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

Time to recap…

I have parity in eight categories; the iMac with an advantage in six; the Dell with an advantage in five; and the Gateway and Sony with an advantage in seven apiece. As before, I’m not going to weight all the categories, but a few thoughts:

–The iMac has the fastest CPU in terms of clockspeed, as well as better graphics than two of the three other competitors;

–The iMac has no TV tuner, and is the only contender that doesn’t come with a wireless keyboard and mouse as standard equipment;

–The Sony has the biggest screen, but the slowest CPU and wimpiest graphics, making it either a standout or a laggard depending on your preferences;

–The Gateway is strong on some specs, weak on others;

–The Dell may be the most well-rounded system in terms of overall specs, with the possible exception of its graphics card.

Then there’s…the little matter of…price.

For this comparison, I took a different approach than in my earlier stories: I shopped around to find a low price for each system. In the end, that had me with prices from resellers for the iMac and the Gateway, and direct-from-manufacturer for the Dell and the Sony:

iMac: $1399 final price ($1474 at MacConnection, plus a $75 rebate; Apple’s list is $1499)
Dell XPS One: $1349 (from, after $300 of those mysterious “instant savings”)
Gateway One: $1359.99 (at Tiger Direct; Gateway’s list is $1499.99)
Sony VGC-LT32E: $1299 (at; “original price” was $1399)

That’s a reasonably narrow price range, and as I’ve said, when you’re spending a thousand bucks or more for a computer, I don’t think you should obsess over differences of $100 or less. When all is said and done, these four machines are darn close in cost.

Which leaves me with the question that inspired this whole series of articles: Is the Mac expensive when compared to the Windows all-in-ones?

In the end, I think the iMac is in the zone on price except for two things:

1) Like all Macs, it doesn’t have a TV tuner;
2) Despite its emphasis on space-saving elegance and lack of clutter, it gives you a decidedly inelegant, clutter-producing wired keyboard and mouse.

But these omissions are counterbalanced, at least to some degree, by the fact that it’s got the speediest CPU.

So here’s my conclusion for this comparison:

“The midrange 20-inch iMac configuration isn’t cheap, but overall, it’s a decent enough deal compared to similar Windows all-in-ones, especially if you buy from a reseller who gives you a bit of a discount. Too bad Apple doesn’t do TV tuners, though, and didn’t throw in wireless input devices.”

Or to put it another way:

“There may be a minor ‘Mac Tax’ on the iMac, but it’s not going to kill you, and you shouldn’t worry about it if you really want a Mac instead of a PC.”

Until my next comparison–hey, I haven’t looked at the Mac Mini, MacBook Pro, or Mac Pro yet, and I’ve got an itch to scratch here!–please keep the comments coming…



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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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