Mac vs. PC, a small cost comparison experiment

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FJ de Kermadec

FJ de Kermadec
May. 17, 2004 06:28 AM

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Some of you may recall my last blog, about the new "cost efficient" computers... I received many mails about it and thank you for your feedback. Within these mails was one of my PC friends who, somewhat jokingly, asked me to show him how I got to such a conclusion.

For fun, we agreed, to "purchase" a PC and see what we could get for this price. This short blog presents the results of our little personal survey, for anyone who is interested. Of course, before we get further, allow me to say that I do not pretend to have written a definitive cost comparison between Macs and PCs : this is not my goal and such a thing cannot really be done. Consider the following lines the summary of a personal experience that I wished to share with my Mac friends.

How we proceeded : To gather the information, we decided to ask a sales person of a mainstream, inexpensive computer manufacturer. Since we may not be both aware of ongoing promotions at this company, we thought it was a better policy than simply looking at websites.

We began the chat by asking for a complete desktop system, under $800 since Apple's eMac can be found for $799, without any discount. Luckily, for us, there was one system in this range, but for $899. We agreed to have a look at the specs.

The first surprise came when I told the salesperson I needed to do some light video editing with it and, therefore, hook up my FireWire camcorder... No, this was not possible unless I was willing to invest $30 for an add-on FireWire card...

What about text editing, then ? Yes, we would probably manage to get Word installed on it...

Then, we talked built-in memory which was 256MB -- but see below...

The second surprise came with the screen, which was 15", much smaller than the eMac. It was also separate from the computer -- some may see it as a positive point but it adds up some space and cables that are difficult to manage in some environments.

I was lucky to hear that network ports were included (Uh? I didn't even know there were computers without them) and that I could hook up all the cool serial devices I can buy thanks to the super-cool built-in serial port (Re-Uh?)

We then discussed video capabilities... The "Integrated Intel Extreme video" system was, as I suspected, a cool name to explain that the system uses the main RAM for its video needs -- while the eMac has dedicated memory. Of course, with such a system, the sales person used the word "video chores" instead of "graphics calculations"...

Software-wise, the machine came with a whopping combination of Windows XP home, Free Internet Explorer (Uh?), Outlook Express, Encarta and Norton Anti-Virus...

To top the description, the person added there was a super-useful parallel port too !

Since these specifications let me somehow stumped, I kindly asked this man if I could do any small video editing onto it -- not a lot, I added, but a few home movies. The reply came : it's too slow and you should spend more than $1000 to get a system able to do video properly...

All in all, nothing compared to the entry-level eMac, especially when you take into account the peripherals, the operating system and all the software that Apples ships with it, which includes the iLife suite...

Sure this is only the conclusion of a home experiment... But next time someone tells you that Macs are expensive, you will have a few numbers to put into the conversation !

Until next time, dear Mac users, enjoy thinking different !

FJ de Kermadec is an author, stylist and entrepreneur in Paris, France.