Stop the Noiz

Why Dell and HP Do (or Don't) Beat Mac Pro Pricing

Frank Fox - 2008.05.27 - Tip Jar

Mac Pro an Even Better Value

From Shafiq:

Hello Frank,

I was interested in your article showing the price difference between the Mac Pro and comparative HP and Dell computers.

I did a similar comparison between them and got a very different result. The mistake you made is that you didn't take into account the bus speed difference between the Mac Pro and the Dell or HP.

The Dell Model you listed and discussed was the has a 1333 MHz bus. The Mac Pro runs at 1600 MHz.

A better comparison would be to configure dual 3.0 GHz Xeons on both, with both having 1600 MHz and RAM at 800 MHz too.

When I spec'd out the two, I got a difference of about $1,800 (with the Mac Pro being cheaper).



I hope you liked the article. I wanted to keep the comparison simple buy not looking at bus speed or quality of video card. That would have required more explanation, and the article was getting long as is. Still, Apple has excellent pricing for a workstation computer.

- Frank

Thanks Frank,

I did like the article. Goes against the standard thinking that Macs are more expensive. I was talking to a co-worker about being interested in getting a Mac Pro. He gave the standard line of how he could put something together that was half the price and twice the speed. I said sure, forget half the price or twice the speed. Just match. He had new respect for Macs when he couldn't, even with shopping for components.



I've seen on the Web how people like to brag about how cheap they can build a computer. That is why I pointed out that the processor from NewEgg was over $700. The Mac Pro just doesn't use cheap components no matter who does it.

Good luck getting a Mac Pro. I have one myself, and it has been pretty rock solid. Memory prices are a killer, but I am seriously looking to get more RAM to reduce the slowdowns from disk swapping that go on.

- Frank

Overpriced Upgrades?


Yuhong Bao:

Dear Frank Fox:

"Overpriced Upgrades?"

Actually, that is a problem on the low end. You see, Psystar's OpenMac once had specs comparable to a $999 Mac mini. But the base version of the Mac mini costs only $599, and I bet if you compare it with an OpenMac that had it's specs, the price gap would be much smaller.

That brings us to a few other problems. One article on Tom's Guide said that the 2006 Mac Pro was already outdated one year after it was released, but it took until January 2008 for Apple to release a new Mac Pro. The Mac mini is even worse, with the only difference between today's Mac mini and the one that was released at Feb 2006 being the processor! Also mini size for a "mini" price isn't possible. I bet a Mac "mid" with comparable specs to a Mac mini would cost less than the Mac mini.

I agree, however, that most of Apple's problems are at the low end, not the high end.

Yuhong Bao

Yuhong Bao,

Apple has increased the pace of releasing updates on some of their computers. I got caught myself on the MacBook upgrades that hit this year (see Buyer's Remorse: Trading Up a Week-old MacBook), and my mother-in-law was surprised by the iMac updates that came soon after. Apple is obviously focused on those computers that they sell more of. The Mac mini isn't one of them. The very low-end is not Apple's prime market because there is less money to be made there.

Like any computer, you wait 6 months and there will be faster ones made. I don't see how Tom's Guide is telling us anything new, except Apple was slow to refresh their model. Apple did catch back up, and now they are very competitive on price. I would have to say that this is their secret "switcher campaign". They are quietly trying to compete on price while not claiming to be the low price leader. Apple has become very serious about getting people to switch.

Good luck with whatever computer you chose to buy.

- Frank

Comparison Missed the Mark

From Joe:


You missed a big part of the blowing up the 'Macs Are More Expensive' myth: The $600 to $2,000 price range.

Apple may be a good at $2,200, but lower they are not.

Also you did not look at the Dell Precision T3400 with high-end desktop parts. Costs less then the Mac Pro and likely is just as faster or faster then the single CPU Mac Pro and comes with a free screen with a better Dell 22 inch UltraSharp™ 2208FPW Widescreen only $100 more. Also uses desktop RAM.

for one thing they do not have a desktop mid-tower, and the iMacs do not have that good of a built in screen. Also the $1,200 iMac only has 1 GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT with 128 MB memory 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo.

The $1,499 is a little better 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 GB memory, ATI Radeon HD 2600 PRO with 256 MB memory.

