Microsoft is Right About the Cost of Macs

by Hadley Stern Apr 16, 2009

There are apologists galore on both sides of this argument. The problem with Microsoft vs. Apple arguments is that they are too often emotional. There is such a long history between the two companies that leaves much to be desired. And even though Bill Gates and Steve Jobs appeared to make up during their WSJ interview a year or so ago (a must see) us Mac users are still, well, pissed.

Mac users are pissed at their very core because the understand the one single truth PC users do not understand. And that is that Windows users are ostensibly using a Mac. That same feeling some of us had when we fell in love with the first Mac is felt, in a much watered down form, by those Windows users excited about the power of a GUI interface.

And after-all, this is what this is all about, really. It is about a mouse, a keyboard, and a screen that has the metaphor of What You See Is What You Get. It is what lit up Job's passion when he visited Xerox, it is what lit us up when we first used a Mac, and it is what Window's users get. The reaction to the GUI interface is almost instinctive.

Now, there are many different flavors of this interface and Apple Matters readers know that the Macintosh version of this interface is better. OS X is more stable, more powerful and more flexible than Vista (although Windows 7 is creeping up).

But the differences have become inherently subtle. The original Macintosh revolutionized many industries, but particularly graphic design. With a DOS prompt you couldn't design a book cover, with a Mac and PageMaker you could. But, and this is important, all the tasks that you can now do on a Mac you can do on Windows. Maybe not as elegantly, or as powerfully (although many would argue even that point) but you still can.

Which leads us to the question in front of us, why are Macs more expensive? If it isn't the operating system that is so different to Windows then maybe the hardware is a hint?

In the days of PowerPC, when Apple sold us the tired and incorrect story that the PowerPC processor was better we could have pointed towards the processor. But that is no longer the case. Same with SSCI, and firewire. If you look at a Dell today and a Macbook you will notice they have:

- the same processor

- the same ram 

- the same hard drive

- the same video card

- the same screen

So what are we left with? Well, nothing.

This is where folks tend to get riled up. Build quality, and the genius bar (forget the fact that you shouldn't be there in the first place, it means something is wrong) are cited as reasons why the Mac is more expensive.

But I say BS. If all these different companies are able to make a laptop that sells for $500 then Apple should. To make this point unbelievable clear lets compare a Dell to a MacBook:

Dell Inspiron 15 ($554)


  • Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 (2.00GHz/800Mhz FSB/2MB cache)
  • 3 GB Ram
  • 250GB SATA HD @5400 rpm
  • 4 Cell Battery
  • 15.6 inch screen 1366x768

MacBook (the white cheaper one, $999)

  • Intel Core 2 Duo, 1066MHz frontside bus, 3MB shared L2 cache
  • 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM - 2x1GB
  • 120GB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400 rpm
  • 13.3 inch screen 1280 x 800


Now apologists will get very detail-oriented. They will note that the Dell does not include Bluetooth, has a smaller battery, and that the processor has slightly more frontside power on the Macbook. Yes, but the Dell has 1GB more ram and a hard drive over twice the size and a bigger screen. Of course Windows users will have to buy an Anti-virus tool (around 30-40 bucks) and don't have iLife (iTunes is free, Picassa is as good as iPhoto and free, not sure about iMovie). 

The point here is that for machines with remarkably similar specs the MacBook is almost double the price.

And there are countless other examples of this up and down the Apple product line, whether it is XServes, Macbook Pro's, Mini's, etc. The whole Apple computing line is over-priced by at least 33%.

Unlike Microsoft I am not trying to attack Apple, or drive people to buy more PCs. I love Apple products and it is because of this I want to drive home this point. As the recession increases, and Windows 7 comes out these differences are going to be more and more glaring. At some point the extra revenue Apple makes with higher margins will get lost in reduced sales.

I have no doubt that Apple is working very hard right now on a NetBook that they may think is a solution to this problem. But it isn't. As long as I can very easily find machines that cost far less across Apple's product line that have similar hardware Apple has a big problem. And relying on the allure of OS X isn't going to cut it much longer (and I won't even get into the Hackintosh phenomenon here).

