Friday, April 27, 2007

MAC vs PC Part one: Value for money.

Value for money in my opinion is just about the only consideration PC owner’s appear to have and the area that MAC owners seem less concerned with. Indeed the PC I am using now I built for €400 and at the time price was my only concern.

When comparing the cost of both machines I’m going to take into account software (some comparisons are hardware only). Oddly enough some people just don’t seem to think this is important when buying a new computer. I see huge amounts of friends who buy a new PC and then don’t really get much use out of it because it doesn’t have much software. They buy Microsoft Office, use Internet Explorer to connect to the net, and of course play solitaire. That’s about it. Happens all the time.

But without software, the computer is nothing. Just a big bunch of components. Both MAC and Vista PC’s come with bundled software and are usable right out of the box, but MAC shines in this area for having the superior quantity and quality software.

MAC’s come preinstalled with a suit of lifestyle programs (for photos/videos music etc) that are integrated with each other and the OS. The PC has some of these built in. Vista is better than any of its predecessors for allowing you to edit and keep track of photos for example and Windows Movie Maker is not bad. For other things, most PC’s simply come with bundled demo programs which lack the complete feature set or are crippled in some way.

One of the things that annoys me on the internet with these type of comparisons is that nobody seems to take into account software piracy when comparing machines. I see post and comments on forums about people who obviously don’t give any value the software that comes with a MAC. That’s because a lot of them simply get their software without paying for it (i.e. they pirate it). For the sake of those legitimate software users its worth pointing out the added value given to the MAC OS because of it great bundled software. The MAC is plainly better value software-wise ‘out of the box’.

As far as valuation purposes go, the actual operating systems MAC OS X and Windows Vista are no longer far enough apart to warrant any difference in value (bundled applications aside). I actually think that the MAC OS is still somehow better. I say somehow because it’s hard to put your finger on it. It’s just a better ‘user’ experience that you’d never understand until you used one (for a reasonable enough time to get to know it). This to me actually holds almost all the value because it is the software we all use everyday and I would end the argument right there except this ‘magical’ ease of use is difficult to quantify or appraise. For the sake of this blog, the operating systems of MAC OS X and Windows Vista have a similar enough feature set (something measurable enough) to give them more or less the same ‘on paper’ value (imho).

So, I’ll move right on to the hardware:

People are always comparing MACs to Dell. I think it’s really only fair to do this with the MAC Pro line and the Macbooks. Unless you intentionally want to give more points to MACs. You see the iMAC’s and the MAC mini’s don’t have many PC equivalents. Recently I read a brochure from Media Markt a Europe wide computer/homeware/cd-dvd superstore which advertised a PC the same size as a MAC mini. It had pretty much the same specs except it was black and had Windows XP installed (this was six months ago. It cost about €100 more than the MAC mini). Likewise I’m still looking for a real competitor to the iMAC in terms of miniaturisation. The only one that comes close it the Sony Vaio VGC-LS1. ( I found the Sony at a web discounter for $1695, when configured with the same RAM, the closest iMAC has a 1” bigger monitor (20” unlike 19” for the Sony) and a far superior graphics card. It sells for $1674 from Apple).

I had an argument once with my brother about the iMAC coming with a corded mouse and how that takes up desktop space. Somewhere in amongst our debate, I asked him where is computer was. As it turned out he had the standard PC mini-tower sitting on top of his desk. Enough said. Credit must be given to the Macs in this are if you want to make a direct comparison.

If your were to compare computers of the same spec then adjust their prices based on miniaturisation then the iMAC and MAC mini come out clear winners.

By now (if you’re still with me) you probably think I’m a bit MAC biased and are screeming for the notebook and MAC Pro comparisons. I’m getting to those….

In my opinion the MAC line of notebooks is a bit lacking. They are great machines (as are many branded PC laptops HP, Dell, Sony Vaio for example), but I agree with my brother in that the MAC laptop entry level is not low enough.

My sister in law recently bought a laptop PC and I’m sure she would have bought a MAC if it was for those two factors: Cheap entry level (at the expense of processor power, but it is more than fast enough for her) and a big screen.

One thing is funny though; many people criticise the MACbooks for having smaller screens, but in case you haven’t noticed, laptop sizes are dictated by their screens. Give a laptop a bigger screen and the whole thing gets bigger. Sometimes a smaller screen (and therefore a smaller computer) is what you want, especially in a Laptop.

I personally prefer laptop with as large a screen as practical and therefore side with the PC’s on this.

One other thing common to laptops, is that Apple includes components into every machine that not everybody needs. Wifi, Webcame, Firewire etc. While I agree it would be nice to be able to buy the same machine for less without components that you deem unnecessary, because they’re already installed and the hardware is supplied by the operating system manufacturer, components tend to work better and require less user intervention.

Basically with MAC’s and good brand name PC’s, when the specs are similar you pay about the same, but the bottom line is, you can buy lower spec PC’s (or ‘no name’ PC’s with good specs) at far more affordable prices. Kudos PC’s.

My same criticism for MAC’s go to the MAC Pro line. I would like to see a far better entry level here. Instead Apple concentrated on other end of the market. 8 core machines. These computers have 4 processors with 2 processor cores in each. It’s pretty much 8 processors. But how many people are going to be able to use them? Most our processors are idle most of the time. As I type this, my AMD 64 3000 is hardly working above ‘idle’. To make use of 8 processors you need to have software that was written to utilise them, running on an operating system that was designed for them. Your computer will benefit from having a couple of processors running (dual core). It will mean you can run multiple apps and those in the background won’t have to take away power from you foreground applications. Unless your using specialist software (eg 3D rendering) you not really going to benefit that much. One would do better to buy more RAM (you can never get enough).

MAC pros have therefore the same problem that MACbooks have. No cheaper entry level. Some argue that if you want a cheaper machine, go for an iMAC or a MAC mini. But what if you want as much power as you can afford and I already have a screen? This is very common and it’s no less than shocking that there isn’t a better MAC Pro entry level.

I generally buy my screen at a different time to my computer. At the moment I’m ready to upgrade my machine so what MAC do I buy? A mini? No, too underpowered. An iMAC, and throw away my good monitor? A MAC Pro and pay more for power I don’t need and can’t really afford? There is a product missing from apples lineup. An entry level power machine (yes does sound a bit like a contradiction in terms) for those who already have a monitor.

For Laptops and Towers, I’m going to hand it to the PC’s for making things affordable to those who need it.

One last thing which affects the value is that Apple MAC’s are now Intel based. This means that a MAC can run Windows too. Apple also makes it easy to do so, with “boot camp” which automatically sets up a dual boot for Windows XP and writes Windows XP drivers for the MAC machine. There are other options too. “Parallels” is a virtualisation program which allows you to make a virtual machine in the MAC OS and run windows inside it. Or one could adopt “Crossover”, a product which emulates the Windows api inside the MAC OS (or if you prefer, tricks programs into thinking they are running in Windows allowing them to be installed on the MAC).

This is a versatility the PC doesn’t (barring running a hacked version of MAC OS X on a normal PC).

When it comes down to overall value. The MAC’s have it. No question. Why?:

1) Great bundled software.

2) Miniaturisation on the desktop for a better price.

3) Versatility (MAC’s run windows too – if you want)

Where the PC’s shine:

1) Lower entry level (all platforms).

2) Bigger laptop screens.

The only reason you might have to disagree was if either copy software (or already have a lot invest in PC software) or have never used a MAC for long enough (or both).

Coming up next: Ease of use…….

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