The Mobile Mac

Improving Value: Cost Cutting Done Right

- 2006.11.10 -Tip Jar

In my previous article, Cheap Is as CheapDoes: A Crappy Cable Cripples a Capable Display, I describedhow a substandard VGA cable soured my impression of an otherwiseexcellent ViewSonic monitor and actually caused me to return it andchoose another brand.

In this article I'll look at cost-cutting done right, meaningactual reduction in the retail price that has an insignificanteffect on the product itself. There is always the option of buyingthe cost-is-no-object lustomatic model, but for most of us theselling price is a very real consideration in almost every type ofpurchase.

Since The Mobile Mac is mostly aboutlaptops and portable computers, that's where I'll finish. Beforegoing there, however, I'd like to take a brief look at a few otherproducts where prices have come down steadily over the years whilequality has remained the same - and in some cases actuallyimproved.

Those examples are cars, audio equipment, and computerperipherals.

Automotive Value

Cars seem to always go up in price (or at least never down), butin the grand scheme of things, cars are much cheaper than everbefore. Looking at the low end, you can buy a cheap Hyundai Accentfor under US$10,000, whereas 15 years ago a Hyundai Excel costabout $8,000.

You might be tempted to say that the car's price has gone up20%, but you'd be wrong. Inflation is always a factor, and 8,0001991 dollars were worth more than 10,000 2006 dollars.

Even ignoring inflation, the 2006 Hyundai is a far better valuedespite the higher number on the window sticker. Airbags, vastlyimproved emission controls and engine management, and more power -not to mention a larger and more comfortable cabin - combine tomake the 2006 Accent a rather decent ride compared to the strippeddown budget-mobile it was back in 1991.

I should know; I drove a '91 Excel for a few weeks as a rentaland it was, by all accounts, a penalty box. A recent rental of a2006 Accent, on the other hand, was entirely pleasant, evencoming from the Mercedes that I usually drive. Sure, it was aninexpensive car, but it was quiet, handled safely, and rode quietlyand smoothly down the highway. In short, it did nothing to remindme that I was driving a cheap car, something the 1991 model neverlet you forget.

Audio Value

Audio equipment is another area where costs have been cut deeplywhile quality hasn't. Sure, high-end stereo components are asexpensive as they were a decade ago, but the features and (moreimportantly) the sound have improved, especially at the low andhigh ends.

I have a mid-grade Yamaha receiver from the early 1990s thatsounds terrific, but it lacks many modern features like videoinputs and DTS noise reduction that are present on even low-endmodern components. Surround sound inconceivable for most livingrooms in the early 1990s, but it's commonplace today even onlow-end dorm-room systems.

No, the modern components don't have the heavy construction andsolid-feeling controls of my old Yamaha, but they're much lessexpensive, have far more flexibility, and, most importantly, soundbetter.

Monitor Value

Before moving on to portable computers, let's look at computerperipherals, specifically monitors, which I've recently purchasedmore than a few.

Back in 1999, I bought my first LCD monitor for a desktopcomputer, a 15" Dell with XGA (1024 x 768) resolution. It was thecheapest 15" LCD at the time at around US$450, was made by Samsung,and was clearly a high-quality product that I still use today asthe auxiliary monitor on my associate's two-headed Power Mac G4.Color and response time aren't as good as on a decent CRT, but it'sfine for casual use - and it still looks great when there isn't amodern monitor next to it.

That's the problem, there is a modern monitor right toit.

This last March I purchased a pair of 19" dual input(analog/DVI) Samsungs at about $350 each (a slightly improved modelnow sells for $270) and recently added a 19" ViewSonic at $200 anda 19" widescreen Samsung at $250. Prices continue to drop whilequality continues to rise on LCD monitors.

In addition to being larger and offering considerably higherresolution (SXGA - 1280 x 1024) than the Dell, the Samsung andViewSonic LCDs are brighter, have more vibrant color, and anexhibit much faster response times. In short, LCD technology -already very impressive in 1999 - has come a very long way whileprices have plummeted from the exotic to the affordable.

Notebook Value

And so it is with portable computers. Let's look at Apple's lowend.

The cheapest iBook in 2005sold for US$999 and was considered a terrific value. YesterdayApple released the second generationMacBook at exactly $100 more than that iBook - the same priceas the first-generation MacBook.

Yes, the MacBook is a bit more expensive, but it has a built-inwebcam, a larger and faster hard drive, much faster and more modernarchitecture, not to mention a bigger and better screen (13.3" 1280x 800 vs. 12.1" 1024 x 768).

In short, the MacBook, while only $100 more expensive than lastyear's iBook, is a much more capable computer that also hasbetter build quality (iBook keyboards were very underwhelming).

The first generation MacBook had some serious teething problems,but from all accounts Apple has taken care of the problems, so I'dbe very surprised to see them lingering on the second generationmodels.

Not only Apple does it right: IBM, Toshiba, and other PC brandshave drastically cut prices on low-end notebooks while holding theline on higher-end laptops, where they are adding features andimproving quality. A case in point is the Toshiba Portegé 3505 tabletI wrote about a few months ago.That machine, now four years old, cost almost US$3,000 when new andwas state-of-the-art in all ways save its lowbrow video card.

Toshiba's current Portegé M400, which I ended up buying instead of theolder model, costs much less at US$1,700, has equally high buildquality, and at that low price squeezed in a semi-modern Core Duoprocessor, a gig of RAM, and a large, fast hard drive.

I'll chalk the price drop up to the tablet PC's newness wearingoff, but like Apple with the MacBook, they've crammed considerablymore value into an equally well-made machine without a seriousprice jump.

The Core 2 Duo MacBook Prois another example of increasing quality and features while holdingor lowering prices. what you need when you need it - butonly after someone else works out the bugs.

This trend will likely continue, which presents the problem ofknowing exactly when to buy. My advice for technology is thatsince there is always a cheaper and better model just around thecorner, buy what you need when you need it - but only aftersomeone else works out the bugs. Do that, and while you might getnew model envy every once in a while, you'll also get reliabletechnology at a good price when you need it.

Thanks to sensible cost-cutting, everyone can enjoy incredibleperformance and versatility at what not that long ago wereunthinkable prices. LEM

Andrew J Fishkin, Esq, is a laptop using attorney in Los Angeles, CA.

Today's Links

Recent Content

About LEM Support Usage Privacy Contact

Follow Low End Mac on Twitter
Join Low End Mac on Facebook

Page not found | Low End Mac

Well this is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching, or one of the links below, can help.

Most Used Categories


Try looking in the monthly archives. :)

Page not found | Low End Mac

Well this is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching, or one of the links below, can help.

Most Used Categories


Try looking in the monthly archives. :)

Favorite Sites

Cult of Mac
Shrine of Apple
The Mac Observer
Accelerate Your Mac
The Vintage Mac Museum
Deal Brothers
Mac Driver Museum
JAG's House
System 6 Heaven
System 7 Today
the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ

The iTunes Store
PC Connection Express
Macgo Blu-ray Player
Parallels Desktop for Mac

Low End Mac's store


Well this is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching, or one of the links below, can help.

Most Used Categories


Try looking in the monthly archives. :)

at BackBeat Media (646-546-5194). This number is for advertising only.

Open Link