Is The "Apple Tax" Real? Mac vs. PC Value Analysis

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Round 1. The 13" MacBook is Apple's most affordable notebook. If you want an Apple notebook any cheaper, you'll have to go to the used market or utilize an educational discount. For comparison's sake, we'll mainly be focusing on Toshiba's Portege R700 and Acer's Aspire Timeline X AS3820T-5246 as the competitors. We'll also touch on a few other 13" Windows-based machines, because there are obviously a multitude of options out there. In order to best set the table, let's look at the core specifications for each of these machines first.

13" Apple MacBook vs. 13" Toshiba Portege R700 vs. 13" Acer Aspire Timeline X
Specifications and Features
13" Apple MacBook - $999
  • Intel Core 2 Duo (2.4GHz; 3MB on-chip shared L2 cache)
  • 2GB of 1066MHz DDR3 RAM 
  • 13.3" LCD (1280x800 resolution)
  • NVIDIA GeForce 320M (256MB)
  • 250GB (5400RPM) HDD
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • 8x slot-loading SuperDrive (DVD burner)
  • VGA Webcam (iSight)
  • Mini DisplayPort video output
  • USB 2.0 x 2
  • RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000)
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jack (Combo)
  • Stereo Speakers
  • 'Chiclet' Keyboard
  • Gesture-Enabled Multi-Touch Trackpad
  • 4.7 Pounds (with non-removable battery installed)
  • Non-removable 63.5-watt-hour Li-ion Battery
  • "Up To 10 Hours" Claimed Battery Life 
  • 13.0" (W) x 9.12" (D) x 1.08" (H) (Dimensions)
  • Mac OS X Snow Leopard + iLife ’11 (64-bit)
  • 1-Year Warranty
  • Price (MSRP): $999
13" Toshiba Portege R700 - $999
  •  Intel Core i3-350M (2.26GHz)
  • 4GB of DDR3 RAM
  • 13.3" LCD (1366x768)
  • 500GB (5400RPM)
  • Intel GMA HD IGP
  • 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • Webcam
  • VGA / HDMI video outputs
  • USB 2.0 x 2
  • RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000) 
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jacks
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Standard Keyboard
  • Gesture-Enabled Multi-Touch Trackpad
  • Fingerprint reader
  • 8x DVD burner
  • Memory Card Reader
  • 3.3 Pounds (with 6-Cell Li-ion InstalleD)
  • "Up to 8.6 Hours" Claimed Battery Life
  • 12.4" (W) x 8.9" (D) x 1.0" (H) (Dimensions)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
  • 3-year Warranty
  • Price (MSRP): $999
13" Acer Aspire Timeline X  AS3820T-5246 - $699
  • Intel Core i3-350M (2.26GHz)
  • 4GB of DDR3 RAM
  • 13.3" LCD (1366x768)
  • Intel GMA HD IGP (128MB)
  • 320GB (5400RPM) HDD
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • No optical drive
  • 1.3MP "HD" Webcam
  • HDMI and VGA video outputs
  • USB 2.0 x 3
  • RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000) 
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jacks
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Memory Card Reader
  • Standard Keyboard
  • Gesture-Enabled Multi-Touch Trackpad
  • 3.97 Pounds (with removable 6-Cell Li-ion installed)
  • "Up To 10 Hours" Claimed Battery Life 
  • 12.7" (W) x 9.25" (D) x 0.86"-1.14" (H) (Dimensions)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
  • 1-Year Warranty
  • Price (MSRP): $699                          
So, let's break this down. There's an obvious $300 price difference between the MacBook and Timeline X ultraportables, but before shouting "See! The Apple tax exists!," let's have a logical look at how the Windows machines differ. For one, the MacBook has an 8x DVD burner. The Timeline X has no optical drive at all, nor does it allow you to add one. Second, the battery in the MacBook is on par or superious to the 6-Cell Li-ion in the Timeline X. Apple claims that users can get up to 10 hours of battery life, and reports around the web confirm that 7-8 hours is a reasonable figure to achieve. We've have tested Acer notebooks before and generally speaking real-world battery life doesn't typically come close to the claims.  Though admittedly we haven't tested this machine specifically.  Regardless, this is something that's difficult to put a price on, particularly since the battery in the MacBook is non-removable. That will definitely rub some the wrong way, but in general Apple's battery life claims have proven closer to reality over the years. (updated: 11/23/10 - 5;13PM)


13" Apple MacBook

The Mini-DisplayPort output on the MacBook is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, Apple sells adapters to channel nearly anything out of that port, but on the other, you'll need to buy another adapter. The Acer machine has VGA and HDMI outputs, both of which are widely adopted. Advantage Acer, here. The MacBook is nearly a pound heavier, but we're chalking that up to the inclusion of an optical drive and more rigid construction of the Macbook. 

