2003: It seems my previous column (Mac Myths and the Apple Challenge) touched a nerve or two. In particular, the claim that Macs are not, in fact, more expensive than Windows machines seemed to raise the ire of more than one reader.
If anything, this only proved that Apple has a hard slog ahead of it if it wants to debunk entrenched myths.
Invariably, the humble readers who took the time to write politely pointed me to several online stores that would sell exceptional PC hardware at a remarkably competitive price. Dell, HP, Gateway, et al, were in evidence, and price comparisons were in the PC’s favor.
The Long View
However, I’m the type of person who takes the long view. I try to look at the total cost of buying something. This analytical side of me looks for the hidden costs of items that seem to be a bargain.
Cars are a good (and somewhat overused) example of this. I paid a small premium when I bought a Honda Civic hatchback. At the time I also considered the Hyundai Accent, which was cheaper and had more options. Logic would dictate that the Accent was a better buy. The Accent is roughly the same as the Civic for less money with more features.
So why did I buy the Civic?
Total Cost of Ownership
The magic words are total cost of ownership. The Honda has a better reliability record than the Accent. I buy my cars, so this matters. For a little more cash up front, I’ll probably save a fair bit of cash further down the road. By buying the Honda, I likely have fewer repairs, fewer towing charges, and I’ll maybe even be able to squeeze an extra year or two of decent driving out of the vehicle. All of this adds up, and the Hyundai looks less like a great deal.
Please note that this is no way an attack on Hyundais or Hyundai owners. I like Hyundais, and they’ve come a long long way since the bad old days of the Pony, but Honda and Toyota are still the reigning reliability champs.
The same sort of logic applies to the Mac/PC cost. You can easily buy a PC for $500, no question. Where, however, are the hidden costs?
Cheap PCs Are, Well, Cheap
I have several friends who have bought cheap PCs. At the time, they thought they were getting a great deal. Eventually, though, I’ll get a call because something is irrevocably screwed up. Faulty hardware, viruses, spyware, you name it. And, because I like to help people out, I’ll truck on out there and help fix the problem at no charge.
If I did charge them for the time I spent on their PCs, their “cheap machines” would suddenly cost a few hundred dollars more.
In addition to the repairs to their machines, my friends seem to buy new ones every 18-24 months. That adds up, especially considering that I have a seven-year-old Mac that’s still good for basic email and word processing.
And don’t forget the warranty! If you don’t buy a chop shop PC and get one with a decent warranty, you’re covered, right? Maybe. How much is your time worth? How much is your data worth? The time you’re on the line getting something fixed under warranty is time that could be spent generating money or doing something pleasurable.
And I won’t even mention lost data. It goes without saying that lost data can be a major expense.
Macs and TCO
This isn’t to say that Macs never break down; they do. But they are usually cheaper to maintain and repair. Don’t take my word for it, though. There are several articles out there that will support this claim.
- Macs Shine in Total Cost of Ownership, Charles W. Moore, Applelinks, 2000.04.25
- Dual Platform Issues, Part 1: Total Cost of Ownership, Dennis Sellers, MacCentral, 2000.04.24 – no longer online
- Total Cost of Ownership: Why the Price of the Computer Means So Little, Paul Shields, The Business Mac, undated
- Macs Cost More Than PC’s, David K. Every, MacKiDo, undated
- Understanding the Total Cost and Value of Integrating Technology in Schools, Apple Computer, 1997.01.01 – no longer online
- Macs Toast PCs by 36% on Total Cost of Ownership, Remy Davison, Insanely Great Mac, 2002.06.17
For me, it’s self-evident that a PC will cost more than a Mac in the long run. This fact destroys any argument that PCs are cheaper than Macs.
But I’m preaching to the converted here, I think. Up front cost vs. TCO is an ancient argument, and it never ceases to amaze me that I have to repeat it.
keywords: #tco #totalcostofownership