The XPS 420 is near the iMacs price after [you] add the same or better hardware with better video cards that you can add to that you can't have in the iMacs. Also there is better screen choices with bigger screen in the same price range as the $1,200 to $1,499. Also it uses cheaper desktop RAM and HD's.

There also other Dell that come near that as well.

As the for the $600 mini, that is very over priced and is using very old chip sets; the $799 is even worse and still only has 1 GB of RAM.

You can get a OptiPlex 740 Mini-tower at $608 with a on par AMD x2 CPU at 2.5 the 2.3 is $15 less.

  • Add $19 for the 1394 Card FireWire card.
  • Bigger and faster 160 GB SATA, 7200 RPM HD add $15 for 250 GB or $10 less for 80 GB.
  • 16X DVD+/-RW SATA vs. the DVD / CD-RW in the mini
  • 2 GB DDR2 Non-ECC SDRAM, 800 MHz, (2 DIMM) add $125 for 4 GB at $15 less for 2 GB DDR2 Non-ECC SDRAM,667 MHz x2 the RAM of the mini.

Much Better on video with DVI (Digital) Adapter Card, full height

  • 256 MB ATI RADEON HD 2400 Pro (1 DVI/1 TV-out), full height [add $64]
  • 128 MB ATI Radeon X1300 (1 DVI/1 TV-out), full height [add $54]
  • 256 MB PCIe x16 ATI Radeon X1300 Pro,Dual DVI or VGA adapter,Dual Monitor, FH [add $74]
  • 256 MB ATI Radeon 2400 XT, Dual Monitor DVI or VGA (TV-out), full height [add $84]

You can't add a video card to the mini.

Dell also has Intel tower in the same price range.

Vostro 400 with faster CPU, bigger HD, DVD/RW, base 128 MB Nvidia® Geforce® 8300GS video, x2 the RAM at 800 MHz, FireWire at $649.

Dell Inspiron 530 at $589

  • Intel® Core™2 Duo Processor E4600 2 MB L2 Cache,2.4 GHz,800 FSB
  • Genuine Windows Vista® Home Premium
  • 2 GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667 MHz- 2 DIMM add $20 for 800 MHz
  • 250 GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200 RPM)
  • 16X DVD+/-RW Drive
  • Dell 19 in 1 Media Card Reader or the Dell Bluetooth Wireless Media Hub 13-1 Media Reader w/Bluetooth 2.0 EDR for $20 more.
  • Better on board video or
    • Nvidia Geforce 8300GS 128 MB add $60
    • ATI Radeon HD 2400 PRO 128 MB add $60
    • Radeon ATI HD 2600 XT 256 MB add $150
  • IEEE 1394a Dell wants $30 for it on this system you can get cards on line for $10 - $20.
  • You can add add $30 for a Internal PCI 802.11g

The Dell also comes with mouse and keyboard unlike the Mac mini.

You should be able to find other or even built a much better system.

- Joe


I plan to cover the mid and low range desktops in a follow up. I thought the article was getting too long as is. Regarding the Dell T3400, it may be cheaper, but that's Dell's fault for having a complicated product line. I thought that I did good to find both a similar Dell and HP desktop for comparison. The more computer choices and vendors you add can complicate the comparison.

Remember, I'm just a Mac user so I don't know too much about PC pricing.

Still I think that what I found for the models I used was a true comparison. Honestly, not everyone wants a workstation computer at home. These are expensive computers no matter who you buy from.

- Frank

P.S. Joe I wanted to compare laptops as well, but HP's lineup is complicated. Since all Mac laptop use Core 2 Duo processors, what laptop models would you recommend for comparison? I need both a consumer and pro models. HP makes it extra hard, because they sell separately software that normally comes with a Mac. How does a PC user view having to buy DVD burning software and such?


The T3400 is a high-end desktop for workstation work and comes in at the older G4 and G5 prices where at.

for the follow up, will you talk about the options and how they go up next to the ones on the Apple systems and will say that the ones that come with a screen can move up to a better one for not that much more.

Like if there is good upgrades that put the system a little over the Mac price, as with the mini and iMac, you need to add RAM to them as 1 GB RAM is to low of any new systems now days.