Apple, take a long hard look at your product line, and tell me why a Macbook costs almost double the equivalent specced PC product?


  • greg Alexander said:

    “I still think if Apple wants to get into the cheap hardware with small profits, they should just sell OSX for specific clones. Do a deal with Dell or HP to have a special range of low end machines that can run OSX.”

    I don’t think Apple wants the low end market, just as it isn’t eager for the government and big business markets. What Apple seems to want is the higher end of the consumer, creative and the small to medium sized business market. That is where the profits are.

    The computer industry is going thrugh a sea change, of which the netbook is the leading edge. The netbook, istelf, is junk which won;t last, but it has an Atom computer-on-a-chip processor in a laptop form. Other forms will appear as the desktop fragments and every peripheral gets it’s own Atom chip. We are still unsure which kinds of systems will win out.

    UrbanBard had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 111
  • “Could it be that each is manufactured for different markets? And that one is made for the ignorant, penny-pinching, mass consumer and the other is for the discriminating shopper?”

    Yeah, most people are unaware of BMW’s; that’s why they don’t buy them, not because BMW’s are a luxury car with a price tag out of the range of most consumers.  How utterly elitist and moronic.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • It could be argued that most BMW owners, far from being discriminating, are indeed elitist and moronic (this is my impression of them), and many penny pinching buyers (like me) are far from ignorant (or actually they know that it’s quite hard to buy a truly bad car these days, and performance and handling means squat in traffic or at legal speeds.

    Hywel had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 51
  • “In my experience - and granted, it is mostly major corporations with 10s of thousands of desktops - tracking the costs of managing computers shows tangible measurable costs for a PC at 4-5 times the cost of managing an OS X machine.”

    Can you name a firm that runs 10’s of thousand of Macs?  I know how Mac fans like to nit-pick these comparisons to make them as identical as possible lest the comparison be null-and-void, so it seems that this would be a pretty important one.

    But Hadley is not speaking of huge corporate enterprise environments anyway.  He’s talking about choices for home consumers.  And in that case, it’s pretty clear that the Mac is an expensive luxury product. 

    As in the BMW analogy, regardless of specs, the Mac is simply out of the price range of most people, especially in an economy like this one.  With their cheapest laptop at $999, this point seems hardly debatable. 

    If you’re on a $600 budget for a laptop, you’re not getting a Mac, period, whereas you have a variety of PC options, including both Linux and Windows.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • Correct a Hyundai can do much of what a BMW can do but within the context of this post we cannot castigate BMW for charging a premium for the   of the features they offer that are superior.

    The attempt was to say an entry level Dell laptop is half the price of a comparable Apple laptop but upon further inspection it became clear to many that the two weren’t as comparable is initially suggested. 

    For a basic user this may mean nothing but if we are to ask why Apple charges a premium we now have our answer.

    hmurchison had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 145
  • “I’m a Mac owner - haven’t had a PC in my house for 2 or 3 years now.  However, I have to say that this tired old line about Total Cost of Ownership is just crap.”

    Totally agree.  But then, I find most Mac fanatic arguments old and busted, as well as snobbish and stupid.

    Btw, I have two Macs and PC that I use on a regular basis.  When the motherboard on my iMac went bad, it cost $800!! to replace.  I couldn’t spend that much money on a PC motherboard if I dipped it in gold.  In fact, I could replace almost every component in my PC for that.

    Other than that, the difference in TCO is nil.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • “The attempt was to say an entry level Dell laptop is half the price of a comparable Apple laptop but upon further inspection it became clear to many that the two weren’t as comparable is initially suggested.”

    The question, though, isn’t whether the Mac might have one or two features that the PC doesn’t have (in fact, they often have less, as Chris points out, which the Mac fanatics then tout as “simplicity”), but whether those one or two features justify the substantially higher price.

    It seems that’s what the fanatics are doing, jumping on one or two things and saying, “See, they’re not comparable!”  But does that justify an extra $500?

