Comparisons, Comparisons

People are now starting to argue about how much of a bargain the mini Mac is compared to a PC. You can see one such comparison here at OSViews.

Tech Report didn’t like this at all, and did its own.

I think they both miss the boat for the following reasons:

1) No DIYer in his right mind would configure a completely new system the way OS Views configured it. If cost were a prime factor, they’d take the Athlon XP. If it were not, they’d spend a little more for more up-to-date equipment.

2) More importantly, no DIYer in his right mind would ever build and configure a completely new plain-vanilla computer for a plain-vanilla user, simply because the end result would cost more than an OEM machine. A DIYer has other reasons for rolling his own. He wants to overclock, or he wants a configuration not available from the OEMs, or he wants a different kind of case, whatever it is, he wants to do something above and beyond what an OEM will give him.

3) The OSViews places an extraordinarily high price on the value of bundled software. As you’ll see, you can get as good or better software for a PC, too, with a little finagling.

Apple v. Dell

What we’re going to do is compare a mini Mac system to a plain vanilla Dell Dimension 4700 system, upgrading the configuration where needed to reasonable levels. We’ll then point out what you get for your money, and try to judge the two from the average Joe perspective.


Apple: 1.25GHz G4
Dell: 2.8GHz P4 Prescott

Winner: Dell, big. If you’re feeling kind-hearted and generous, the G4 is the equivalent of a 2GHz Prescott. 2.8 is more 2.0, 40% more for those numerically challenged.


Apple: Mac OS X
Dell: Windows XP Home

Winner: Apple. While we don’t think there’s really that much difference between the two (Macsters seem to think XP stands for Xtreme Punishment), for the average Joe, we’ll give it to Apple for two reasons:

1) Mac OS X seems to induce an orgasmic-like state among its users, while not even Bill Gates gets orgasms from Windows. Maybe your friend/associate will get orgasms, too.

A little more seriously, from a hardware perspective, Macs are but a small variation on the PC. Most Mac components ARE PC parts with a Mac driver, and the ones that aren’t are no great shakes, anyway. If there truly is a Mac advantage, it’s in the OS.

2) Obscurity has its benefits. Since the vast majority of machines run Windows, that’s what malware writers aim at. If you’re going to write one little program that is evil/profitable, whom do you target, the 90%+ group or the 2% group?

However, since the average Joe doesn’t much care why he’s relatively protected against those bad things he absentmindedly keeps clicking on, this is probably a big advantage for such a person.

On the other hand, this big plus is largely tempered by the learning (or perhaps unlearning is more accurate) curve for a new OS.

PS: For the average Joe, there is no point buying XP Professional.


Apple: Upgraded to 512Mb single-channel PC2700 (+$75)
Dell: Upgraded to 512MB dual-channel DDR2 400MHz (+$50)

Winner: Dell. 256Mb is not very realistic for either system, and could constrain Joe when he’s getting hot and heavy (for him, that is) so we upgraded both to 512Mb. Dual-channel is better than single channel, but given what the typical Joe does, it’s only a small edge.


Apple: Wired keyboard and mouse (+$58)
Dell: Upgraded USB keyboard and optical mouse (+$50)

Winner: N/A It’s a trivial category, so let’s call it a draw.

Hard Drive

Apple: 40Gb 4200rpm ATA drive
Dell: 40Gb 7200rpm SATA drive

Winner: Dell, big. ATA vs. SATA makes no difference here, but 7200 is a lot more than 4200. Apple penny-pinched too much here, even notebooks normally come with 5400 rpm drives.


Apple: Upgrade to SuperDrive ($100)
Dell: Buy a third-party DVD burner ($80)

Winner: Dell. It’s unrealistic to not have at least a CD burner these day (if only for backup), but Apple only offers a read-only drive or its DVD burner, so we upgraded to a SuperDrive (4X SL, no dual layer) for that. Dell offers DVD burners, but they charge too much ($125 for a 16X/DL capable burner), so we’ll get a (black DVD) burner with 16X single 4X DL capacity along with decent software (Nero Express is fine). Dell offers PowerDVD with the CD-ROM.

So we end up with a CD Drive and a much more capable DVD burner for less than the price of the SuperDrive.

Update 1/16/05: Some have noted, correctly, that I made a mistake not noticing that the base model CD/DVD included in the mini Mac is also a CD-RW. That was an inadvertent error on my part, and I apologize for that.

If we adjust for this, the price of the mini Mac system goes down $100, but the price of the Dell replacement drops from about $80 to $36.

Comparisons Continued…


Dell: 17-inch economy flat panel display, standard.
Apple: Nothing. (+$220)

Winner: Dell, by default. They’re giving this away to people, and free is hard to beat. It’s not the greatest LCD monitor in the world, but it’s OK enough for run-of-the-mill Joe usage. Since even the most rabid Macster would have a tough time convincing anyone that the Mini Mac is so good, you don’t even need a monitor, we’ll have to plug in a number. Apple’s no help, the cheapest monitor they have for sale is $999. So we’ll plug in the cost of a low-end 17-inch PC monitor.


