I hear it all the time. “I’m interested in a Mac, but they’re just too expensive”. I this space, you’ve seen me debunk the “Macs are more expensive” myth by putting together and pricing comparable systems on both the Apple and Dell (chosen because they’re the commodity PC market leader) websites. When I use the term “comparable”, I try to configure each system for family use music, movies, photography, etc. Just to keep current, I went to both sites today to see if things have changed.
Sure enough, they haven’t. Let’s look at Dell’s latest entry-level offering, the Dimension 2400. The advertised price is $399 (which was good for just the day I looked it’s $449 normally). At face value, that looks pretty good. Unfortunately, “the devil is in the details”. Let’s add up some of the “hidden costs” to see what you actually end up paying to get to the “useability” level of Apple’s entry level eMac, which, similarly configured, lists for $1000.
First, the hardware. Both systems use a 17” CRT display. However, the eMac’s display is built into the computer itself, freeing up valuable desktop space. The Dell powers its display with “integrated Intel graphics”. This means that the Dell, in order to draw complex 3D images or pump video to the screen, needs to steal memory from system-level RAM that is needed to run the system and its applications. Conversely, the eMac’s graphics engine is a dedicated ATI Radeon 9200 processor with 32MB of its own RAM, freeing up the main processor and RAM to drive the system. There’s no option to upgrade the graphics processor on the Dell.
The Dell comes with a 40GB hard drive. The eMac, an 80GB drive. Add $18 for Dell’s 80GB drive. The included 256MB of RAM is insufficient to run multimedia on Windows XP. Add another 256MB for $45.
Next optical drives. The Dell comes equipped with either a CD player or DVD player drive. For $20 more you can get a CD burner that still won’t view DVDs. For $53 more you can get two drives: one to watch DVDs and one to burn CDs. Contrast this malaise with the single SuperDrive in the eMac that does everything, which is included in the $1000 price tag.
Oh, and then there’s the warranty. For more than a 90-day warranty on the Dell, you need to fork over another $17. The eMac’s comes standard with a one year warranty.
The eMac has integrated speakers, although if you’re serious about music you’ll want an external system. The Dell comes with no speakers, and requires another $18 to get a cheap pair to sit beside it. Want an optical rather than rollerball mouse? $8 more.
So, where are we? $399 has become $558. Now on to software. Since the Dell runs Windows XP, you’ll need extensive security software. Add $62 for Norton Internet Security 2004. No added security software costs for the eMac.
Into multimedia? To have anywhere near the quality of productivity and digital lifestyle software included on every Mac, you’re looking at major upgrades on the Dell. The eMac comes with Quicken, World Book Encyclopedia, AppleWorks, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, to name a few, as well as iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie and iDVD. Add up the prices of the equivalent versions for the PC, and you come to at least $300, probably more.
So what’s the tally? At least $920. But what if you want to plug in your digital video camera? Well, you can’t. The Dimension 2400 doesn’t offer a FireWire port. For that, you need a Dimension 3000.
© 2005 Peter F. Zimowski