Random thoughts from an unusual company

Mythbusters: MacBooks are expensive

Tim Davis  7 September 2009 13:06:42
I am very excitedly waiting for my new MacBook Pro to ship along with a sexy cinema display. The Pro is a 15" unibody and it replaces my existing 15" which is a couple of years old and seriously running out of disk space.

As I was choosing my options, I started thinking about the old argument about Macs being expensive compared to Windows laptops and so I thought I'd do a simple exercise and price up equivalent Dell laptops. You can't build exactly the same specs, but can get pretty close to an equivalent machine.

Asking around, people's estimate for price comparison is that a Dell should be much much cheaper, even half the price. It turns out there is virtually no difference. At all.

For example, a vanilla 17" 2.8GHz MacBook Pro is £1849.

A more-or-less equivalent 17" Dell Precision M6400 is £1910.

The Dell has a smaller hard drive (320Gb vs 500Gb) and no camera, but has a better video card and an anti-glare screen.

A vanilla 15" 2.53Ghz MacBook Pro is £1299.

The Dell equivalent M4400 is £1259.

The Dell has a better video card, but a lower-resolution screen (only 1280x800 vs 1440x900 on the Mac).

A 13" MacBook (the white one) is £799.

The closest I could get was a Dell Latitude 14" E6400 for £1152, but that has a 2.53Mhz processor instead of 2.13Mhz.
On the other hand, the 2.53Mhz 13" MacBook Pro is about the same price (£1149) as the E6400, but with twice the RAM and a larger 250Gb hard disk.

So I feel much better. I'm not the victim of any 'be cool, buy a Mac' mind-control. I am genuinely getting a good deal on a laptop. Plus I am getting a Mac and all the wonderful stuff that comes with it.


1Paul Mooney  07/09/2009 15:17:15  Mythbusters: MacBooks are expensive

I think the argument applies more to desktops then laptops, where people can source kit and even build themselves... either way, my Mac has been more reliable then any other computer I have ever owned. Enough said really.

2Andrew Pollack  07/09/2009 16:09:38  Mythbusters: MacBooks are expensive

Sigh. Enjoy the Mac because you like it, but not for it's price. Full retail on the similarly spec'd DELL I just priced.....

Dell Inspiron 15"

1,034.00 USD == 631.342 GBP (Today's XE.COM exchange rate)

Intel® Core™ 2 Duo P8600 (64bit 2.40GHz/3MB cache)

4GB Shared Dual Channel DDR2 at 800MHz

Genuine Windows Vista® Home Basic Edition SP1

2yr Ltd Warranty, InHome Service after Remote Diagnosis

Glossy, widescreen 15.6 inch display (1366x768)

500GB SATA Hard Drive (5400RPM)

Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X4500HD

OPTICAL DRIVE 8X CD / DVD Burner (Dual Layer DVD+/-R Drive)

Dell Wireless 1515 802.11 Wireless-N Mini-card

Integrated 1.3 MP Webcam w/Facial Recognition

Soundblaster X-Fi Hi Def Audio - Software Enabled

Online Backup 2GB for 1 year

3Tim Davis  07/09/2009 23:27:37  Mythbusters: MacBooks are expensive

Andrew, I'm not sure your example is a good one. Dell's home-user range is cheaper than the Dell business range.

For example, when I price up your 15" home-user Inspiron on Dell's UK site including a proper video card, it comes to £873, compared to £1259 for the business 15" Dell M4400. The build quality and/or rest of the components on the Inspiron must be much worse than the Precision.

Because of this, I'd say it is fairer to compare the Macs to the Dell business models, as that's the quality of machine we are looking at, especially as the prices are so very similar to the Macs, otherwise you could be comparing all these machines to any old chinese box-o-crap priced at £199 or whatever.

When it comes to high-quality machines, Dell's 17" XPS super-gamer range, advertised as having great quality components, is £1860 for a slower processor but better graphics than the 17" MacBook Pro (£1849).

If one can genuinely compare the Inspiron to the MacBook Pro, then the Dell business/gamer ranges must be a complete rip-off, and I doubt that is the case. You aren't going to get the same performance or reliability out of the Inspiron as with the Precision.

I still think my argument holds: Dell sells laptops with about the same spec for about the same price across the whole range of MacBooks. So MacBooks aren't expensive.

4Andrew Pollack  07/09/2009 23:52:35  Mythbusters: MacBooks are expensive

I have one Inspiron (and have had several) and one Latitude. Yes, the build quality is higher on the Latitude, but not bad on the Inspiron. I'm comparing specs.

My point isn't that the apple is a bad product or even a bad deal -- but that it's a premium price on a premium product. It looks nicer and feels nicer than spending less money on a cheaper PC. People like them. That justifies spending the money. I see about a 30% price premium on Macs when I go shopping -- and then more expense on peripherals (and the requirement to go to a mac genius is a huge draw back, to me) -- but I've paid 30% more for many things because I like them better. I do it all the time.

