GCN Tech Blog

By GCN Staff

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Recrunching the numbers on Mac procurement

Last month, GCN covered the issue of using Apple Macintosh computers in the workplace. We considered both the supposed pros (security, ease of use) and the cons (interoperability and the price premium) of using the Macs.

While, thanks to the Web, interoperability has become all but a non-issue over the past few years. But pricing remains a concern, real or imagined. In one of its government marketing Twitter blogs, Microsoft made hay with a Computer World article stating that Mac sales dropped by 17 percent, a drop one analyst attributed to the premium prices of the computers.

But enough evidence exists that the truism that Macs are always more expensive than PCs may, in fact, not always be true. In some cases, perhaps the Mac is the best deal.

In the GCN article, we compared the cost of a few Macs, along with a few similarly outfitted laptops on the General Services Administration's Schedule 70 for government IT purchases. It was a quick, informal comparison, one that pitted the a $1,900 MacBook Pro against a $738 Acer Aspire 5315.

One government IT manager, who wishes to remain on background, e-mailed that our comparison was hardly apples-to-apples (or Apple, as the case may be). The high-end MacBook Pro—with its 15-inch screen, backlit keyboard, Intel Core2Duo, two gigabytes of random access memory, Nvidia GeForce 9600M graphical processing unit—is just a much more powerful machine than the budget-minded Acer model, which is heavier, has a smaller screen and runs on a slower Intel Celeron processor. It is a "very big difference," he e-mailed, echoing more than a few reader comments.

If we wished to compare budget laptops, he suggested, a more apt comparison might be between the Acer and a basic MacBook, which is priced starting just below $1,000, not including any GSA discount. It's still pricier than the Acer, but not so much that the Apple polish couldn't justify the additional cost.

For additional consideration, our source also offered a very telling pair of comparisons between Apple laptops and Microsoft Windows-based devices. He compared list prices of both two mid-priced workhorse models and two budget-conscious models.

For this comparison, he chose the Dell Latitude line of laptops as the closet Windows equivalent to the Apple MacBook, on the basis that the Latitudes are generally pretty sturdy.

In the mid-priced market, he found that a white-clamshell MacBook, with an Intel 2 Ghz Core 2 Duo processor, would run $1,248, while a Dell Latitude E4300 with a similar specification and an Intel 2.26 Ghz processor would actually cost more, $1,690. In other words, in some instances, an Apple laptop may actually cost less than a similarly-configured Windows-based one.

On the other hand, when looking at the high-end, our source found that Apple is still more than willing to help you spend your money. An Intel 2.4 Ghz Core 2 Duo processor-based MacBook Pro, with configured for the power user could cost about $2,348, while a roughly equivalently configured (though arguably less elegant) Dell Latitude E6500, one with a 2.26 Ghz Intel processor, would run only $1,356.

In this case, you can get more computer for fewer dollars with Dell.

Both the MacBooks and the Latitudes in his comparison had similar hardware configurations, when it comes to Random Access Memory, processor speed and the like. And both products come with a three-year warranty.

Of course, comparing prices between competing products can be a never-ending game, and can be rigged in no end of ways. If you're enduring a slow day, why not do some of your own comparisons across both the Dell and Apple sites? As always, common sense holds true here: To get the most from your (or the taxpayer's) money, you have to understand your requirements very well. How fast do you really need your processor to be? How much memory do you need? How much disk space? How rugged does it need to be? How light? These comparisons do provide enough evidence, though, to start rethinking the idea that Apple Macs are always the more expensive choice.

Posted by Joab Jackson on Mar 18, 2009 at 9:39 AM


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