The “Mac versus PC” debate will rage until the end of time, but one constant argument I hear about the Mac is that it is overpriced. In fact, an anonymous employee of Psystar (the makers of the so-called Mac clone) was quoted as saying that Apple marks up their hardware as much as 80%.

Whether that is true or not, the notion that Apple overprices it’s machines is everywhere. Now, I do not have inside knowledge of Apple at all, but I am going to try to analyze this and give my impression on whether Apple is too expensive for what you get.

Mac Mini

The retail price for the Mac Mini is $599. For this, you get a tiny computer with a 1.83 GHz Core 2 Duo, 1 GB of RAM, Intel GMA 950 graphics processor, yada yada. If you want 2 GB of RAM, the price goes up to $799 (which also comes with a larger hard drive). Now, that is certainly pricey and you can get yourself a better equipped PC tower for about the same amount of money.

Obviously, you’re paying for the design of the Mini. The Mini is a niche computer that only certain people are going to want. A similar form factor PC might be the Aopen Mini PC. The MP965 series has very similar specs to the Mac Mini and retails at $455. Other options include the XPC X100 which is significantly more expensive. A look at Newegg’s barebone list for mini PCs also provides much higher prices than the Mac Mini. Asus is coming out with the Nova P20 which is set to retail at $888.

The Mini is an appliance computer which is designed for a specific purpose. When you consider the Mini form factor and the fact that it comes with OS X Leopard, it seems to me the Mini is pretty competitively priced. Most mini PCs seem to have higher prices. But, yes, pitting the Mini up against the typical PC, the Mini (as a computer and not an entertainment appliance) looks pricey.

IMAC

The all-in-one Imac starts at $1199 and for that price you will get a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo, 1 GB memory, 250 GB hard drive with an ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT w/ 128MB video memory. A direct spec comparison to PC towers would, of course, lead to PC winning in the price war. However, this is an all-in-one so we need to compare it to other PC all-in-ones.

The Dell XPS One is perhaps the best known alternative. It starts at $1,299 and has a 20″ display, 2 GB DDR2 memory, 250 GB hard drive, integrated video. It is also running the Core 2 Duo, but it is running the E4500 which means it is likely 2.2 GHz. The price tag puts it at $100 more than the IMAC. The major difference in specs is that it has one additional GB of memory and has perhaps a slightly faster processor. Aside from that, it has essentially the same specs. Price wise, we have a tie. If you go to the highest priced model of the Dell XPS One, you get Blu-Ray and a large hard drive. But, for a couple hundred more, you get an Imac with a 24″ screen, same size hard drive, same memory.

The Gateway One ZX190 retails at $1,499. It has a 19″ screen and a slower processor, however it does come with a significantly larger hard drive. Style-wise, it is just plain ugly. So, it is more expensive than the Imac and I don’t think you get as much for your money.

So, I would venture to say that Apple’s IMAC is not overpriced. In fact, it is quite competitive.

Mac Pro

The Mac Pro is Apple’s premiere workstation tower and it is likely the pricing of the Mac Pro which adds the most fuel to the debate about Macs being more expensive. The Mac Pro starts at a whopping $2,799. But, let’s look at the specs. It has 2 2.8 GHz quad core processors (for a total of 8 processor cores), 2 GB of fully buffered ECC ram, ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT, 320 GB hard drive, 16X Superdrive.

Now, the processor specs are impressive as hell. 2 GB of memory is pretty weak. It is good memory (ECC and buffered), but 2 GB isn’t much. And the 16X SuperDrive is slower than most optical drives you’d see in a PC.

So, let’s look at a comparable spec PC. I see the Dell Precision Workstation T7400 64-bit. If we configure this beast with 2 quad cores at 2.8 GHz, 2 GB of ECC memory, a 320 GB hard drive, we are now looking at a sticker price of $4,128. This is certainly a LOT more than the Mac Pro for comparable specs.

The Dell Workstations are often considered to be the best equivalents to the Mac Pro, but just for grins, let’s look at one of the HP workstations. Their site is not as friendly, but it seems as if the machines are more expensive and don’t even come with a second processor.

So, yes, the Mac Pro is expensive, but it is priced very competitively. In fact, it seems to almost blow away the competition when it comes to pricing for this level of machine.

MacBook and Macbook Pro

Apple’s notebook lineup is pretty popular. The MacBook starts at $1099 and the Macbook Pro starts at $1,999. Now, let’s look at the Macbook Pro. It comes with a 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, 2 GB memory, 200 GB hard drive and Nvidia graphics.

The comparable notebook to the Macbook Pro is, again, the Dell. The Dell Precision M4300, for instance, starts at $1,429 and comes with a Core 2 Duo processor, 1 GB RAM, 80 GB hard drive. If I configure it to match the specs of the Macbook Pro, the prices comes out at $2,031. It is just a tad more, but also consider that this is running Windows XP 32-bit whereas the Mac is fully 64-bit. To me, that’s more for the money.