- Joe


The T3400 sounds like a nice computer. I'm sure it has plenty of power for most tasks.

Options are very tricky, especially monitors. They range in price a lot for the same size. It is easy to buy a larger one for less money than a smaller one from a different company. I'm not enough of an expert to say why this is and which you should choose. I myself just go for the largest size I can afford. I will have to stick just to the computers and built-in options like Bluetooth and webcams.

Memory upgrades are an issue for Macs. They did okay on the Pro side, but I'm sure it will show up on the lower models. In general, most iMacs do come standard with 2 GB. It is only the cheapest iMac that has only 1 GB. But that is not actually a problem for comparison. Dell and HP are also shaving costs on their low budget models by putting in only 1 GB. I like to start with everything at the minimum for comparison and then work up.

Truthfully I'll be glad when I'm done making comparisons. It is a lot of work looking through all the choices on the PC side.

Good luck with whatever computer you choose.

- Frank


for monitors upgrades, don't get with VGA - only on get one with DVI.

for things like Bluetooth, WiFi, and webcams should be an option not forced on you. In some work places you can't have a webcam, making the iMac less likely to be used there.

Also there cost can moved to other parts.

- Joe

Video Cards a Mac Weakness

From Roger:


That was an excellent article. At the same time, I think you missed a key component at the low end which is the video card. Both the Dell and HP are superior in that regards and may account for some of the additional cost.



I'm glad you liked the article. I left the video card aspect out except for the high-end test. I admit to not knowing enough about video cards to add that to the mix. I did check that the RAM on the video cards were similar. I'm sure that with the several hundred dollar difference in price any mismatch in cards would be covered.

Overall I was surprised to find Macs did well even with more RAM being added.

- Frank


It was a long overdue article. I really liked the point-by-point comparison. Video cards are the one major weakness for the Mac. Apple's decision to use a weird pin set up has meant that video cards have to be adapted for the Mac. It raises the cost considerably. You can compare video card performance at It actually has a greater impact on the cost than either memory or hard drive size, at least for the low-end system.



Okay. I couldn't let this one go. Tom's Hardware does not have a direct comparison between the video cards in the Dell and HP and the Mac. So I did some background research, and it looks like their performance is about equivalent to an Nvidia Geforce 8800 GT 256 Meg RAM. The price differential between 256 and 512 Meg RAM for video cards is not really significant (at least in Newegg). So I would say that, roughly, the systems would be an even match if you were to upgrade the Mac Pro to the Nvidia card for $150.

Your thesis is still correct, although the differential is not as significant. Didn't mean to make a lot of hay here, but I've found the video card issue a real sore point with Apple. I a longtime Linux user using a Linux desktop exclusively for the past 7 years, I've gotten accustomed to building my own systems, and I am actually migrating to the Mac as we email. That's how I ended up in Low End Mac. It's an absolutely terrific site. Best Mac advice I have encountered. But I still don't see why I should pay an extra $200 to $300 for the Mac version of a video card.



I'm glad that the video card difference didn't mess up the comparison too much. I would have still been happy if the Mac was $100 more expensive, because it would still show that they are competitive on price.

I used Linux for about a year before upgrading from OS 9 to OS X. A lot of the Unix principles are very useful to know when using Macs, like setting permissions, superuser, and the whole file structure thing. Apple keeps most of this hidden away, but it is there if you want to dig it out.

One thing about Macs: they are what they are. If you want to build your own system, it won't be easy; they just aren't designed for that thinking. You may be better off installing Mac OS X onto a PC. I've heard that it works okay, but of course you don't get support from Apple if you have problems.

That is really the best selling point for Macs - that things just work. You give up some of this "just working" if you do things differently on your own.

Good luck migrating to the Mac.

- Frank


The comparison is still really eye opening.

What I also find really interesting is how well the Macs hold up their value as used equipment. Quality has a lot to do with this, but then also the fact that OS 9 and OS X can run well on older equipment.

The one product missing from the Apple lineup is a small tower in the $1,000 range. But then Low End Mac has articles about this on a regular basis.

I have too much going on to tinker with OS X on the PC. I'm just going to stay plain vanilla on the Mac. Low End Mac has been really useful to figure out where I can go as my budget for all this right now is $1,500 (including software).


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