Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Apple Mac computers don't cost more than PCs

If you talk to people about buying a new laptop or read comments online you will see a consistent meme -- Macs cost way more than PCs. Lets look into that.

Base Prices

Dell XPS 13Windows 8Core i5 1.7GHz (2.6GHz max)4GB128 GB SSD13.3" 1366x7862.99 lbs$999.99
Apple MacBook Air 13Mac OS X 10.8Core i5 1.8GHz (2.8GHz max)4GB128 GB SSD13.3" 1440x9002.96 lbs$1,199.00
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 CarbonWindows 8Core i5 1.7GHz (2.6GHz max)4GB128 GB SSD14" 1600x9002.99 lbs$1,249.00
Google Chromebook PixelChrome OSCore i5 1.8GHz (2.8GHz max)4GB32GB SSD12.85" 2560x17003.35 lbs$1,299.00
HP Envy Spectre 14Windows 8Core i5 1.7GHz (2.6GHz max)4GB128 GB SSD14" 1600x9003.98 lbs$1,399.99
Apple MacBook Pro 13 with RetinaMac OS X 10.8Core i5 2.5GHz (3.1GHz max)8GB128 GB SSD13.3" 2560x16003.57 lbs$1,499.00

Closest to ~3GHz max CPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD

Google Chromebook Pixel (LTE)Chrome OSCore i5 1.8GHz (2.8GHz max)4GB64GB SSD12.85" 2560x17003.35 lbs$1,449.00
Apple MacBook Air 13Mac OS X 10.8Core i7 2.0GHz (3.2GHz max)8GB256GB SSD13.3" 1440x9002.96 lbs$1,599.00
Dell XPS 13Windows 8Core i7 2.0GHz (3.1GHz max)8GB256GB SSD13.3" 1920x10802.99 lbs$1,599.99
Apple MacBook Pro 13 with RetinaMac OS X 10.8Core i5 2.6GHz (3.2GHz max)8GB256GB SSD13.3" 2560x16003.57 lbs$1,699.00
HP Envy Spectre 14Windows 8Core i7 1.9GHz (3.0GHz max)8GB256GB SSD14" 1600x9003.98 lbs$1,799.99
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 CarbonWindows 8Core i7 2.0GHz (3.2GHz max)8GB256GB SSD14" 1600x9002.99 lbs$1,969.00

Random Others

Dell Inspiron 15Windows 8Celeron 1.5GHz (1.5GHz max)4GB320GB 5400 RPM Hard Drive15.6" 1366x7684.96 lbs$349.99
HP Pavilion g6t-2300Windows 8Core i5 2.5GHz (3.1 GHz max)4GB500GB 5400 RPM Hard Drive15.6" 1366x7685.46 lbs$549.99

First off, a couple odd balls. The MacBook Pro with Retina display and the Chromebook have significantly better screens than the rest, there are no other laptops on the market with screens even close the their quality. The Retina also has a much faster base CPU than the rest, and a minimum of 8GB of RAM. The Chomebook is just plain odd. It runs Chrome OS, which is like having a computer where the only piece of software it will run is Google's Chrome web browser. You can't install things like Photoshop, Office, or Firefox. It also has a much smaller hard drive than the rest, you are supposed to store everything in Google Drive (cloud storage).

Now for the prices. The Apple computers are clearly not the most expensive, in fact they are in the middle of the pack. Apple gets accused of charging a lot for upgrades, but compared to PC manufacturers they are pretty good. The specs are all pretty similar, odd balls notwithstanding, but what about things not on the spec sheet. Things like touchpad usability, build quality, and display quality.

"The XPS 13 isn't quite there, held back by its display, somewhat disappointing battery life, and lack of ports or adapters." The Verge

"The Envy 14 Spectre is a perfectly fine, competent and desirable machine. It checks most of the right boxes up and down the line. Still, I have to admit, I wonder for whom it would be the right choice. While it's a striking machine, to be sure, I can't honestly say it beats the MacBook Air on any crucial point, and it costs $100 more. HP paints a lovely picture in bold strokes, but lacks Apple's attention to detail." The Verge

"So, is the Lenovo X1 Carbon the ultimate Ultrabook? Not quite. Its display is merely fair, as is its battery life, and it's far from the cheapest choice out there." Engadget

"[The MacBook Air] steamrolls the competition in terms of speed, even when pitted against another Ivy Bridge machine. Just as important, the Air continues to have the best keyboard-and-trackpad combination of any ultraportable -- something Ultrabook makers are still struggling to get right." Engadget

"I barely noticed the keyboard and trackpad [on the Chromebook Pixel], which is about the highest compliment I can pay them. I'm used to the MacBook Air, which I firmly believe has the best keyboard and the best trackpad of any device on the market… the Pixel's screen is the best laptop display I've ever seen. Its only rival is the Retina MacBook Pro, and it really doesn't matter which is better… I love the Chromebook Pixel. I can't remember the last time I so unequivocally enjoyed using a device. Its display, keyboard, trackpad, and overall fit and finish are as good as any laptop I've ever used… And yet, when it came time to write this review, edit and upload pictures, and do real research, I opened up my MacBook Air again." The Verge

Why are do people think PCs are cheaper?

Most of the inexpensive PC laptops are complete crap. They are made of plastic which will break and bend. Their keyboards are annoying and their trackpads are almost unusable. The inexpensive laptops are usually very heavy, weighing ~2 lbs. more than "good" laptops.

All the laptops in the top two charts use SSDs, while the two cheap laptops use 5400 RPM spinning hard drives. Depending on what you are measuring SSDs are 5x - 70x faster than 5400 RPM HDDs. When a family member or friend tells me their computer is slow, and I take a look, the slowness is always caused by the computer waiting for hard drive access. HDDs are the slowest part, get an SSD and your computing life will be much less frustrating.

Notice how the computers in the first chart all have Intel Core i5 CPUs as their base CPU? Apple doesn't sell any computers with less than a Core i5, because CPUs below that suck. Here is the order of Intel laptop/desktop CPUs from worst to best: Atom -> Celeron -> Pentium -> Core i3 -> Core i5 -> Core i7. PC manufacturers are happy to sell you computers with horribly slow processors.

For these reasons Intel created the "Ultrabook" spec. Intel was tired of companies making Netbooks that were so slow they would be unusable in 6 months. To be called an Ultrabook a laptop would have to meet various requirements related to battery life, thickness, CPU, drive performance, boot (or resume) time. If PC makers wanted to call their computers Ultrabooks they would have to use better quality materials and faster components -- they would have to build a MacBook Air.

Do yourself a favor

Mac OS X isn't for everyone. I've been using Mac OS X for a long time and I still think the user interface (though not user experience) of Windows 2000 (and Gnome 2) is better. But every version of Mac OS X has gotten better, easier to use, with well thought out features. While every version of Windows since XP has gotten worse, harder to use, with a horrible mess of poorly thought out and executed features.

But still, you might want to use Windows, and that's OK. But do yourself a favor and a good laptop with an SSD, a decent CPU, and enough RAM.