Apple: Integrated Radeon 9200 with 32Mb
Dell: PCI Express ATI x300 (+$60)

Winner: Dell. The Dell comes with Intel integrated video, but just to spare an argument on which is better, we spent a few bucks extra to remove all doubt. We’d spend it on the Apple, too, except they won’t let us.


Apple: Standard
Dell: $30

Winner: N/A A good argument can be made for Dell, though. First, Dell gives you the option of having it or not, Apple doesn’t. Second, Firewire is far more likely to be a necessity for a mini Mac given its unupgradability, with a Dell, you just stick items like extra hard drives into the machine.

56K Modem:

Apple: Standard
Dell: +20

Winner: N/A. No one in their right mind should be relying on 56K modems with a modern computer these days, but just to be fair, we’ll toss it into the cost calculation.


Apple: iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD and GarageBand), AppleWorks, Quicken 2005 for Mac, Nanosaur 2, Marble Blast Gold
Dell: Photo Album Premium (+$29), PowerDVD, NeroExpress, Microsoft Works ($29), Acid Music ($65), Quicken, Nanosaur, Marble Blast ($60, I used the same figures for these as OSView)

Winner: N/A, though I think I bent backwards too far for Apple here. I see no use for programs like GarageBand unless you’re in one, and I doubt you’re foaming at the mouth for Nanosaur and Marble Blast.


Dell: Two-year onsite, standard
Apple: Two-year, not onsite (+75, prorating half of additional two year coverage @$149 for Apple)

Winner: We’ll call this even. On the one hand, having Dell come to you is better than you have to go to Apple. On the other, while Dell and Apple used to be considered the best CS providers in the business, Dell has slipped in recent times.

Cost With DVD Burner:

Base Price: $699
Dell addons: $248
Third-party addons: $205

Total: $1152

Final cost after rebate: $1052.


Base price: $499
Apple addons: $308
Third-party addons: $220

Total: $1027

Final cost after no rebate: $1027

Cost With CD-R/DVD-ROM

Apple: $927
Dell: $1008

Winner: Even. Yes, there’s a $25/$81 difference in Apple’s favor, but stop being anal-retentive. A slightly different configuration would have Dell win slightly, and be just as meaningless. The price difference boils down to Apple giving you Nanosaur and Marble Blast free. If you choose computers based on whether or not you get free Nanosaur and Marble Blast, well . . . .

Even the $81 price difference is not significant, because other likely improvements could change that quickly. If you decided to have a wireless keyboard/mouse, for instance, most of that $81 would get chewed up. Mac software tends to be more expensive than PC software, so a couple programs would chew that up.

Realistically, it’s roughly even, which is quite an improvement for Apple, but . . . .

Nuts-and-Bolts Value:

Winner: Dell. Apple evened the cost by basically providing last generation’s machine in a smaller package. The Dell configuration gives you conservatively 25% more machine speed for the same price, which makes it the better value.


Conclusions: If performance is a key factor, Dell wins easily. The CPU is 40% faster, the hard drive is 70% faster, memory bandwidth is much greater, and the video card/DVD burner are much quicker.

If cost is a key factor, it’s even, but Dell wins on the tie-breaker of value. If anything, the Dell price is a little inflated since the average person probably wouldn’t want items like 56K modems that Apple provides. (Then again, the average person buying Dell would probably skip a couple of these items, and get some antivirus/spyware protection instead).

There’s one tangible factor Dell does lose decisively on, though. The Dell is . . . bigger. A lot bigger. How bad is that? Really a personal preference, isn’t it? Does size matter?

And that’s a key difference between PCers and Macsters.

Tangibles vs. Intangibles

When it comes to tangibles like performance and cost, PCs win. You get more and pay less. As we said earlier, most of a Mac consists of PC parts, and the parts that aren’t are at best rough equivalents, and more often trailing-edge compared to the PC competition. PC users tend to look upon PCs tangibly.

When you push a Macster hard in a PC/Mac argument, you’ll find that the real reason why they love Macs are the intangibles. They talk about MacOS (any MacOS) as being better, though they’re hard-pressed to tell you why and eventually they get downright mystically intense about it.

The key word in the last sentence is intense. It’s not that we PCers think Macsters have a few screws loose because they personally prefer MacOS, or even think it’s somewhat better. We only start sizing Macsters for the tinfoil hats and straitjackets when they describe the Mac experience as being near, at, or beyond orgasm.

After that, PCers are left not only not persuaded that they’re dealing with elite machines and owners, but thinking instead that they’ve spoken to someone a couple short of a six-pack (or in this case, perhaps case of chablis). We just can’t conceive of an operating system being something to get orgasmic about. To us, it would be like getting turned on by a ladder.

However, just because people go apparently overboard describing their feelings doesn’t mean there may not be something real there for at least some. If Grandma uses and dislikes her PC, I’m sure she’d be thrilled to get orgasmic from a Mac, but I’m sure she’ll settle for a slightly less delightful experience, or even one merely less painful. The question becomes, will the average Grandma get even that, or will this just be a different set of headaches?

