It's a long-standing bar argument: "Which hardware gives you more bang for the buck, Mac or PC?"
A decade ago, it would've been hard for anyone but loyalists to argue in favor of the Mac. The PowerPC's clock speed lagged the Pentium and other x86 CPUs. Meanwhile, components and peripherals for the Mac such as graphics cards and CD drives were limited and pricey because of Apple's proprietary designs. There was no argument: "for every dollar you spent on a PC, you had to pay about $1.60 to get the same-performing Mac hardware," said Ian Lao, an analyst at In-Stat.
But after Apple switched to Intel processors three years ago, Mac hardware immediately made up a lot of ground against its PC counterparts.
However, with Tuesday's refreshed Mac desktop lineup, Apple only cut the entry-level price of its Mac Pro workstation, leaving the prices of Mac Minis and iMacs untouched. With most PC makers slashing prices or embracing cheaper models such as netbooks, Apple could be dangerously out of step.
"You would think [Apple] would be a little more reactive," said Richard Shim, an analyst at market research firm IDC. "You can't discount the value of the Mac experience and the software. At the same time, the market is getting a lot more price aggressive."
"I would love to see Apple cut their prices to be in line with everyone else, but it goes against the grain of the whole cachet thing they like to sustain," Lao said.
Without significant price cuts, Macs continue to cost between 25 percent and 40 percent more than PC hardware of equivalent specs, say both Shim and Lao.
It's true that the changes have made some improvements to Apple range. The upgrades have brought the Mac's graphics capabilities nearly to par with PCs through the addition of new, faster Nvidia and ATI graphics chips and cards, Lao said. Graphics was a glaring Achilles' heel for the Mac, which was ironic, considering the Mac's wide usage among graphic designers and other creative professionals.
And Apple has even pushed past rivals such as HP and Dell by being the first vendor to introduce a desktop PC with Intel Xeon CPUs featuring the new Nehalem architecture. The refreshed Mac Pros come in four and eight-core versions and start at $2,499.
But these improvements could count for nothing if the prices put purchasers off. A quick analysis of prices in the US found that Macs continue to cost a bit more than PCs, though premiums vary. For example, Apple's refreshed $599 Mac Mini costs 40 percent more than Asustek Computer 's similar $430 Nova P22 mini PC. The Mac Mini's slightly faster CPU, integrated graphics chip and RAM are somewhat balanced by the Nova's larger storage and faster DVD-ReWriter drive.
Or compare the midrange Mac Pro with Gateway's upcoming FX6800-05 PC. Both use quad-core 2.93-GHz Intel processors and ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards, 6GB of 1,066-MHz DDR3 RAM and a 1TB 7,200 RPM SATA hard drive.
The Mac Pro uses a Nehalem-based Xeon chip intended for servers, while Gateway uses the Core i7-940 desktop CPU. The Core i7, introduced last fall, is similar to Nehalem, but it lacks the latter's new memory chip set that, according to Lao, can speed up performance for compute-intensive tasks up to 13 percent.
That advantage is undercut by the Mac Pro's weaker components and higher price. The Gateway's video card comes with an extra processor and 2GB of "honkin' fast" DDR5 RAM perfect for gamers, said Lao, as well as an 80GB solid-state drive for faster Windows booting. An 80GB Intel SSD costs $380 at retail. Yet the Gateway, at $2,999, costs $450 less than the $3,449 Mac Pro configuration.
In the case of the all-in-one iMac, Apple's machine had a slim edge over the competing Dell XPS One 24, while being $100 less in price and 15 lb. less in weight.
In the end, Mac fans argue that "speeds and feeds" mean little because they don't take Mac OS X's performance or the Mac's looks into account. But that's a topic for another barroom argument.
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