The Damage Report: Macspensive

A little while back, I made the mistake of posting a chat log where Dr. Evil and I talked about the price of Macs vs. PCs at present. My interest in the question of Mac prices was sparked by the fact that Apple and Motorola seem to be having trouble getting the G4 CPU to scale to speeds above 500MHz (ah, the joys of a true RISC architecture). I probably should leave well enough alone, but the recent talk about 1GHz PCs and a lingering sense of unfinished business have brought me back to the topic of Mac prices. Well, that and I grow weary of Steve Jobs' sanctimonius ad campaigns pandering to the "iron triangle" of academics, bureaucrats, and media types. But that's another story.

In short, I wanted to nail down exactly how current prices compare, so there's no room left to debate one basic fact: there's a massive price chasm between PCs and Macs right now. So I went ahead and priced out a Mac at the Apple Store and an Athlon-based PC at Gateway's site. The results are striking.

Before I go on, I should say that I did my best to come up with comparable systems, and I am not really interested in minor quibbles over the relative performance or features of the two systems I chose. These machines are roughly equal, but there are limits to what one can do when comparing Apples to, erm, other things. For instance, I know the Athlon's clocked 150MHz higher than the G4, but Gateway doesn't sell Athlons below 650MHz any more. We'll give the G4 the benefit of the doubt on clock-for-clock performance here, since we really don't have much choice anyhow. And I glossed over the issue of Apple's extra-cost 3-year warranty versus Gateway's standard 3-year warranty. The point of this little exercise is to compare the costs of the hardware involved, and I think the two systems below line up as roughly equal, spec-wise.

With that out of the way, let's check the systems and their prices:

CPU 500MHz PowerPC G4
1MB L2 cache
650MHz AMD Athlon
512K L2 cache
Video RAGE 128 Pro card - 16MB SDRAM 32MB nVidia™ RIVA TNT2™ AGP
Audio Built-in? Sound Blaster AudioPCI 128D
Hard drive 27GB Ultra ATA drive 30GB 7200RPM ATA/66 drive
Removable Zip drive Zip drive
DVD DVD-ROM drive DVD-ROM drive
Modem 56K internal modem with FAXstf 56K PCI voice modem
NIC Built-in 10/100 Ethernet 3Com PCI 10/100 Ethernet
Software Mac OS 9 Win98 SE
AppleWorks 6 Microsoft® Works Suite 2000 - Including Microsoft® Word and Encarta  
Norton Anti-Virus



There you have it. As of right now, a reasonably well-equipped Mac costs roughly twice what a comparable PC does. Any way you cut it, that's just not right. This is what happens when you have a monopolistic computer manufacturer trying to compete versus a dynamic, commodity-driven PC market. It ain't pretty.

Thing of it is, I'm probably about to get an earful from the MacZealots out there for pointing out this fact. The way I see it, their rage would be better directed at the company that's charging them double the market price for largely commodity-based computer systems. But then I'm just a PC bigot.

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