Are Macs More Expensive? Round Three: An All-in-One Free-For-All

I continue to compare Apples and oranges--in the form of the iMac and some Windows-based wannabees.

By  |  Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 11:58 pm

So help me, I’m addicted to comparing the prices of Macs and Windows PCs. That’s okay, though–judging from site traffic, a startling quantity of Technologizer readers seem to be addicted to reading and discussing my comparisons. On Thursday, I contrasted a mid-range MacBook with custom-configured Windows laptops. On Saturday, I followed up by comparing the cheapest MacBook to cheap Windows laptops from Best Buy. And today? Well, today I’m in the mood to look at desktops aimed at consumers.

Apple, of course, makes no typical desktop PCs for consumers; we’re now in the second decade of the all-in-one iMac. The unified-monitor-and-CPU form factor never conquered the Windows world, but several major manufacturers offer units that combine that design’s space-saving virtues with a splash of Apple-like flair. What say we compare the current 20-inch iMac to some Windows-based iMacalikes?

Once again, I’ll begin with a mini-FAQ, cribbing from my earlier stories:

Q. How did you decide what Windows all-in-ones to include in this comparison?

A. Well, there aren’t all that many out there to choose from, so it wasn’t that hard. I found ones from three companies I’ve included in earlier installments in this series–Dell, Gateway, and Sony. The Gateway comes in only one configuration, as far as I can tell. The Dell is extremely configurable, and the Sony comes in several versions; in both cases, I chose a standard configuration that was at least in the same ballpark as Apple’s midrange 20-inch iMac in terms of features and price.

Q. Are the Windows machines just embarrassing, shameless iMac ripoffs, like eMachines’ old eOne?

A. I think it’s safe to say that they all draw some inspiration from the iMac line, and hope to steal some of its business. But they’ve got their own personalities, and even have clever features the iMac likes. (I like the way the Gateway puts some of the ports on the power brick.) Two of them aim to be combo PC-TVs, a concept that doesn’t exist in the Apple world.

Q. The very cheapest iMacs are twelve hundred bucks–you can buy Windows desktops for way, way less than that–even once you’ve factored in the price of the monitor–and some of them have better specs. You pay a lot for that all-in-one design, my friend.

A. Very true, and I may compare an iMac to garden-variety Windows desktops at some point. In this story, though, I’m sticking to all-in-ones, none of which are dirt-cheap, and none of which have radically better overall specs than the iMac.

Q. How do you factor in the obvious superiority of the Mac platform? (Or, if you prefer, its obvious inferiority.)

A. I don’t! For this series, I tried to make my research err on the side of things that are easy to measure, like hard-drive size and the availability or unavailability of a particular feature. Folks who are commenting on my comparisons are doing a great job of going beyond that to discuss the platforms in general, and I plan to do so myself eventually.

Q. Will you tell me which of the systems is best?

A. Nope–I’m just trying to determine whether the midrange iMac looks pricey or reasonable when compared to all-in-one Windows PCs that are at least sort of similar.

Q. Please tell me your conclusions now–I’ve got a bus to catch in a few minutes.

A. Gladly–the iMac isn’t cheap, but it’s an okay deal overall.  On the downside, it doesn’t come with a TV tuner (no Mac does) and the keyboard and mouse are wired in the configuration I chose. But in terms of clockspeed, it’s got the fastest CPU of the machines I looked at, and is well specced in other areas. Bottom line: I don’t think anyone who prefers a Mac and isn’t interested in a Windows machine that’s not an all-in-one should sweat over the iMac’s price.

Q. For the love of Pete, will you please cut to the chase?

A. Sure, as soon as you click on to the next page…

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26 Comments For This Post

  1. MacPhobia Says:

    Are you going to compare about Tablets.. I can get a good Windows Tablet PC for around 1000 USD with good configuration.. Does apple have Tablets?… I like windows .and hope that windows will continue to prevail in the Computer market. Apple better focus on iPod and iPhone. 😉

  2. gotnate Says:

    apple doesn’t make tablets, buy you can still find a mac tablet here. just don’t go looking for a hybrid… those don’t exist in any form in mac land.

  3. Steven Says:

    Too bad for a tv tuner? This is a device that I like to be separate, like the models from Elgato. TV land is changing it’s technical shape too fast nowadays.

  4. CompPro Says:

    Great set of articles! As a computer professional of 20+ years, I have been using Macs since before MS Windows existed. I use both professionally, not by choice, the MS 800lbs gorilla still has a strangle hold on the market, though with the advent of the web and web based technologies, open systems is right around the corner, then the playing field will be more level. I use Macs at home, and for my freelance work, I listen to people complain about MS melt-downs, viruses etc… I have no problems and like it that way. I have made the case that Macs, if you compare component-to-component are not really more expensive. Delighted to read your fair comparison. MacPhobia? The name says it all…

  5. ejguillot Says:

    The iMac should have the advantage over all of the other competitors in the Firewire category. Remember, the iMac has a Firewire 800 port in addition to the Firewire 400 port, so I can (and do) hook up an external drive to my iMac, running at twice the speed of USB 2.0 or FW400.

  6. Harry McCracken Says:

    ejguillot: You’re right, and I was wrong–I failed to take the iMac’s FireWire-800 port into account. Doesn’t have a radical impact on my conclusions, but it’s still a point in the iMac’s favor. I’ve amended the story, and thanks!

  7. jgadbois Says:

    In comparing Operating Systems the standard should be Leopard vs. Vista Ultimate as both are the version with the most complete feature set. Points should be deducted for using Vista Home Premium as it is missing some Vista features.

