PCs Cheaper than Macs? A Real Cost Comparison

Like a bad aftertaste, it seems the “PCs cost less than Macs” rumor still remains. Is there any truth to it now that it’s being used in Microsoft’s advertising? Why don’t we uncover the truth by taking a look at the current lowest price MacBook and see what Dell, HP, Lenovo and Toshiba have to offer.

The Cheap PC Myth:

The PC’s cost less myth seems to stick around because many PC manufacturers keep “introductory” models in their inventory. You can see it on their websites when they list the price of the laptop as “Starting at..”. The strategy is to get you in the door and then upsell. These models are priced at some insanely low figure and have any combination of the following:

- The minimum spec for RAM.
- A tiny or slow Hard Drive.
- Slow / crippled / old technology processor (AMD / Intel).
- Integrated Graphics.
- Windows “Lite” (or Linux).
- Cheap parts / construction.

Note: No offense to AMD, but they are less expensive than comparable Intel chips and their specs can be confusing. If you aren’t familiar with their processor brand names, you think you’re getting a good deal but may not be.

Comparing Apples to Apples:

In order for our comparison to be accurate, we need to compare the lowest cost MacBook to a similar offering from the PC vendors. This means the same processor speed, memory, hard drive and included software.

Sure, we can cheap out and look at a model with integrated graphics, no RAM and a processor from last year.. We could also compare that to a similarly equipped USED one or two year old MacBook but we won’t. We’re looking at new PCs vs MacBooks.

The Laptops:

Apple – MacBook: ($999)

- 2.0Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo – 1066MHz FSB, 3MB L2 Cache.
- 2GB 667Mhz DDR2 RAM.
- 120GB SATA 5400rpm Hard Drive.
- 13″ Display 1280×800
- NVIDIA GeForce 9400M with 256MB RAM.
- Weighing 5lbs (2.27Kg)

Included goodies – Integrated Webcam, Bluetooth, 802.11N Wireless and a full, complete and non crippled version of OS X Leopard.

Dell – Inspiron M1330:

Starts at – $699
Upgrading it to compare with a MacBook:

- Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4Ghz 800Mhz FSB, 3MB LS Cache ($175)
- 2GB DDR2 RAM.
- 160GB SATA 5400rpm Hard Drive.
- 13″ Display 1280×800.
- NVIDIA GeForce 8400M with 128MB RAM. ($100)
Note that this is not the same as the MacBook’s video card.

We have to choose the faster processor because they don’t offer the 2.0Ghz with comparable 1066Mhz FSB.

We also have to upgrade to Vista Ultimate because Home Premium does not offer the full functionality of Vista compared to the full OS X ($150), 6Cell Battery ($30), Bluetooth ($20) and 802.11N Wireless card ($25).

Final Price ($1199) – $200 more than the MacBook.

Note: The Dell Inspiron 13 ends up being cheaper but you can’t upgrade it’s graphics card and that’s why I had to choose the M1330 instead. Remember, we’re comparing similar spec computers. A refurbished MacBook with similar specs to the Inspiron 13 actually costs $5 less.

HP – Pavillion dv4tse:

Starts at $749
Upgrading it to compare with a MacBook:

- Intel Core 2 Duo 2.13Ghz, 1066Mhz FSB, 3MB L2 Cache ($100)
- 2GB DDR2 RAM.
- 160GB SATA 5400rpm Hard Drive.
- 14.1″ Display 1280×800 (Same resolution)
- NVIDIA GeForce G105M with 512MB RAM.

We also have to upgrade to Vista Ultimate because Home Premium does not offer the full functionality of Vista compared to the full OS X ($120), and Wireless N with Bluetooth ($50).

Final Price ($1019) – $20 more than the MacBook.

Also Note: When I compared the prices, HP was offering a $200 instant rebate. Actual price was $1219.

Toshiba – Satellite U400:

Starts at – $779
Upgrading it to compare with a MacBook:

- Intel Core 2 Duo 2.13Ghz, 1066 FSB, 3MB L2 Cache. ($157)
- 2GB DDR2 RAM. ($43)
- 160GB SATA 5400rpm Hard Drive.
- 13″ Display (1280×800).
- No Video Card option.

We also have to upgrade to Vista Ultimate because Home Premium does not offer the full functionality of Vista compared to the full OS X ($119), and Bluetooth ($21).

Final Price ($1079) – $80 more than the MacBook.

Also Note: When I compared the prices, Toshiba was offering a $190 instant rebate. Actual price was $1269.

Lenovo – Ideapad U330:

I wanted to include Lenovo in this comparison because they are well constructed, powerful, offer some really incredible features and personally I think they compete well against Apple.

That said, as soon as I went to the site and found 2 models that instantly fit the profile of the lowest price MacBook we are using in this article. They both have the exact same processor, screen size, RAM (DDR3!) and comparable ATI graphics cards as the MacBook. Unfortunately, both models of IdeaPad U330 were $50 and $100 more, right off the bat without any customization (including a $200 instant rebate).

If anything this is due to the faster speed of RAM in the Lenovo laptops but taking into account Vista Ultimate, 802.11N and Bluetooth, their final price would be much more.

The Final Word:

As you can see in these comparisons, Apple is competitively priced. Like the black background saving more electricity than a white background, and you don’t have to shut down or restart OS X ever, the “PCs are Cheaper than Macs” argument is nothing but a myth.

David Balogh tagged this post with: , , Read 228 articles by

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