If we take the highest priced Macbook Pro, it goes for $2,799 and comes with a 2.5 GHz processor, 2 GB memory, 250 GB drive, 512 MB Nvidia graphics and a 17-inch screen. With Dell, we go to the M6300 in order to get the 17-inch screen. When we customize this system to match the MacBook Pro, it comes out to $2,671. This is cheaper than the Macbook Pro. Again, though, it is running 32-bit Windows XP and not the 64-bit OS X.

An HP equivalent might be the 8510P. This unit starts at $1,533. When configured to match as closely as possible to the intro-level MacBook Pro, the price came out to $1.751. The screen is the same size, but doesn’t offer as large a resolution as the Macbook screen. And it is running Vista, an operating system that runs notably WORSE than OS X.

Regardless, you’ll find that when you pit the Macbooks up against comparable PCs, MacBook pricing is right in the mix where it should be.

Apple Versus Self-Built PCs

In this look at Apple pricing, I am comparing Apple products to equivalent retail systems. Apple is, of course, retail so we are dealing with pre-built systems here. Now, when you compare this to building your own computer, we’re talking apples and oranges.

You can build a nicely equipped PC for less than your typical Mac, but it is hard to compare the two because Apple has no mid-range tower. You could compare the typical PC tower to the Imac (Apple’s mid-range system), but the Imac is all-in-one and that really changes the way it is perceived.

But, let’s make two comparisons here. I’m going to look at the Imac and the Mac Pro and we’re going to spec out a comparable PC build using parts from Newegg. First, the IMAC:

Hardware in IMACPrice for Part from Newegg
2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo$203
Motherboard (unknown)~$100
250 GB SATA 7200 RPM$65
1 GB 667 MHz DDR2 memory$20
8 X Superdrive$30
Ethernetincluded on board
Wireless$60
Bluetooth—- (unless you want USB adapter)
20 inch monitor$250
Sound Card$25
Video Card$20
Firewire$7
Operating System$120 (Win XP Media Center)
Mouse & Keyboard$30
Case (included on Imac)~$70 (depending on your taste)
TOTAL: $1199.TOTAL: $1000

Some of these prices are ballpark. There are obviously a lot of options when you build your own PC, options that you don’t have when you buy the Imac. But, trying to spec it out as close as possible, we see that building an equivalent PC comes in cheaper. However, when you consider the all-in-one package and the fact that it is OS X, AND the fact that you don’t have to take the time to go get all the parts separately and build it, the price difference is small.

Now, if we look at the Mac Pro, let’s do the same thing.

Hardware in Mac ProPrice for Part from Newegg
2 X 2.8 GHz quad core Xeon 5400 series$1,440
Motherboard (unknown)~$619
320 GB SATA 7200 RPM$100
2 GB 800 MHz DDR2 memory$40 (but not ECC)
16 X Superdrive$30
Ethernetincluded on board
Wireless$60
Bluetooth—- (unless you want USB adapter)
Sound Cardincluded on board
Video Card$50
Firewireincluded onboard
Operating System$120 (Win XP Media Center)
Mouse & Keyboard$30
Case$175 (for a good one)
TOTAL: $2,799TOTAL: $2,664

Again, some of these prices are ballpark, but I tried to make them average prices for a system in line with the Mac Pro. Again, the self-built model comes in a little cheaper, but the difference isn’t that much. You could cut costs by going with a crap case, but the Mac Pro enclosure is top notch and it would not be an even comparison otherwise. Also, the Mac Pro comes with fully buffered, ECC memory which increases stability.

So, when it comes to building a PC with roughly the same specs as a Mac, yes, you will come in a bit cheaper. But, is it enough to make a difference? Especially when you consider, again, that you’ll be running Windows rather than OS X (32-bit versus 64-bit). Also, as a guy who uses computers to work, I place a value on my time. When I consider that I would have to build the machine myself, consolidate all the parts myself, and at the end have no real warranty for the machine, it is a no-brainer: Apple wins.

The Final Verdict


NO

Macs are not overpriced. Pound for pound, if you compare a similarly equipped PC with a Mac, the Mac pricing comes in very competitively.

This debate will, though, rage forever. It is barely even a valid comparison considering the wide range of options available for PCs. Macs come with what they come with – case closed. PCs are very configurable. So, yes, you have a LOT more cheaper options available to you by sticking with PCs. But, this article goes to show that Macs are not overpriced when you look at what you’re actually getting.

One thing I think Apple really needs to do is release a mid-range tower. Something equivalent to the Imac but without the built-in screen. This would make Mac much more accessible to most, and provide a clearer part-by-part comparison with the majority of PCs on the market today.

And I couldn’t end this off without talking about what makes the Mac the Mac. OS X and design. The fact that you can run OS X rather than Windows is enticing to some. Now, I’m not going to get into the OS X versus Windows debate in this article, however simply comparing running Win XP 32-bit to a true blue 64-bit operating system (OS X) would come out with OS X the winner. 64-bit is more stable.

As for design, Apple does put a lot of thought into the design of their machines. You do pay for that design, but as this article shows, not much more (and in some cases less). The Mac Pro case, for instance, is a lesson in elegance.

This article was written by a guy who used to think Macs were overpriced. But, when you really start looking at it, they’re just not.