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Tue, Mar. 2nd, 2010, 10:44 pm
Some lies that just won't go away

Macs are not twice the cost of PCs. People who say that sort of thing are not comparing like with like.

The Daily Kos likes to talk about “zombie lies” - claims that, no matter how often they’ve been disproved, continue to be spouted by disingenuous or deliberately talentless hacks, and thus kept alive.

I encountered such a claim the other day, when a friend of mine, talking to another friend, claimed that Apple kit was twice as expensive as the Windows equivalent.

That’s certainly true if you mean “you can get a Windows laptop for pretty much bugger all compared to an Apple laptop”. That’s because Apple don’t do low-end el-cheapo stuff, nor do they make machines with anything but the latest technology. But what happens if you compare like with like?

13” laptop

Apple’s entry-level laptop, the MacBook, comes with a 2.2Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM - 2x2GB, 500GB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400 rpm, SuperDrive 8x DVD+/-R DL/DVD+/-RW/CD-RW, and a 13” 1280 x 800 screen driven by a NVIDIA GeForce 9400M.

After battling manufacturer’s websites, I went to Dabs.com, a leading PC website that’s been around for ages, sells PCs and Macs, and crucially has a good comparison feature where you can choose features and filter the initially daunting list of laptops down to a manageable list.

Narrowing down the search to 13.3” screen, Core 2 Duo, 2GB, I see the MacBook at £808.57, with exactly one machine cheaper, a HP laptop at £682. It’s got a much cheaper on-board Intel chipset (GMA 4500MHD), a slightly larger and faster drive (320GB / 7200rpm), and no DVD drive.

Other than that, the other machines listed were all more expensive - sometimes significantly so.

15” laptop

Moving on, let’s look at the introductory 15” MacBook Pro. It’s got a 2.53Ghz processor, 4GB RAM (you can upgrade to 8GB but at current RAM prices you’d be daft to), 250GB disc, has an SD slot, FireWire 800 and the screen resolution is 1440x900. You can get a version that has a second video card that takes over when you’re plugged into the mains (in cases where performance trumps power consumption), but I suspect the comparison sites will be bamboozled by that so let’s stick to the basics. Apple’s price is £1,328, Dabs’ £1,318.

Toshiba and Dell have some significantly cheaper laptops, but they have 14” screens. There are plenty of cheaper 15” laptops, but their screens are significantly more lower resolution (e.g. a 15” Toshiba which sells for £874, but only has a 1280x800 screen, slower RAM and an Intel graphics chipset). The closest that comes to the MacBook Pro’s specs is a Sony Vaio at £1,146 which is at least 50” thicker, has slower RAM, Intel chipset, and claims half the battery life. At least it has a 500GB disc, which is nice.

17” laptop

OK, surely it’s the top-end kit where Apple makes all of its margin, so you’d expect to see the top-end MacBook Pro outperformed by other manufacturers.

The 17” MacBook Pro has a 2.8Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard disc and is otherwise specced the same as the 15”. It comes with two graphics cards, an NVIDIA GeForce 9400M and a 9600M GT with 512MB. Screen resolution is 1920 x 1200, and it’s set you back £1,871 at Dabs.

Again, while you can find a number of cheap (e.g. £569 cheap) 17” laptops at Dabs, as soon as you select any three of 17” screen, Core 2 Duo, 1920 x 1200 or 4GB RAM, it turns out that it’s a three-way fight between Apple, HP and Lenovo - and only one laptop is cheaper than the MacBook Pro, at £1,732. It’s almost 2/3rds thicker, has a smaller but faster disc, a worse DVD drive, and an NVIDIA Quadro FX 2700M rather than MacBook Pro’s two graphics cards.

So: Apple kit twice as expensive as PC kit?

Not true in the slightest. With identical specs, Apple is, if anything, cheaper than similar kit from other manufacturers. And that’s before you go into build quality, or the way hardware and software go together and Just Work.

Now, it’s quite possible that if you’re prepared to buy machines that aren’t as cutting-edge, they’ll be significantly cheaper than Apple kit and not feel significantly worse - there’s a premium on new technology, as the prices for upgrading a MacBook Pro to 8GB indicates.

But it’s one thing to say “Apple don’t make the cheap machines I’m quite happy with”, which is almost certainly true for many people, and another entirely to say “Apple kit is ludicrously over-priced”.

It may well be comparatively expensive - but if you were in the market for a computer like the sort of things that Apple make, that’s the sort of money you’d pay. From anybody.