wrong. Aluminum is one of the best natural thermal conductors. Being surpassed on the following list only by gold and copper. Any plastic will “trap” heat much more efficiently than metals. The MBP’s also have two fans to assist with heat dissapation through the vents which run along the entire rear surface of the MBP (under the display hinge).

    http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/thermal-conductivity-d_429.html

    Troll much?

    @Tannim

    Do you own a Macbook Pro? I actually use a 2yr old MBP on my lap every day doing software development. I will admit it gets warm when viewing video or during a long compile. But during normal use it remains very comfortable to the touch. I have found the newer MBP’s to be even cooler in use than the older one I have.

  8. GR Says:

    @dragunkat

    “I hate backlit keyboards, and I can type by feel for the most part.”

    I am happy for your touch typing skills. Thanks for letting us all know about that.

    Now onto more factual pursuits, the backlighting is an option that can be adjusted or turned off in the OS X system preferences for you to disable while you practice touch typing in the dark where trolls live.

  9. JoeV Says:

    @Tannim
    You base this on what? Experience? I have a new MacBook Pro 17″ (switched from a Dell E6500) and in my experience, almost 2 months now, my MacBook Pro is the coolest (temperature-wise) to the touch laptop I have ever worked on. I had a Latitude D830 that scorched the table I was working on so heat is something I always pay attention to. I would venture to say my MacBook has never gotten above lukewarm to the touch.

  10. E Says:

    You wrote that Apple does not break their products into consumer and Pro. You are completely wrong – they have done that since Jobs came back. It was then that he drew 4 quadrants on the board…

    iMac, iBook (now iMac, MacBook) — Consumer
    Power Macintosh, PowerBook (now Mac Pro, Macbook Pro) — Professional

    The Mini and Xserve were added later. The Mini falls in the consumer/hobbyist space, and the XServe in the Pro space.

    Neither the Mac Pro nor the MacBook Pro should be compared to the consumer space. They are workstation class machines, advertised and sold as such. I have no problem with you comparing them to cheaper machines, but saying that they somehow do not fit in the workstation class is disingenuous at best…

  11. DigDug Says:

    @GR There’s way more to the weight/material considerations than just pure density. Different types of plastics can have vastly different tensile strengths and other material parameters, which can ultimately change as you use change the thickness of the material. So to produce a plastic sheet with a given modulus of rigidity might require a certain thickness. Creating an aluminum sheet with the same rigidity might require less material, in some cases enough to make the sheet actually lighter than the plastic one. In other cases (when you’re using a different type of plastic for instance or need something stronger than aluminum) it might not actually help (i.e. I seriously doubt Lenovo is going to throw away their plastics any time soon).

    Apple just doesn’t offer anything in 17in models (or 15 for that matter) that’s geared towards someone just needing an email/internet/accounting machine. I tend to think that the words 17in and laptop are kinda silly to put in the same sentence too though.

  12. GR Says:

    @DigDug I won’t refute anything you said. I am not a materials engineer and I certainly don’t know all of the factors involved in engineering light, thermally conductive, and strong enclosures. However, I stand by my refutation of the comments by @dragunkat who stated “and you gave mac 2 points for one thing. the aluminum body is the reason for the lightness.”. This is just not the case as he appers to be working under an assumption that making something from aluminum provides an automatic weight advantage which it does not based on the simple physics of the materials. It is instead I would argue Apple’s clever use of that material, and their clear manufacturing/engineering prowess that they rightfully boast of, that allows it to be both lighter and stronger than most, if not all, plastic wrapped laptops of equivalent size.

  13. Mark 2000 Says:

    I really don’t understand this consumer vs business class distinctions. Apple does make a difference between them with the “Pro” moniker. The Macbook Pro 15 and 17 are “Pro” machines plain and simple. This comparison is just a little bit silly and the fact that the MBP comes out so far ahead in points proves this.

  14. Terry Says:

    As usual the irrational Apple haters get their facts completely wrong and have no idea what they are talking about.

    There are now HDMI to Minidisplayport adapters btw.

  15. Robin Says:

    Faith in blog restored

  16. DaveinOlyWA Says:

    The Mac uses an aluminum case as a heat sink. saves money and makes the Mac run cooler. the plastic cases means that you either spend more money to dissipate the heat or you have software issues when the hardware gets too hot.

    and i agree, Apple needs to add more (not less) interfaces and get more product lines. my Mac Pro is VERY old and needs replacing but i am simply not ready to spend $3000. in fact, i have spent $800 and $1000 in the past few years to purchase other options (they are not used by me) and only because the Mac’s were too expensive. now i am considering replacing my Mac with windows (i now have a few dozen lines on the screen so it wont be long now…Damn thing only lasted 4 years)

  17. DelusionalGenius Says:

    You mention the MacBook Pro having optical out for sound as an advantage? I look at that as a disadvantage and would subtract a point given that it WONT do audio output via DisplayPort though clearly the technology can handle it.

