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
|RAM||256MB SDRAM||256MB SDRAM|
|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|
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.