The iMac Channel

iMac vs. $999 PCs

6 August 1998 - Dan Knight

I've been looking forward to the latest issue of PC Magazine, the one that looks at sub-$1,000 (sub-$1K) Windows systems. So many "experts" are chiding Apple for releasing a $1,300 computer when (they say) buyers really want sub-$1K PCs.

I've already looked at this in light of PC World's list of best selling budget PCs in iMac a true bargain and iMac v. the "top ten." The simple fact is, the best selling systems are all more expensive than the iMac.

But this article looks at the less expensive systems.

PC Magazine (1 Sept. 1998) examines 37 sub-$1K computers, ranging in price from $759 to $999 - exclusive of monitor. Right there we have one big difference between the sub-$1K club and the iMac. Apple's computer has a built-in 15" multiscan monitor.

To achieve their sub-$1K price, 29 of these models must be purchased directly from the manufacturer. The iMac can be purchased directly from Apple or from a local retailer.

Processors include 233-333 MHz Pentium II, 266-300 MHz AMD K6, 300 MHz Cyrix MII, 266 MHz Celeron (the Pentium II sans cache), and last year's 233 MHz Pentium MMX. At this price level, you'll find Intel inside 27 of the 37 models, but only 19 use the Pentium II. The iMac uses a 233 MHz PowerPC 750 (aka G3) processor, which offers performance comparable with the fastest machines PC Magazine tested.

For those who don't really keep track of the Wintel world, PC Magazine nicely lists the CPUs in terms of performance. From worst to best, they are Intel's new Celeron/266, Pentium MMX/200 and /233, AMD K6/266, Cyrix MII/300, AMD K6/300, and Pentium II/233 through /333.

The typical sub-$1K computer has a 266 MHz Pentium II, a 3-4GB hard drive, 4 MB video RAM, a 56k modem, and a 32x CD-ROM. PC Magazine also specified that tested sub-$1K systems must include at least 32 MB RAM, 2 MB video RAM, and a 2GB hard drive.

Their editor's choice is the Axis Orion LXN266 selling direct for $995. The budget alternative is the Micro Express MicroFlex-4500 at $899. For those who would rather buy locally, top choices were the Acer Aspire 1832 ($900 street price) and IBM Aptiva E46 ($999 street).

The following table compares these computers with the iMac.

iMac

Orion

MicroFlex

Aspire

Aptiva

CPU

G3/233

P II/266

K6/300

K6/266

K6/266

L2 cache

512K

512K

1 MB

256K

512K

Hard drive

4GB

6.4GB

4.3GB

5.4GB

4.1GB

Modem

56k

56k

56k

56k

56k

Video RAM

2 MB

8 MB

4 MB

2 MB

2 MB

Monitor

15"

15"

15"

15"

15"

CD-ROM

24x

32x

32x

32x

24x

USB ports

2

2

2

2

2

Ethernet

incl.

no

no

no

no

Price

$1,299

$995

$899

$900

$999

+ monitor

incl.

$199

$169

$199

$299

+ 10/100*

incl.

$99

$99

$99

$99

TOTAL

$1,299

$1,293

$1,167

$1,198

$1,397

Windows systems are configured to best match iMac features. Monitor prices are for the computer manufacturer's screen.

* price estimated for installed 10/100 ethernet card.

It's suddenly obvious that the sub-$1K computers really aren't any less costly than the iMac when you add a 15" monitor and network card. (It's odd, but in the Windows world they still don't consider networking a standard feature.) And I don't even want to imagine the quality of sub-$200 monitors.

The table does show that the iMac holds its own against these systems. It might be an easier sell with a 32x CD-ROM, more VRAM, a larger hard drive, or a higher MHz CPU. (Despite the snail ad, the public still looks at MHz as a first measure of performance.)

Regardless, the iMac is a very competent computer, very nicely priced, and very easy on the eyes. I hope this helps disspell the myth that the iMac is overpriced - or that a sub-$1K computer means a sub-$1K system.

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