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

Round 3: Baseline Mac Pro vs. Windows 7 Workstation

Onto the final showdown: workstations. We'll touch more on Apple's lack of a mainstream desktop in our conclusion, but for now, let's remain focused on the task at hand. The Mac Pro is a heralded workstation, particularly by creative professionals. But does it cost a fortune in comparison to a similar workstation from the Windows-based universe? Here's the breakdown between a baseline Mac Pro and a similarly priced Dell Precision T7500.

Apple Mac Pro vs. Dell Precision T7500
Specifications and Features (as tested)
Apple Mac Pro - $2499
  • Intel quad-core Xeon 'Nehalem' CPU (2.8GHz)
  • 3GB of 1066MHz DDR3 ECC SDRAM 
  • ATI Radeon HD 5770 (1GB)
  • 1TB (7200RPM) HDD
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • Tray-loading 18x DVD SuperDrive
  • Three open PCIe slots
  • Four total HDD slots
  • Eight total RAM slots
  • Mini DisplayPort (x2) + dual-link DVI (x1) Video Outputs
  • USB 2.0 x 5 + FireWire 800 x 4
  • Input/Output Toslink Digital Audio Ports
  • RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000) x 2
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jacks
  • Apple Wireless Keyboard & Magic Mouse Included
  • 39.9 Pounds
  • 20.1" (W) x 8.1" (D) x 18.7" (H) (Dimensions)
  • Mac OS X Snow Leopard + iLife '11 (64-bit)
  • 1-Year Warranty
  • Price (MSRP): $2499
Dell Precision T7500 - $2444
  • Intel dual-core Xeon E5503 (2.0GHz)
  • 4GB of 1333MHz ECC DDR3 SDRAM
  • NVIDIA Quadro NVS 420 (512MB)
  • 250GB (7200RPM) HDD
  • Five total HDD slots
  • Tray-loading 16x DVD Burner
  • Seven total PCIe slots
  • DVI / DisplayPort x 4 Video Outputs
  • USB 2.0 x 11 + FireWire x 2 + eSATA x 1
  • RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000)
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jacks 
  • Dell Wired Keyboard & Mouse included
  • Bundled MCE Remote Control
  • 39.0 Pounds
  • 22.6" (W) x 8.5" (D) x 22.3" (H)
  • Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
  • Microsoft Office Starter 2010
  • 3-Year Warranty
  • Price (MSRP): $2444
 HP Z600 Workstation - $2329
  • Intel Xeon E5630 Quad Core (2.53GHz)
  • 3GB DDR3-1333 ECC
  • NVIDIA Quadro FX580 (1GB)
  • 500GB (7200RPM) HDD
  • 16X DVD RW Dual Layer Multi Drive
  • Three PCIe Slots, 2 PCI Slots
  • 2 Internal 3.5" Bays, 2 External 5.25" Bays
  • Rear I/O: 6 USB 2.0, PS/2 keyboard/mouse
    1 RJ-45 to Integrated Gigabit LAN
    1 Audio Line In, 1 Audio Line Out, 1 Microphone In 
  • 3 Internal USB 2.0 Ports
  • Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
  • 37.4 Pounds
  • 17.5 x 6.5 x 17.3 in (Dimensions)
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
  • 3 Years parts, labor and onsite service
  • Price (MSRP): $2329
Judging workstations is pretty difficult. Prices vary wildly depending on manufacturer, chassis design and how you purchase them (via your business agreement or otherwise). This is Apples vs. Oranges at its best. But when comparing a similarly priced Dell workstation to Apple's baseline, low-end Mac Pro, we think Apple has the edge here. Yes, it's $50 more, but even when you add a $90 CPU upgrade to the Dell, you are still looking at a machine with a far slower processor.

Apple Mac Pro

Also, Apple throws in Wi-Fi, a GPU that could actually get a bit of gaming done after-hours, a full 1TB hard drive, and a faster DVD burner. We agree that having only 3GB of RAM in a $2499 machine is just crazy, but that's really the only major knock we could find on this system. At this level, the Apple Tax is far less noticeable. We certainly wish it matched Dell's 3-year warranty, though. We will say that it's probably more important for a true workstation owner to have a GPU that's certified for use in pro-level apps like Maya, but we think that Apple is trying to hit a happy medium with the Mac Pro considering that they do not offer a true gaming tower as well as a workstation; they simply have one true tower that has to cater to both markets somewhat.

As we mentioned earlier, workstation pricing varies wildly, and changes frequently. It's probably the most unstable pricing market of any of the sectors covered here. HP's Z600 workstation is currently being sold for just under what the Dell is ($2329), with a faster CPU and GPU. But of course, even HP lists these as "while supplies last," so we felt it somewhat unfair to compare a machine that was on clearance, limited in supply or otherwise on closeout. Still, deals are out there if you hunt!

Dell Precision T7500

On the next page, we'll condense what we've learned here and try to make some sense of the argument, or the legitimacy of it as a whole.

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