    @Terry MiniDisplayPort to HDMI will not support audio on a Mac

  18. abdelhalim Says:

    Can you do a similar one for the 15 inch Macbook Pro

  19. David Emery Says:

    What I don’t understand is what makes a notebook a “business notebook” or a “consumer notebook”. That’s a distinction that seems to live in the PC world, but I can’t figure out, looking at the people I work with, what makes their ‘business laptops’ different, with one exception. All of the government people have SmartCard readers built into their (mostly Dell) laptops.

    Now I admit to being a member of the Mac cult. However, I was lugging an original Titanium Powerbook while on the initial stages of a very demanding product, carrying that thing through more than 300k miles on 75% travel in 2003-2005. May PowerBook held up -very well- against the Windows machines everyone else was carrying, in terms of (a) functionality (I could do almost everything they could do, with the exception of a few Windows-only applications that ran poorly in VirtualPC.) More importantly, my Mac laptop was the only laptop that came close to lasting all 3 years; pretty much everyone else had to replace their laptops because they broke after about 2 years. That’s in part due to the Ti case that was unique to the PowerBook, and definitely paid for itself. At the 34 month point, my PB had to go into the shop for a blown Motherboard. I was in Southern California. Thursday evening I dropped it off at a local Apple store. It was returned to me the following Tuesday morning at my local Apple store in Northern VA. Advantage: Apple :-)

    dave

  20. Danny Methane Says:

    I’m not sure what all you added to the Dell Studio. I built one based on the BASE specs of the Macbook Pro 17″, and it was $1200, not $1700.

    Sure, I left out the Bluetooth and other features that I wouldn’t use, but not $500 worth of stuff was left off.

    Also, at least I can play Crysis.

  21. Mina Says:

    I read both reviews. Your original, and this one. On both, you neglected one thing that every reviewer should mention. Accessibility. It exists on Windows XP, it exists on certain Linux distributions, but I have no idea if it exists on MacIntoshes. If it does, to what extent?

    Can you make fonts bigger? Up to what pt.?
    Can you change the DPI percentage?
    Can you make the icons larger?
    Can you make the mouse pointer larger?
    Are there high-contrast themes?
    Is there a screen-reader?
    Is there a magnification tool for non-accessible software use? (doesn’t seem to be needed on browsers; for instance, on Firefox I can adjust the text or everything)

    You get the idea. When I look for comparisons, whether software or OS, or a particular laptop or netbook, etc., even for cellphones, all the comparisons and reviews typically don’t include an Accessibility section that’s BADLY needed to be added. It gets tiring asking by email each and every time. The only other thing I’d ask is if the MacIntosh has the other English keyboard layout, Dvorak, which I would consider an Accessibility feature. It helps my wrists more than Qwerty does.

  22. GR Says:

    @Mina

    Check out the following pages for more info about Apple and accessibility support across their product lines:

    http://www.apple.com/accessibility/

    OS X Accessibility Highlights:

    http://www.apple.com/accessibility/macosx/vision.html
    http://www.apple.com/accessibility/macosx/hearing.html
    http://www.apple.com/accessibility/macosx/physical.html
    http://www.apple.com/accessibility/macosx/literacylearning.html

  23. GR Says:

    @Mina

    Also note that this review explicitly excluded any comparisons of operating system features which accessibility clearly falls under… This was a hardware comparison review only.

    “Q. Isn’t it obvious that OS X makes Macs inherently superior to Windows computers? (Or, if you prefer, that Windows makes PCs inherently superior to Macs?)
    A. I feel strongly that the biggest difference between a Windows PC and a Mac is the operating system, but I’m willfully ignoring that question in this comparison and focusing on the hardware question. You can’t compare OSes without immediately delving into opinions and subjectivity and personal preference.”

  24. Mina Says:

    GR,

    I suppose. I knew he was ignoring OS comparisons, but it didn’t occur to me that would skip the Accessibility issue. I thought perhaps it was the typical oversight. All I was thinking of was that “A MacIntosh is a different kind of computer”, not about the OS. I wracked my brain for memories of my past experiences with MacIntoshes but couldn’t remember if they had any Accessibility features. Oh well.