(P.S. Should any reading this over the course of time ever has a Grandma (or Grandma-like person) who ends up with a Mac, I’d like a report on her/his reaction: good, bad or indifferent.)

This reliance on subjective reality must bother many Macsters, because they keep trying to prove that Macs are tangibly better in those areas where PCers claim an advantage. So a price comparion like the one in OSViews is hardly surprising.

So what ends up happening is that Macsters keep trying to attack the PCs strong points, and they keep getting killed. They keep charging up the same old hill, the same old machine gun keep gunning them down, and they never learn.

For instance, after a recent column, I got this email from a Macster:

(His comments are in italics, my replies are plain-faced. For those wondering, my emails are usually rather nicer than this, but this guy needed some attitude adjustment)

I have read your “report” on how well this cMac is
likely to do and I must say that you seem to have a
“normal” level of understanding amongst your fellow
PCers about anything Mac in thatyou know 3/5 ths
of not much all and are willing to use analagies (sic) as
if they were prozac to pensioners to cover an
obvious need to ‘display’

You don’t say where I was wrong.

Do yourself a favour and talk to people in the mac
dominated industries to find out why they prefer

Pretty rare breed these days, publishing and that’s
about it, and in all honesty, a very sizable chunk of
the real reason for it (as opposed to what they might
say) is that the Mac way is what they’re used to.

spend more than a
couple of minutes fiddling and hours flogging a
product while being free of bothersome facts and
please do some research on the actual comparisons on
performance before (opening your mouth and removing
all doubt ).
neutral graphic publications give accurate
comparisons or try cross platform major programs

Well, you could look here
and see how a single PIV running at about 3Ghz handily
beats even a DUAL G4 at 1.25 in PSBench 7, for
openers, but such comparisons are superfluous. I
would no more prove the obvious there than
I would try to laboriously prove that a 3Ghz PIV was
faster than a 2GHz PIV. Nor is there any more
rational reason for a Mac person to take offense at
such a comparison than it would be for a 2GHz PIV
owner to be offended, after all, it is earlier

You like analagies (sic)?

Well, I like RELEVANT ones. 🙂

Would you rather spend your time with a partner who
who looks boring,
is boring, can’t move without other peoples advice,
gets sick way too
often (usually when you least need it), when they do
get sick they
forget who you are, what you do and where they put
all the important
stuff you left with them.

What does this have to do with performance? Nothing.

I have been using Macs and PC’s for 16 years and
have hardly lost any info or had any equipment fail on
the mac’s, the opposite of PC’s

You’re lucky, especially given that most of the
working components in a Mac ARE PC parts and have been
the last seven years or so. Only the CPU and
motherboard are Mac specific.

Not to mention No Viruses (I have been getting on
the net for 8 years)

Obscurity has some benefits. 🙂

As for PC bashing I’m glad just about all PCers do
that to themselves
very effectively.

In anticipation of your ongoing ignorance
I won’t delay much of my future waiting for a reply

If you want to believe a G4 1.25GHz is faster than a
2.8GHz or 3GHz PIV, well, there’s a Flat Earth
Society, too. They’re entitled to their opinion, but
not entitled to be taken seriously.

You can see that when the author wasn’t making his so-dense-with-condescension-that-it-drips assertion that PCers were swine incapable of appreciating or even comprehensing the Mac’s (and therefore his) superiority, he was insulted by my assertion that a 1.25Ghz G4 was slower than a 3GHz PIV, which to me was about as insulting as saying that Bill Russell weighed less than Shaq.

You can also see that this is two ships passing in the night.

Not surprisingly, I have not heard back from him, but then again, that wasn’t a discussion, that was a soliloquy.

This is a pretty typical Macster response; I’ve seen many just like it over the years. It’s that experience that led me to recently try to explain the psychology of this, and I think I have it right, but maybe not all of the time.

It’s hard to believe that all those people are that self-delusional. They can’t all be that crazy, and even if they are, they seem a lot happier about it than anyone I know is with Windows.

Maybe heavy Macsters are just very sensitive, and subtle differences are cause for near-ecstacy. Maybe the rest of us really are brutes for not feeling oppressed or for that matter feeling anything when I have to click on something twice.

Maybe this is a genetic predisposition, with 95% of the people saying, “So?,” while the other 5% writhe in ecstacy. You either have the predisposition, or not; it doesn’t make you better, just different, just like some people love paintings while others love sunsets.

Maybe it’s like sensitivity to noise. You wouldn’t call somebody a better human being more sensitive to noise than someone else, but it’s very real to that person, even if it isn’t to you.

If something made me feel even moderately better, much less great, while working for a couple years a pop, I wouldn’t quibble about a couple hundred extra dollars, either. I’d hate to deprive anybody capable of that.

Maybe the best advice to one and all is to try a Mac for a little while, somehow. If you like it better, buy one. If you feel something like an orgasm coming on, definitely buy one. If your reaction is “So?” don’t.


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