PC vs Apple: The Value Battle

PC vs Apple: The Value Battle

Are Apple computers worse value than Windows PCs? Alex Kidman does the sums, and finds the truth about which platform is the better deal.

Undoubtedly, in the PowerPC past, Apple's offerings cost more than the equivalent PC, and this led to endless sniping over the value of Apple's platform, with accusations of Apple's computer line being overpriced. But is this still true today?

There's one factor at play that doesn't get a lot of airplay in discussions around this topic -- the value of the operating system. Given the feature set in OS X, there's a certain argument that OS X is equivalent to Vista Ultimate. If you take into consideration that new Apple machines ship with iLife '08 -- another $99 worth of sticker value at least -- does that give the Mac an instant leg up, given Vista Ultimate's rather extortionate asking price? On the flip side of that argument, can that price disparity make up for the small fortune that Apple still charges for memory modules?

It would be surprisingly easy to find examples to suit either side of the argument -- you could pick a very cheap entry-level PC and put it up against the Mac Pro. We've picked desktop and laptop examples that match up as closely as possible in order to make the comparison as fair we can.

On the desktop side of things, Apple's pitch at consumers revolves around its iMac offerings, which creates something of a challenge -- there aren't that many integrated panel PC offerings on the market. Sony's LJ series is probably the closest match that you'll easily find in Australian stores, and putting a $2,799 LJ model up against a $2,599 iMac reveals some interesting differences:

iMac 24" $2599
24" LCD
2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
1GB memory
320GB hard drive
8x double-layer SuperDrive
ATI Radeon HD 2600 PRO with 256MB memory

Sony VGCLJ25GB $2799
15.4" LCD
Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T8100 2.10GHz
2GB Memory
200GB hard drive
8x DVD Dual Layer Burner
Mobile Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100

So, for $200 more than the iMac, you get nearly 10" less of display space, 120GB less hard drive space, the same DVD burner and far worse graphics capability. Oh, and Vista Home Premium; Ultimate would cost you more again. To be fair, Apple will charge you more than $200 to bring the RAM up to the same specification as Sony's offering. Still, we know which system we'd be buying here.

It's not quite as easy a victory on the notebook side of the fence, however. We've taken an easy comparison here, with Apple's Macbook Air against its most recent competitor in the thin and light space -- Lenovo's ThinkPad x300. You can also read our reviews of the Macbook Air and X300.

Macbook Air 13.3"
$4338
1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor
2GB memory
64GB SSD
Intel GMA X3100

Lenovo X300 13.3"
$3999
1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor
2GB Memory
64GB SSD
Intel GMA X3100

Both systems share the same capacity SSD, same graphics chipset and the same amount of memory. The X300 shines in having integrated DVD, integrated Gigabit Ethernet and more than one USB port for a start. Meanwhile, the Air benefits from its Multi-Touch interface and a faster processor than the X300. We'd also argue that the use of Vista Business rather than Ultimate would bump the price of both units closer together than the RRP would realistically indicate -- and more so if you take the sticker value of iLife '08 into account. That having been said, it's hard to argue against the bigger feature set and lower outset price of the X300.

What's certainly fair to say is that while Apple positions its machines as premium offerings -- the closest you'll get to a truly budget Mac would be something dodgy from Psystar - within that premium space, if there ever was a value/price difference, it's either gone or astonishingly thin in the modern marketplace.

What do you think? Are Apples still overpriced, better value than ever, or is the author deluded? Let us know your thoughts below.

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