    Thank you.

  25. Sarai Says:

    The Macs have built in screen readers with Braille support. On a Windows PC, you have to pay an extra $1000 for Jaws or Window Eyes. The Voiceover Screen reader is really good. I’m looking at switching to a Mac due to the better accessability, and I’m sick and tired of Windows.

  26. MadMac Says:

    This is all interesting discussion. First, I’m a new MBP 17 user, for two weeks. It’s my first mac since my 512K… yeah, I’m dating myself.

    I use computers as tools, professionally. I design and build big data warehouses, and MPP software too. I’ve worked in most of the OSs over the years… MVS, VM, VMS, Primos, Dos, Windows since before 3.0… 50 flavors of Unix, the Univac, yeah, it’s a long list.

    Point is, I bought this box because I wanted to run multiple OSs, I wanted to run multiple images of windows with SUSE, and other images running – while I was doing development in the foreground image…

    The significance of this, is that most programming environments are starting to follow this paradigm, in which the complexity of the application, and the appropriate choice of software to solve the problem (business, gaming, or home) is driving the selection of the OS, and then the Hardware. Such that the solution to a problem involves software which runs across multiple operating systems and hardware – ANY midrange website is an example.

    There are three hardware detractions about this laptop I have found so far.
    1 is the keyboard – what were they thinking? If you have the area, use a full 101 keyboard so the professional – who knows all the short cuts by touch – can use them… the old IBM thinkpads are still in a class of their own.
    2 is the mini-port does not support enough screen resolution. I had two 1600×1200 screens attached to my previous dell docking station – and I used it all. The mini-port cannot sustain a 3200×1200 resolution.
    3 No docking station support. I have two offices and one in my house.

    In the long run, I need hardware that does it’s job without me having to think about it. Most of the products reviewed in the previous article, do just that – the non Mac machines here – do not. I was a weekly bi-coastal flyier for 10 years, and as such am the owner of many previous high end laptops (I still miss my ThinkPad A31p – which still out classes nearly all consumer models 10 years later), and can attest to the difference between the consumer and business models – it really is the little things.

    When it’s all said and done, with the extra cables, the SSD drive, the extra CPU and memory, it’s a $5K machine. That said, I can do full scale development anywhere, which is really the point of a machine like this. It’s a portable workstation which happens to double as a high end consumer box. For me, being able to move my entire development and design environment, no matter which OS – paid for itself the day after I bought it…

    BTW – the practical limit of the battery is about 4 to 5 hours under real use – which I think is quite good considering the weight.

  27. Speedo68 Says:

    Feedback for MadMac:

    I do a lot of the same support/design. I focus on video modeling, so I stress most of my system’s harshly. I also have to support several clients who are running legacy systems “UGGHH”(Database mostly). Moving them all over to VM servers in the next 12~18 months.

    However, I use a Dell M6400. I have all the same capabilities using as either through VMware/Virtualization or booting from 2nd HD. Yes, I have 2x 320gb 7200rpm Hard Drives. It helps to cut down on running native versus emulation tests. I have it equiped with Quad-Core CPU and 8gb of DDR3. 1gb Video card. Dell gave my company a deal of $2000 grand off if we gave them some or our Macbook pros. We did, about 160 machines so far.

    I can also use a Docking Station. So plenty of 30″ side-by-side action when needed. Only thing is weight. It does weigh about 10lbs but no issue’s with me. And battery is of no concern to me. Always keep 2 spare’s. All my travel is in business class, about 32000 miles up till last friday.

    BTW, I am currently on my 3rd MacBook Pro 17″ unibody. Battery failure on 1st, have smoking pics of burn’t laptop(at least it didn’t set off fire alarm in hotel I was at). 2nd failed(Apple Replacement) due to excess heat coming from video card and video corruption after about 20 days. Regulated MacBook to frequent use as native OS-X, but don’t use for most of my clients(7 out fo 80ish)…

    Working with colegues to use OS-X from my new Dell. Should have it working in another weeek or so.

  28. Mina Says:

    Sarai,

    Thank you for the information; it makes me consider a MacIntosh. Its true that Windows makes you pay for commercial screen-readers. I use free ones only, and there’s even a portable version of NVDA that can be taken with you on a USB pendrive. Even Linux gives you free ones, from what I have seen.

    Vista makes you pay just for larger fonts and high contrast themes, and I haven’t seen any Accessibility on it. Not even the kind I’m used to seeing on Windows XP.