Enjoy your Mac because you LIKE it -- you work hard and earn your wages with it. There's no harm in spending for it. I just don't think you can say there's no premium on them.

5  08/09/2009 00:00:18  Mythbusters: MacBooks are expensive

I can say there's no premium on Macs if you can say there's no premium on the Dell business and gamer ranges.

Or if there is a premium on Macs, then there is a premium on the Dell business and gamer ranges.

Can't have it both ways.

6Andrew Pollack  08/09/2009 01:15:23  Mythbusters: MacBooks are expensive

There is absolutely a premium on Dell gamer machines. As to the Latitude line -- there is for some, not for others. With Dell you have to be careful what you pick.

7Jeremy Hodge  08/09/2009 03:10:19  Mythbusters: MacBooks are expensive

Having been a dell VAR for some time now, let me tell you, don't fall into the trap of expecting Dell Home prices to Correlate (in any way) to Dell Business prices ... they are two separate and distinct business units within Dell with their own pricing models and strategies and there is no cross talk on pricing. You can and often will find the exact same machine priced one way on the business side, and cheaper on the Home side. If you can get a Dell account rep, do it, cause you'll usually save money just by asking for a quote. That being said, there is a quality difference between the different lines (vostro the lowest, then inspiron, lattitude, then precision) .. If you want to compare Dell apples to Apple apples, you need to spec the precision. That's where the quality of components match. I've compared prices several times, and a comparably equipped Dell laptop to a macbook pro is always about equal. The proof is in the Windows Vista OS ... take the similarly configured Dell Laptop and do the Vista Rating, and it will score lower than the Macbook will. Its the fine tuning (and hence lack of extra choices in the macbook) that gives it that extra performance. My 15" macbook outperforms my desktop on many tasks, and I have a very high performing desktop (Dell Precision P690, SAS, etc etc)

8  08/09/2009 08:12:43  Mythbusters: MacBooks are expensive

Thanks for the info Jeremy. The whole issue of laptop pricing is fascinating the more I looked into it. You can see how the prices are constructed very carefully across the models. It's a bit like a game where you tweak your character's abilities to best effect, but the hidden rules balance means you can never cheat out a huge advantage. (Most of my analogies tend to be based on games).

9Andrew Pollack  08/09/2009 14:40:02  Mythbusters: MacBooks are expensive

@Jeremy - Sorry, I don't buy the idea that you have to compare the two most expensive PC lines on the market (Dell's Precision and Thinkpad) in order to compare to Apple's products. SOME of the Apple products are excellent in terms of materials and design. Some are absolutely not. I wouldn't put an Acer in the ring with any of them, but many of those from HP and Toshiba, Ideapad, Asus, Dell Latitude, Dell Studio, & Sony do compare just fine on hardware.

I have to admit, Windows Vista sours the deal pretty quickly though. If I had to go vista or go Mac, I'd go Mac.

A problem for me buying laptops is that my specific needs (or least the once I think are needs) don't match the standard lines.

I'm in the market (generally) for a new laptop right now but absolutely nothing currently appeals to me. For now, I'm waiting. My nearly 4 year old Dell Latitude D820 is still a pretty nice machine and I'm just not yet seeing its replacement.

Once lesson I've finally learned -- I don't WANT the best screens. I can't read the damn things is 100 million by 80 million pixel resolution. At 15" a 1440x900 seems about right. As a result, I actually end up with slightly less sharpness because I've got the pixel sizes dialed up.

I really wish I could like the Mac's. For now, I'm waiting to see how Windows 7 ends up being when I have time to play with it. If I don't like it, I may have to go Mac for my next laptop. That's going to be painful to the poor bastard who has to deal with me in the Mac store, since I intend to bring a list of software (and possibly the software itself) into the store to see how it runs with the virtualization tech.

10  08/09/2009 15:10:02  Mythbusters: MacBooks are expensive

For me, the opposite applies. Early in my career I discovered that I need higher quality business machines. I am very demanding of my equipment!

What this whole exercise has reassured me is that a business machine is a business machine is a business machine. They all do more or less the same and they all cost more or less the same.

I may pay a premium for higher build quality/performance tweaks/components/etc, but at least I am not paying a premium for choosing a Mac over any other brand.

11Andrew Pollack  08/09/2009 22:20:04  Mythbusters: MacBooks are expensive

Thinking about it, there's another factor here. With the Mac, you really don't have the option to pick up a closeout version. They don't generally seem to drop the price. The just stop selling one and move on to the next without any real discounting (at least from what I've seen). You don't see 400-500 dollar dual core mac laptops running around like you do with HP and Toshiba.

12Jeremy Hodge  09/09/2009 00:15:24  Mythbusters: MacBooks are expensive

@9/@11 - Yeah, I should have been clearer .. I was specifically referring to the MacBook Pro Line when I was talking about the comparisons (I don't pay much attention to the lower macbook models because I use only the Pros). The bottom line is you can get into a PC laptop cheaper than a macbook, just because apple doesnt build a product to compete at that level ... they need./want the margin, etc.