Something perhaps a bit more significant is with respect to the GPU. The Acer unit relies on integrated Intel GMA HD graphics, which are suitable for full 1080p HD video playback but only very light-duty gaming. The MacBook, on the other hand has an NVIDIA GeForce 320M GPU. NVIDIA's GeForce 320M is also fully capable of playing back 720p/1080p video and it's capable of a bit more gaming performance as well. It should be noted, however, that the Acer laptop has a superior screen resolution and includes a multi-format card reader, whereas no card reader at all is included on the MacBook. Also, the Core i3-350M in the Acer will outperform the Core 2 Duo in the Apple unit everyday of the week.


13" Acer Aspire Timeline X

A more closely linked comparison is between the $999 MacBook and the $999 Portege R700. These units are on level ground when it comes to pricing and size. Both units have an 8x SuperDrive, but the CPU in the MacBook is weaker than the one in the Toshiba. Conversely, the MacBook's GPU is far nicer than the IGP in Toshiba's unit. It's a tradeoff -- do you want more CPU horsepower or more GPU horsepower? Of course, you also get a few more pixels on the Toshiba display, and you'll also get double the HDD space, double the RAM and a built-in memory card reader. Looking at these two, the Toshiba seems like the better deal if graphics aren't very important to you. If you were to upgrade to a machine with a discrete GPU with a similar form factor, features, and specs, you can figure on paying at least another $100. But even then, you'd retain twice the RAM, twice the HDD space and a faster CPU.


13" Toshiba Portege R700

But this debate cannot be had without discussing the software aspect. Apple ships their MacBook with OS X Snow Leopard as well as iLife '11, a $49 bundle of applications that cannot easily be replicated on the PC. iPhoto is a wash, but both iMovie '11 and GarageBand '11 have no real PC counterparts, which are included on either comparison machine.

Then there's the issue of OS X versus Windows 7. Both operating systems get the job done for the average consumer, but some might say that it's worth paying a premium for OS X in order to avoid some of the issues associated with Windows. Viruses and security issues come to mind -- there's a certain peace of mind that comes with owning an OS X machine, as they simply get attacked less. There are numbers to prove it too. Again, that's something that's difficult to put a price on.

Additional Stiff Competition - Enter Asus
Finally, it has become fairly obvious that the intense competition in the notebook sector makes the Apple Tax loom even larger in this particular category. Asus' 13.3" U35, for example, has a 2.4GHz Core i3, 4GB of DDR3 memory, a 500GB hard drive, NVIDIA's Optimus technology (GeForce 310M + Intel GMA HD) and Wi-Fi for $879.99. It's also one of the better designed PC laptops, offering a nicer suite of hardware (but a software suite that lacks iLife, obviously) for over $100 less than Apple's 13" MacBook.

13" Asus U35JC with NVIDIA Optimus

In this example, it's clear that there's an Apple tax of some sort, which varies from machine to machine. If Apple would include 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, a longer warranty and a media reader, you'd have no room to argue. But even now, you have to place value on the GeForce 320M GPU on the MacBook that's not on the Toshiba model. At most, however, we're looking at a $100 "Apple tax" compared to a comparable Windows 7 notebook, and if you place a high value on the iLife '11 software, the discrete GPU or OS X in general, that price may be worth it to you.

We can't leave this section without pointing out a few other notables though. That $100 premium becomes ever smaller when looking at Apple's unique design innovations in the notebook sector, including the breakaway MagSafe power connector, a rigid "unibody" frame (whereas most PCs at this price point are made of flexible plastics) and arguably one of, if not the best, touchpads in the industry, with excellent multi-touch gesture support.

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Good article but my only complaint it that in apples workstation they do not use a work station video card they use a typical video card you would find in any mid range desktop. While the other two desktops you showcase do use workstation cards the Nvidia Quadros. So While apple claims that it is a workstation I  see it as an expensive desktop as the only thing the Mac Pro had that is remotely workstation it its CPU. 

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Agreed Der. Good observation actually.

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even if you upgrade to the $4999 pro tower you can only configure it with either two 5770's (+100) or one 5870 (+200). Not very workstation like if you ask me. 5k with a company like Boxx would get you much more than apple has to offer in its "workstation" line up.

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Y'know, the word that I am getting from both camps is that you can make a Mac last about 5 years, but a PC only lasts 2 or 3 years !

One thing that isn't mentioned in the article is the necessity of buying the Apple Care Protection Plan.

Are there similar extended warranties for PCs ?

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Yes, of course there are similar extended warranties for PCs from a lot of the majors.

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If we are talking pr-emade PC's- like Dell or HP. I would agree on the 2-3 lifespan.

They are mostly passively cooled and the cable management is ghastly.