  29. JW Says:

    Thanks for the helpful analysis Harry. It was just what I was looking for as I decide which computer to buy next. Once you catch your breath, would you consider doing a comparison of 15″ models?

  30. novatvstdios Says:

    Anyone who argues that Macs are better than PCs is an idiot. The kind that buys a mac.

  31. John Says:

    I have to say, I appreciate the cojones it takes to write such an article. You know you’re going to be bashed from both sides, yet you persist. Commendable.

    I should mention that I began using computers back in the early 1980s with the Commodore 64. After that, I had a Tandy, which was almost useless by the time 1990 rolled around (I bought the Tandy in 1988). I went without for a spell, about five or six years, until I bought a Mac (a IIe or something like that–it was 1994, so a very long time ago). I absolutely LOVED the Mac, right from the very beginning. It was easy for me to fall in love, too: my college used Macs exclusively, as most educational institutions did and still do). However, when my Mac finally kicked some three or four years later, I didn’t have the funds to buy another Mac, so I caved and bought a Windows-based notebook.

    Obviously, by 2000, the Internet was growing by leaps and bounds and was actually useful. However, My Windows machine was just not very upgradeable. As technology changed, my computer did not change with it. At the time, I was able to upgrade to Windows XP, but my computer was actually slower, as the OS taxed it more, and I had significantly less usable hard drive space as well as available memory for tasks outside of what the OS used for itself. I bought a new computer not long after that, a desktop, which was far cheaper than a notebook at the time.

    Unfortunately for me, that desktop blew a motherboard just outside of a year (an HP bought circa 2002), leaving me high and dry. The cost of replacing the motherboard was relatively equal to the cost of buying a new computer. I bought a Gateway desktop to replace it, which was a good value and had everything I was getting used to, though it was faster and had more memory as well as a larger hard drive. I actually still have that computer today, and it works, what’s more. Of course, it’s all but unusable. It’s so slow that I can bake a cake from scratch in the time it takes to boot, and don’t ask it to open any new programs. It still runs XP–the upgrade to Vista would likely have left it a smoldering cinder. :-)

    Luckily for me, I was married and had generous in-laws who sprung for a new Gateway Notebook about 9 months after we bought the desktop. Of course, we had problems with the Gateway after about a year. It seems that using it while plugged in wasn’t a good idea. The strain on the connector in the back of the notebook from the weight of the power supply distressed the connector so that it became loose and unreliable. I had to position it “just so” in order for the computer to work at all, and the battery didn’t charge whatsoever.

    By this time, my wife and I had both graduated college (I finished grad school in 2002 and she finished a double-major in the same year), so by 2005 we had a house and jobs that paid much better than what we’d previously had. We were able to buy a new notebook (by this time the performance of notebooks was rivaling that of desktops, and mobility was a very desirable thing), so we bought a Sony FS-something-or-other. That was the best computer I’d had of all the Windows-based computers, period. It lasted about two years before the hard drive blew, mechanically, rendering it useless and costing us some precious data (we only had so much room for back-up because we used the more reliable solid-state devices for those purposes, and sony had a great reader, which included their proprietary Memory Stick that I still love–and have–to this day).

    To replace that, I finally returned to the computer I loved oh, so many years ago. I purchased my 15″ MacBook Pro in January 2007, and I’m typing this on it now. Unfortunately, my wife’s place of employment was Windows-centric, and some of the key software at the time was only available on Windows. Since she telecommutes at least 1-day a week and because her employer would not provide employees notebook computers at that time (her entire office had docking notebooks now), we had to also buy a new Window-based notebook, an HP, one that started with XP and was impossible to upgrade to Vista (we tried and found so many driver incompatibilities that I was surprised the keyboard worked, especially since everything from the built-in wi-fi to the trackpad failed). Fortunately for us, that computer had four major repair issues within 2 years (well within our 3-yr Performance Plan), so we got to put the entire purchase price toward a new computer, a Toshiba that she has currently.

    The Toshiba came with Vista, but we had to buy new software for everything she did: MS Office with Outlook, Photoshop Elements, Norton Antivirus, etc, etc, etc. Fortunately, this machine was cheaper than the one it was replacing, so it only ended up costing us $300 out of pocket to make the switch, but we should have been able to spend that money on upgrading or getting her some new gadgets to increase her productivity or give her something for fun. Instead, MS made sure NOTHING was compatible from XP to Vista, and none of this even begins to address the many issues we had with Vista from the get-go.

