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

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Round 2: 21.5" iMac vs. all-in-one Windows 7 PC

Moving on from the notebooks, let's look at all-in-one PCs. Apple's iMac is a staple in the industry, and it's widely viewed as one of the most stylish all-in-one machines out there. With a base price of $1,199 for the 21.5" model, we're pitting it against MSI's 21.5" AE2280, which retails for slightly less at $1,049.99. Here's the breakdown.

21.5" Apple iMac vs. 21.5" MSI AE2280
Specifications and Features (as tested)
21.5" Apple iMac - $1199
  • Intel Core i3 (3.06GHz; 4MB shared L3 cache)
  • 4GB of DDR3 1333MHz RAM 
  • 21.5" LCD (1920x1080 resolution)
  • ATI Radeon HD 4670 (256MB)
  • 500GB (7200RPM) HDD
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • VGA iSight Webcam
  • Slot-loading 8x DVD SuperDrive
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot
  • Mini DisplayPort Video Output
  • USB 2.0 x 4 + FireWire 800 x 1
  • RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000)
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jacks
  • SD / MMC / SDHC Multimedia Card Reader
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Apple Wireless Keyboard & Magic Mouse Included
  • 30.5 Pounds
  • 25.6" (W) x 8.15" (D) x 20.4" (H) (Dimensions)
  • Mac OS X Snow Leopard + iLife '11 (64-bit)
  • 1-Year Warranty
  • Price (MSRP): $1199
21.5" MSI AE2280 - $1,049
  • Intel Core i5-650 (3.2GHz)
  • 4GB of DDR3 RAM
  • 21.5" (1920x1080 resolution) Multi-Touch display
  • ATI Radeon HD 5730 (1GB)
  • 640GB (7200RPM) HDD
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • 1.3MP Webcam
  • 6-in-1 Card Reader
  • Tray-loading DVD Burner
  • VGA / HDMI Video Outputs
  • USB 2.0 x 6 + eSATA x 1
  • RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000)
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jacks 
  • Stereo Speakers 
  • Wireless Keyboard & Mouse included
  • Bundled MCE Remote Control
  • 24.2 Pounds
  • 21.8" (W) x 2.9" (D) x 15.9" (H)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
  • 1-Year Warranty
  • Price (MSRP): $1049

This is a slightly more cut-and-dry look at the reality or misconception of the so-called Apple Tax. When you're strictly comparing hardware specifications -- which isn't a perfect science by a long shot -- the MSI machine bests Apple's iMac in essentially every regard. And it does so for $150 less. We will say that Apple's LCD panels are typically best-in-class, but with the MSI machine, you do get the added functionality of a touch screen. We have stated numerous times in all-in-one reviews that a touch panel makes little sense to us, particularly on a desktop, with the current state of Windows 7's touch interface, unless there is a robust touch interface overlay as can be seen in HP's TouchSmart line of products. Regardless, it's there if you decide you want it.

21.5" Apple iMac

From top to bottom, the MSI AIO PC is just more capable. A faster CPU, a superior GPU, more hard drive space, support for more memory card formats, more USB ports, etc. In this case, you're paying $150 more for the iMac in order to get less impressive hardware and an arguably superior software suite. Again, if you place a high value on Mac OS X over Windows 7, and you'll actually use iLife '11, it's possible that the software value more evenly aligns these two.

Looking briefly at a few other Windows-based all-in-one machines, Lenovo's IdeaCenter (A and B series) both offer beautiful designs with prices starting as low as $699 (with high-end machines only reaching $999), and that even includes a TV tuner and remote with the B series. Dell's Studio One also has a gorgeous design and starts as low as $589, but of course that only ships with a 19" display suitable, so it's definitely not a perfect spec-for-spec comparison with the 21.5" iMac.

21.5" MSI AE2280

It's crystal clear to us that Apple themselves place a high value on their software and design aspects. The question is: do you?

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