  8. Karl Says:

    Not that CPU speed matters all that much but I think you will find that the XPS bus actually runs at 1333mhz compared to the Apples 1066mhz. And both the Gateway and Sony computer use low-voltage mobile cpus which save significant amounts of power and are really in a class by themselves. I think giving the CPU advantage to the iMac deserves at least some quailification.

  9. John Says:

    May want to mention that the imac has optical audio in and out using a mini toslink cable in the standard analog audio in/out connectors. Not sure what the others have. I would like to know the power usage comparison. Karl has an interesting point maybe.

  10. John Says:

    Oh, and the imac doesn’t use a power brick either. So having usb ports on one is impossible!

  11. Harry McCracken Says:

    Karl–right you are on the bus speed of the Dell; I amended the story. I left the iMac as the winner for CPU, but I think it’s very close…and I agree with you that CPU speed is not a gigantic factor in the way it once was. (Of course, there are other visitors to this site who don’t seem to share that opinion!)

    John–good points and thanks for the feedback. Point taken on the iMac’s lack of a power brick; I still think Gateway’s port solution is pretty darn clever…

  12. Al Says:

    Those Windows all-in-ones will make great Spambots as soon as that free trial offer anti-virus software runs out in 3 months. That standard 2 GB of RAM is also a hell of a lot more useful on XP or Leopard than it is on Vista. That’s two more advantage iMacs.

  13. Karl Says:

    @John For what it’s worth: power usage I found for the Dell and Apple 200w, Gateway 180w, and Sony 168w.

  14. John Says:

    @Karl, very nice research. I wonder in general how “all in one” units overall compare to separates? ie; 20″ monitor and mini tower with similar specs in power usage? It might be hard to match them up evenly.

    The top of the line imac has an Nvidia 8800GS GPU, 3.06Ghz CPU, I bet that drains some serious wattage!

    I also thought in the past that imacs were attacked in the past because they used laptop cpu’s… maybe they moved on.

    Now that I am writing this I wonder, what do the competitors “all in ones” top out on in terms of performance upgrades?

  15. Karl Says:

    @John Just think of what an Alienware PC would drain.

    The really, really glaring omission in this comparison is the HP TouchSmart. It’s the same price as the others, but includes a 22″ TOUCHSCREEN! Not to mention 4GB RAM standard.

    It really blows away these other computers in terms of value.

    I guess Harry just didn’t want to embarass the other computers. 😉

  16. Harry McCracken Says:

    Karl: I’ve been keeping these comparisons to a total of four computers to keep ’em wieldy. I probably should have included the TouchSmart, though–I think it’s a neat machine that delivers lots of bang for the buck (when I was at PC World, we gave the first version an award as one of the most innovative products of the year). To me, though, it’s a different kind of computer–in part because of that touch screen–and the Gateway, Dell, and Sony were a bit more comparable to the iMac.

    Thanks for the feedback!


  17. AJ_in_the_East_Bay Says:


  18. Jeff Says:

    My reason for not changing from PC to Mac – the cost of software. I already have current versions of Office, etc. Purchasing Mac versions of that software makes the price to switch at least double.

  19. Eric Says:

    I decided not to bother with Office on the Mac. I use OpenOffice when I need it. Still a little buggy, but you can’t beat the price.

    I use older iBook and Compaq notebooks for 90% of my work. Configured nearly identically and from the same era, though the iBook was very slightly cheaper when new. What I notice is that the Windows machine has taken the biggest performance hit as it’s aged, primarily due to the virus software that virtually makes the machine unusable for 45 minutes a day.

    Otherwise, both have held up pretty well to heavy use, though the Compaq looks more dated. The only thing that’s broken on either of them is a lost window key on the Compaq and a temperamental power brick on the iBook ($80 to replace? Really?)

    I did have to pay for one OS upgrade for the Mac when software developers suddenly seemed to abandon support for 10.2. But then I had to pay for the virus software on the Compaq, so it kind of evens out.

  20. Someone Says:


    If you plan on keeping your other PC, then you will have to buy more software anyway.
    If you install the software on both PCs and only have one license, you’re breaking the law.

  21. Jake Says:

    One minor point I’m curious about: the Windows systems’ wireless keyboards and mice–how do they connect to the PC? Do you use up one of your USB ports with a dongle? The Apple keyboard, being Bluetooth, wouldn’t require one on the iMac.

  22. Sarah Says:

    Don’t know what ms works is, but you failed to mention that the Mac has text edit…

  23. Sarah Says:

    … Sorry, I meant to say don’t really know how MS Works works, or what it does feature-wise, but the Mac has Text Edit as the basic word processing application.

  24. Cody Says:

    Hey, thanks for doing these comparisons. I have owned an imac for a few months now and love it, but now I’m running into trouble as far as mobility and am looking at a macbook pro instead, but from my personal research, I have come to find that an HP laptop with the same customization is $1500 less than the top model pro, so it would be very helpful whenever you come out with your next comparison. Thanks!

  25. Gordon MacKay Says:

    One more comparison please. The MacBook Pro to comparable Vista laptops. I’ll check back later…

  26. Raymond Cranfill Says:

    Of course, now, you can get a 24 inch iMac with better specs all ’round for $1495. Seems to me, this would tip the article in greater favor towards the iMac. Also, the styling on all the other all-in-ones just mentioned falls into the butt-ugly category, although this is a simple matter of taste.

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