Analysts: Mac buyers still pay more than PC buyers for same hardware 'guts'

Are Apple computer's intangibles -- OS, design and coolness factor -- worth the extra price?

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For example, Apple's refreshed $599 Mac Mini costs 40% more than Asustek Computer Inc.'s similar $430 Nova P22 mini PC. The Mac Mini's slightly faster CPU, integrated graphics chip and RAM are somewhat balanced by the Nova's larger storage and faster DVD-ReWriter drive.

Or compare the midrange Mac Pro with Gateway Inc.'s upcoming FX6800-05 PC. Both use quad-core 2.93-GHz Intel processors and ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards, 6GB of 1,066-MHz DDR3 RAM and a 1TB 7,200 RPM SATA hard drive.

The Mac Pro uses a Nehalem-based Xeon chip intended for servers, while Gateway uses the Core i7-940 desktop CPU. The Core i7, introduced last fall, is similar to Nehalem, but it lacks the latter's new memory chip set that, according to Lao, can speed up performance for compute-intensive tasks up to 13%.

That advantage is undercut by the Mac Pro's weaker components and higher price. The Gateway's video card comes with an extra processor and 2GB of "honkin' fast" DDR5 RAM perfect for gamers, said Lao, as well as an 80GB solid-state drive for faster Windows booting. An 80GB Intel SSD costs $380 at retail.

Yet the Gateway, at $2,999, costs $450 less than the $3,449 Mac Pro configuration.

In the case of the all-in-one iMac, Apple's machine had a slim edge over the competing Dell XPS One 24, while being $100 less in price and 15 lb. less in weight.

In the end, Mac fans argue that "speeds and feeds" mean little because they don't take Mac OS X's performance or the Mac's looks into account. But that's a topic for another barroom argument.

Running the numbers

Two mainstream analysts polled by Computerworld said that looking at the hardware alone, Apple continues to charge about 30% more than Windows PC makers. A quick analysis by Computerworld of Apple's refreshed products with their closest equivalents in the Windows world supports the contention that Apple products generally remain pricier, though not consistently in the same range. Prices are good as of March 3, 2009.

Note: The superior product in a category is in boldface.

mini vs. asus

Example 1: Mac Mini vs. Asus Nova P22

Mac Mini Asus Nova P22 Mini-PC
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86 GHz

Integrated

graphics chip
Nvidia GeForce 9400M Intel GMA X3000
RAM 1GB 1,066-MHz DDR3 1GB 667-MHz DDR2
Storage 120GB 5,400-rpm SATA 160GB 5,400-rpm SATA
DVD 8x DVD+/-RW 16x DVD+/-RW
Size 6.5 by 6.5 by 2 in., 2.9 lb. 9.1 by 7.2 by 2 in., 3.9 lb.
Price $599 $430 (at Newegg.com)
Price difference: Apple 40% ($170) more than Asus
imac vs. Dell

Example 2: iMac 24-inch vs. Dell XPS One 24

24-inch iMac Dell XPS One 24 All-in-One PC
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad 2.33 GHz

Integrated

graphics chip
Nvidia GeForce 9400M Intel GMA X4500HD
RAM 4GB 1,066-MHz DDR3 4GB 800-MHz DDR2
Storage 640GB 7,200-rpm SATA 320GB 7,200-rpm SATA
DVD 8x DVD+/-RW 8x DVD+/-RW

Multimedia

hardware
iSight webcam JBL speakers, HD-capable TV tuner
Weight 25.4 lb. 40 lb.
Price $1,499 $1,599 (after $100 instant savings at Dell.com)
Price difference: Apple 6% ($100) cheaper than Dell
Mac Pro vs. Gateway

Example 3: Mac Pro vs. Gateway FX6800-05

Mac Pro graphics workstation Gateway FX6800-05 gamer PC
CPU Intel Xeon quad-core 'Nehalem' 2.93 GHz Intel Core i7-940 quad-core 'Nehalem' 2.93 GHz
Graphics card ATI Radeon HD 4870 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB DDR5 RAM
RAM 6GB 1,066-MHz DDR3 6GB 1,066-MHz DDR3
Storage 1TB 7,200-rpm SATA 1TB 7,200-rpm SATA and 80GB SSD
DVD 18x DVD+/-RW 18x DVD+/-RW
Weight 40 lb. 31 lb.
Price $3,449 $2,999
Price difference: Apple 15% ($450) more than Gateway

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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