    On the other hand, I’ve been using my Mac, which came with OS X 10.4.x, without major issue for almost 3 years. I’ve since upgraded to OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and now OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). My internal wi-fi was upgraded as well–through firmware–when I bought our Apple Airport Extreme Basestation, which is Draft-N capable. My 802.11g went to an 802.11 Draft-N with the click of a mouse (and the running of a bit of software off the included DVD-ROM). Every piece of software I’ve purchased I still have and use, including MS Office and Photoshop Elements. What’s more, I can use Windows-formatted hard drives and flash drives without even blinking. I don’t need to push a button or flip a switch; I just put the suckers in and they work! I can also open any document in any format, including Windows formatted .doc files. In addition to that, I can also open the new .docx files due to free-from-Apple software that converts the files–without error–to a format that’s compatible with what I have now.

    If you want to add everything I just said to the list, that would be reason enough for me to never buy another PC-anything with Windows-anything. Throw in the fact that I’ve got a keyboard that senses room conditions and lights up or turns its lights off as needed, ditto for the monitor for power conservation, a MagSafe AC adapter that is a magnetically attaching power adapter that disconnects itself if someone trips on the cord or too much force is applied when moving about while plugged in, 2 USB ports, a FireWire 400, a FireWire 800, and a DVI port (which allows me to connect to HDMI devices through a cable adapter), and the notebook that was the first with a built-in web cam with microphone, and I can tell you unequivocally that when I do need to buy another computer it will undoubtedly be a Mac!

    People want to talk about a “Mac Tax” or complain about how expensive Macs are? I’ve got a simple sentence for you: “You get what you pay for!” I could conceivably use this computer effectively for another 3 years. If that’s what I get for my $2700 (after AppleCare purchase, which I strongly recommend and which you can buy anytime during the first year), then I’ll take it. In the same time I’ve had this Mac, we’ve spent more than $3400 to keep my wife in PCs, and that’s not even including what we could have spent had we not had one notebook fail within our Performance Plans’s lifespan!

    The next time you hear someone crapping about a Mac Tax, ask them how much they had to spend buying software they already had when they went from XP to Vista. Ask them if they could even use the same computer for both! Then point out to them that my 3-yr-old MacBook Pro not only runs the latest, most advanced consumer OS on the market but that it can run BOTH XP and Vista. I wouldn’t be surprised if it will also run Windows 7 when that comes out, which is really nothing but a fancy bug-fix for Vista anyway, at full price no less.

    Apple just came out with their OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard. Now, is it a major overhaul from Leopard? Not in the sense that it’s a completely new concept. However, it is entirely rebuilt from top to bottom to take advantage of multi-core processors and to take full advantage of today’s highly advanced technology. Oh, and did I mention that it does that all while having a reduced footprint? Yeah. I actually more than doubled my free hard drive space when I installed it, and it also is less taxing on the processors than before, leaving plenty of power left over for tasks my other software might want to do, making both more efficient than before. Oh, and I paid a whole $29 for the privilege. When MS comes out with a huge revamp of their OS and charges the price of dinner for 1 at a restaurant, then come talk to me. Until then, I’m going to still be using the same Mac that, like the Energizer Bunny, keeps going and going and going and going and going…

  32. GFC Says:

    OSX bias aside, this article is commendable for its efforts at objectively comparing hardware costs spec for spec. There are clearly a lot of people who agree about the desirability of Mac hardware, since a large number of Macs are being used primarily to run Windows.

    The inevitable tripping points are that 1) custom configured machines *always* cost extra relative to off-the-shelf machines of similar specs, and 2) no two off-the-shelf machines at the same price point have exactly the same specs. So the more exactly a machine is configured to match the specs of another machine, the more its relative cost goes up. In both articles, it was the Windows PCs that were being configured to match the Mac specs, so they were hit with the configuration penalty. The comparison masks the relative costs/benefits of off-the-shelf machines.

    Most purchasers are not so obsessive about matching specs from one manufacturer to those of another. In a real world scenario, the purchaser uses some combination of two approaches to making a decision. One considers the differences in specs,features, quality, and aesthetics between machines at an approximate price point, decides which are important (the benefit), and goes with the package deemed most beneficial. The other is to start with the features that are most beneficial and find the most desirable off-the-shelf machine that has them, with consideration of cost. That approach highlights the “Mac Tax” that is somewhat minimized by the approach of the author, honest effort that it may be.
    We’re not talking about chump change.

  33. macbook pro for sale used Says:

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