    No, what you end up with is Mac fanatics resorting to conveniently unquantifiable features like “design” and “style.”  Those can be important, but not a deal maker/breaker for most people on a commodity product like a computer.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • I won’t be buying another Mac for quite some time. My G5 cost a fortune, took two years to pay off and just came out of its Applecare warranty. It is, however, speedy as can be, and although Geekbench shows the new Mac Pros to be 4 times as fast (at running Geekbench), you’d have to drop $1500 on a new iMac to match my old machine. Well worth the money it cost, and still performing to the level of a mid-range iMac, despite the move to Intel and the superiority of the newer technology.

    That’s why the Mac is better than any PC bought in April 2006, and why I will stick with Apple, but buy much less frequently.

    When I bought, I didn’t have a list of requirements, just a maximum I could afford to spend. If you’re doing tit-for-tat comparisons, well then you were never really going to buy a Mac, were you? You were just dreaming of getting something ‘cool’ like Lauren, and hoping they’d be cheap.

    evilcat had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 66
  • The question asked was “why are Macs more expensive”  and substantive reasons why were given.  It’s up to each individual to decide if the extras or the simplicity is worth the $$$$. 

    You will never win a value argument because value is an intagible “feeling”  so the best thing is to explain the features/benefits of Macs and leave it with that.

    But what is irrefutable fact is that that Dell Inspiron quoted is not delivering the same level hardware features at half the cost of a Macbook.  This “is” quantifiable.

    hmurchison had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 145
  • Beeblebrox, don’t you know what an analogy is? It is an exaggeration to make a point.

    A BMW is not a mass produced and consumed product like a Chevy. Its customers are vastly different. It’s not about the money either. I’ve known people who have owned the same BMW for twenty years that has lovingly cared for it. I was naking a point which went over your head.

    UrbanBard had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 111
  • Guys, The problem here is about price and value.

    If you don’t think a Mac is worth the price, then don’t buy it. No need to justify your belief. All that does is get us to trade opinions.

    My problem was with inaccuracies in the advertisements. They are propagandistic.

    UrbanBard had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 111
  • A BMW is mass produced just like practically every other car.  They’re not hand made.  No unicorn tears are shed during their manufacture.

    An analogy has nothing to do with exaggeration, either.  A good analogy would involve no exaggeration whatsoever.  They’re meant to add clarity, something that the computers <-> cars analogies never really do.

    Hywel had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 51
  • Analogies work’s just that people often do not pull the intended commonality in the analogy.

    hmurchison had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 145
  • I agree. It still does anger me that Microsoft was allowed to copy the Mac OS in version after version and get away with it. They do very little in the way of innovation and a whole lot of copying. It’s wrong that they get away with it.

    At the same time Macs should cost less. Yes, the R&D;that makes Macs so great does cost money and I am willing to pay a bit more for a Mac, but It’s really difficult for me to afford the prices that Apple charges. So while I have an iMac, unfortunately my laptop is a Gateway (but it has a 17” screen and I payed $499 for it (refurbished) from Tiger Direct). I’d love to have a Macbook.

    Brockway had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 2
  • Interesting that this morning we got an answer from Apple itself to the Apple Tax question. ( It’s justification was

    “A PC is no bargain when it doesn’t do what you want .... The one thing that both Apple and Microsoft can agree on is that everyone thinks the Mac is cool. With its great designs and advanced software, nothing matches it at any price.”

    Reading that, it appears the reasons Macs are pricier are:

    1) They’re cool
    2) Great design
    3) Advanced software (assume they mean OS X and possibly iLife)

    Number 4 would be about how PCs aren’t as cheap as they appear because they require more maintenance, which is what I assume they mean when saying “A PC is no bargain when it doesn’t do what you want” because to the best of my knowledge PCs the same, if not more, than Macs.

    Price doesn’t have to be measured in dollars either. It might cost you nothing in dollars to fix your wife’s computer, for example, spending a weekend rebuilding it, but that’s time away from what you’d rather be doing, and that is worth something.

    And finally, to say “nothing matches it at any price.” is a major furphy, because Apple hasn’t given anyone the opportunity. That is, non-Apple Mac would match a Mac and better it, but Apple isn’t about to let that be proved, are they? smile

    Chris Howard had this to say on Apr 16, 2009 Posts: 1209
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