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

Let’s introduce our bachelors computers:

I chose a midrange configuration of the iMac, with a 20-inch screen (I can’t quite tell if this photo is of that or its larger cousin)…

The Dell was the XPS One

The Gateway was the One ZX190

…and the Sony was a VGC-LT32E.

As usual, let’s walk our way through the major specs, as well as some minor ones:

The iMac I picked has a has a 2.66-GHz Core 2 Duo and 1066-MHz bus. The closest CPU Dell offers in the XPS line has a 2.33-MHz Core 2 Duo with a 1.333-MHz bus. The Sony has a 1.83-GHz Core 2 Duo with a 667-MHz bus; the Gateway lags with a 1.5-GHz Core 2 Duo with a 667-MHz bus. ADVANTAGE: iMAC, by a hair over the Dell and quite a bit over the Gateway and Sony.

Everybody comes with an acceptable-but-certainly-not-generous 2GB. PARITY

Hard Drive
The iMac, Dell, and Sony have 7200rpm 320GB drives; the Gateway beats ’em meaningfully with a 400GB model. It has space for a second drive, too. ADVANTAGE: GATEWAY

DVD Burner
Everyone has an 8X slot-loading drive. (Side note: the Dell and Sony are also available with Blu-Ray; Apple, of course, still doesn’t offer it at any price–but that’s an issue of availability, not price.) PARITY

The iMac has ATI’s HD Radeon 2600 PRO graphics with 256MB of discrete memory; the Gateway has the similar-but-better HD Radeon 2600 XT with the same amount of RAM. The Dell has the lower-end ATI HD Radeon 2400 with a skimpy 128MB of RAM. The Sony makes do with Intel’s X3100 integrated graphics. ADVANTAGE: GATEWAY

TV Tuner
Apple doesn’t make Macs with TV tuners, and the Gateway doesn’t come with one, either. The Dell and Sony both have analog/digital tuners and the requisite inputs to get a video signal in, making them PC/TV hybrids. ADVANTAGE: DELL AND SONY

The iMac has a 20-inch screen with 1680-by-1050 resolution; so does the Dell. The Gateway is less spacious than everybody else, with a 19-inch display at 1440-by-900. And the Sony trumps the rest with a 22-inch display with the same resolution as the iMac and Dell. ADVANTAGE: SONY

Everybody comes with 802.11 Draft-N built in. PARITY

Everybody has Gigabit Ethernet, too. MORE PARITY!

The iMac and Dell both have it; the Gateway and Sony don’t. ADVANTAGE: iMAC AND DELL

The iMac doesn’t come with one, and if the XPS does, Dell forgot to mention it. The Gateway and Sony have those newfangled 56-kbps thingummies. ADVANTAGE: GATEWAY AND SONY, IF YOU’RE A DIAL-UP THROWBACK

The iMac and Sony have five USB ports; the Dell has six; the Gateway has seven (including three cleverly placed on the power brick, so you can plug in stuff without cluttering up your desk). ADVANTAGE: GATEWAY

(NOTE: This category and final scores amended to correct the iMac’s info.) The iMac has a FireWire-400 port and a FireWire-800 one; Gateway, and Sony have a FireWire-400 port; the Dell has two FireWire-400 ports, according to the rep I asked when I could find no mention on the Dell site. ADVANTAGE: iMac

Expansion Slots
The Sony comes with a PC Card slot and an Express Card slot; I don’t think anybody else has slots except for ones for memory cards. ADVANTAGE: SONY

Video Out
The iMac’s mini-DVI port can do VGA, DVI, S-Video, and Composite, but only if you buy the requisite adapters If you do, though, you can add a second display. Nobody else seems to have video output. ADVANTAGE: iMAC

All contenders have built-in speakers, obviously; here’s a place where I’d love to listen, since quality of sound systems built into displays can vary so widely. I can’t, so the best I can do is to declare PARITY

Memory Card Reader
Apple doesn’t seem to believe in memory-card slots, and the Mac-loving world is a little sadder for it. The Dell has an 8-in-1 reader; the Gateway has a 5-in-1 reader; the Sony does Memory Stick and SD. Let’s be generous and give the ADVANTAGE to GATEWAY, HP, AND SONY

They all have one. PARITY

Remote Control
The iMac, Gateway, and Sony have remotes to control media functions; I think the Dell does too, although it’s not 100% clear. I’m going to sidestep questions of whether Apple’s minimalist remote is a superior design to ones with lotsa buttons. PARITY

Keyboard and Mouse
The Dell, Gateway, and Sony all come with a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse standard. On the Mac, they’re a $50 option. ADVANTAGE: DELL, GATEWAY, AND SONY

Bundled Media Software
The iMac, like all Macs, comes with iLife ’08. The Dell comes with Adobe’s Photoshop Elements, Premiere Elements, and Soundbooth–reasonable people can debate how that lineup compares to iLife, but it’s an impressive bundle. The Sony comes with a less exciting  bundle of Sony media apps, and Gateway mentions no media apps at all.  ADVANTAGE: iMAC AND DELL

Bundled Productivity Software
The iMac doesn’t include iWork, and the Dell doesn’t seem to come with anything; the Sony comes with Microsoft Works 9.0; the Gateway says it comes with Works 8.5 (possibly an outdated bit of info). ADVANTAGE: GATEWAY AND SONY

Operating System
The iMac comes with Leopard; everybody else comes with Vista Home Premium. At the risk of repeating myself, the purpose of these comparisons isn’t to delve into the virtues (or lack thereof) of the operating systems in question; it’s just too subjective for this particular exercise. I will note, however, that the Dell and Sony’s combination of a TV Tuner and Vista Home Premium lets them do TV recording, something that no Mac can do without third-party hardware and software. PARITY

The iMac comes with a one-year warranty, as do the Gateway and Sony. The Dell, in a nice touch, comes with a two-year warranty. It’s kind of mixing Apples and oranges Dells, but I’m going to factor in Apple’s strong service ratings in third-party surveys and give the ADVANTAGE to both the iMac and the Dell, for different reasons.

I’m not going to factor this in, but one thought: The brushed-aluminum iMac is just as handsome as you’d expect, but the other systems are slick, too, and they all have different styles. I could see any given computer buyer preferring the look and feel of any one of these machines.



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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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