BUT. With proper cooling my 50% OC'd E6400 system is still purring. My upgrades have only been to cooling and a PSU (My old one shorted- but didn't take anything out.

If you custom make a PC I don't think longevity is an issue.

Macs are somewhat know for they're longevity, but I am greatly concerned about my unibody MB Pro. This thing heats up and slows down on a whim.

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I think it's important to discuss the nature of a "tax." A tax is not something a manufacturer includes, it is something additional that goes to someone else. The original notion of such a tax was actually a Microsoft tax, not an Apple tax. The Microsoft tax--a tax people must pay when buying a product using a Microsoft OS--included:

  • The price of AV software
  • The price of AV software updates
  • The cost of time spent reinstalling Windows
  • The cost of time spent dealing with malware that gets past the AV software you purchased
  • The cost of having to upgrade hardware more frequently
  • The outrageously high costs of MS OS upgrades
  • The cost of time dealing with Registry issues
  • The cost of time dealing with DLL issues
  • The lost of money due to rapid loss of resale value
  • The much higher help desk costs
  • The much higher in-person technical assistance costs
  • The costs of time waiting for software fixes to be installed by understaffed and overworked IT departments

These are just a few of the Microsoft taxes people had to pay if they purchased a Windows-based computer. When MS realized the enormity of these taxes and the effect that more people describing them would have on their sales to the enterprise, they turned their marketing droids and MS fanboys loose pointing out that Apple computers were more expensive then computers from fast buck box stuffers. Fearing the word "tax," they turned around and inappropriately applied it to Apple computers.

There is no Apple tax! Period. The price of a Macintosh, as your article showed, is currently around the same price as top tier competitors. In some cases it's more expensive. In other cases (such as the new Airs and iPads, and the recently discontinued servers, which you didn't include in your article) it's definitely less expensive.  With Servers, the Apple hardware and software combination was far less expensive than anything else. Apple Macs are definitely more expensive then cut-rate products from no-name or second-tier box stuffers. But calling it an "Apple tax" is as ludicrous as saying that there is a tax when you go to a fine restaurant rather than Taco Bell.

Respectfully, by using the term "Apple tax" you are acting as a representative of Microsoft. You are putting this false concept into people's minds and functioning as an advertiser for Microsoft. If that's what you are, fine. But if you want to be objective, either admit that you are functioning as an agent of Microsoft or don't misrepresent the facts and the truth.

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DKraig:
There is no Apple tax! Period.

  • The price of AV software      None, I use free AVAST
  • The price of AV software updates   FREE Updates too
  • The cost of time spent reinstalling Windows   Doesn't happen anymore with properly protected Win 7 System
  • The cost of time spent dealing with malware that gets past the AV software you purchased  Wrong again, protected with multiple free programs
  • The cost of having to upgrade hardware more frequently  You mean the ability to upgrade at all for a decent price?
  • The outrageously high costs of MS OS upgrades            I'll give you that one
  • The cost of time dealing with Registry issues  Doesn't happen to me-non issue
  • The cost of time dealing with DLL issues   Way back in the past too, not an issue now
  • The lost of money due to rapid loss of resale value           My $3,700 Mac is now worth $1200.00 and it's two and a half years old
  • The much higher help desk costs  Not for me
  • The much higher in-person technical assistance costs    Nope, not at all since Win-7
  • The costs of time waiting for software fixes to be installed by understaffed and overworked IT departments  Oh hell no, I do my own updating and windows update is free and easy too
  • I believe that most of us addled brain flunkies don't like the high costs of Mac PC's. We call it the Apple Tax,......Get over it.

    I own both and actually like my Mac better for a few things,.........but Win-7 is a smokin' hot OS and worth the money, just like the Mac is.

     

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    Unfortunately, you are not most enterprise IT departments.

    Microsoft doesn't care about you. They are entirely focused on the enterprise.

    Further, you're falling into the fallacy of moving from the specific (you) to the general (large enterprises) as a valid option without any thing to back it up.

    There is NO Apple tax. Some Macs are slightly more expensive than good quality Windows-based computers. Some are about the same price. Some are cheaper. 

    But you're not an "addled brain flunky." You've just bought the MS marketing line and don't understand what a tax is.

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    DKraig:
    You've just bought the MS marketing line and don't understand what a tax is.

    I haven't bought a damn thing and I've been paying taxes since 1971. Don't tell me what I know or not because you don't know me at all.

    DKraig:
    Some Macs are slightly more expensive than good quality Windows-based computers.

    Look who bought into the line of bullcrap,.......Macs cost more. A LOT more than Windows PC's.

    And no, I'm not in enterprise, (where they overwhelmingly always choose against dealing with Macs) Yeah, I pulled the dreaded "Market Share" on ya! The one that tells the real enterprise story.

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