We have all seen the TV commercials of Mac and PC standing there while the Mac makes some funny remark about how unreliable PC is or how much more fun Mac is.  We all got a good laugh and I even started recording them before realizing that they were available online.  I also think that Microsoft had a good laugh, at first.  Or at least until it became clear that this one-sided add campaign was really starting to hurt their reputation. 

Microsoft, perhaps wanting to fire back started a series of TV commercials that were horribly unfunny!  Those were followed by vague “I AM PC” commercials that weren’t meant to be funny but didn’t have much substance either.  Now Microsoft has started the “Buy anything you want for $1,000 or $1,500 – BINGO! The commercials, in my opinion, are very effective at dispelling the myth that Mac’s are better than PC’s.  This has been dubbed the “Mac Tax”.

They aren’t convincing everyone though.  It was a comment from Redmond Report newsletter that got me fired up!


Microsoft has been talking up the so-called "Mac tax" to dissuade
people from moving to Apple. Marc thinks it's a little disingenuous to
call it that:

"For what it is worth, the 'Mac Tax' is not real! If you want, you
can configure a Dell with specifications virtually identical to any
Macintosh in the Apple product line and come up with very nearly
identical pricing. The catch, of course, is that an Apple Macintosh
is severely overpowered to meet the needs of most folks. Most folks
can meet their computing needs with a $500 to $800 Dell, or they can
go overboard and spend $1,000 and get a 'fully loaded' Dell that will
last them a good five years. Or, they can buy a 'bottom-of-the-line'

The truth is that if Apple could sell as many computers as Dell or
HP, they could afford to sell low-end $500 computers, but because
they don't sell a large enough number of computers to tolerate the
extremely narrow profit margins Dell and HP get on those $500
systems, Apple simply cannot afford to do so. Dell and HP 'take a
loss' on those entry-level systems but they make it up on very high
volumes and the occasional sale of $1,000-plus systems. All of
Apple's systems must be $1,000-plus systems for them to stay
in business."

Well Marc, that sounds like a challenge!  I completely disagree with the argument that you can configure a Dell with specifications virtually identical to any Mac and come up with nearly identical pricing.

Mac vs. PC Challenge

So what does Apple have to offer?

White MacBook


MacBook Air

MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro


2.0GHz, 120GB $999.00

2.0GHz, 160GB $1,299.00

2.4GHz, 250GB $1,599.00

1.6GHz, 120GB $1,799.00

1.86GHz, 128GB SSD $2,499.00

2.4GHz, 250GB $1,999.00

2.66GHz, 320GB $2,499.00

2.66GHz, 320GB $2,799.00


13.3-inch (viewable) glossy widescreen

1280 x 800 pixels

13.3-inch (viewable) LED-backlit glossy widescreen

1280 x 800 pixels

13.3-inch (viewable) LED-backlit glossy widescreen

1280 x 800 pixels

15.4-inch (viewable) LED-backlit glossy widescreen

1440 x 900 pixels

17-inch (viewable) high-resolution LED-backlit glossy widescreen

1920 x 1200 pixels

Option: Antiglare display


Intel Core 2 Duo

1066MHz frontside bus

3MB shared L2 cache

Intel Core 2 Duo

1066MHz frontside bus

3MB shared L2 cache

Intel Core 2 Duo

1066MHz frontside bus

6MB shared L2 cache

Intel Core 2 Duo

1066MHz frontside bus

3MB or 6MB shared L2 cache

Option: 2.93GHz

Intel Core 2 Duo

1066MHz frontside bus

6MB shared L2 cache

Option: 2.93GHz


2GB (two 1GB) of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM

Option: Up to 4GB DDR2

2GB (two 1GB) of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM

Option: Up to 4GB DDR3

2GB of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM (onboard)

2GB (two 1GB) or 4GB (two 2GB) of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM

Option: Up to 4GB DDR3

4GB (two 2GB) of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM

Option: Up to 8GB DDR3

Hard drive1

120GB Serial ATA, 5400 rpm

Option: Up to 320GB hard drive

160GB or 250GB Serial ATA, 5400 rpm

Option: Up to 320GB hard drive or 128GB solid-state drive

120GB Serial ATA, 4200 rpm or 128GB solid-state drive

250GB or 320GB Serial ATA, 5400 rpm

Option: Up to 320GB hard drive at 7200 rpm or 128GB solid-state drive

320GB Serial ATA, 5400 rpm

Option: 320GB hard drive at 7200 rpm, 128GB or 256GB solid state drive


Up to 4.5 hours of wireless productivity

Up to 5 hours of wireless productivity

Up to 4.5 hours of wireless productivity

Up to 5 hours of wireless productivity

Up to 8 hours of wireless productivity2


NVIDIA GeForce 9400M with 256MB of shared DDR2 SDRAM

NVIDIA GeForce 9400M with 256MB of shared DDR3 SDRAM

NVIDIA GeForce 9400M with 256MB of shared DDR3 SDRAM

NVIDIA GeForce 9400M and 9600M GT with 256MB or 512MB of GDDR3 memory

NVIDIA GeForce 9400M and 9600M GT with 512MB of GDDR3 memory



Precision aluminum unibody

Size (H x W x D)

1.08 x 12.78 x 8.92 inches

2.75 x 32.5 x 22.7 cm

0.95 x 12.78 x 8.94 inches

2.41 x 32.5 x 22.7 cm

0.16 to 0.76 x 12.8 x 8.94 inches

0.4 to 1.94 x 32.5 x 22.7 cm

0.95 x 14.35 x 9.82 inches

2.41 x 36.4 x 24.9 cm

0.98 x 15.47 x 10.51 inches

2.50 x 39.3 x 26.7 cm


5.0 pounds

2.27 kg

4.5 pounds

2.04 kg

3.0 pounds

1.36 kg

5.5 pounds

2.49 kg

6.6 pounds

2.99 kg

What does HP have to offer?

The computer that compares with the entry level 13” white MacBook computer:

Well, this comparison isn’t really apples to apples.  After all I couldn't find anything with a 13” screen (either smaller or bigger).  Also, I took upgrades that I think most people would take.  Here is what I came up with:

  • HP G60t Laptop running Windows Vista Home Premium x64
  • Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo Processor T6400 (2.0GHz) (=)
  • 3GB DDR2 (+)
  • 250GB 5400RPM SATA (+)
  • 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 9200M GE( )=
  • 16.0" diagonal High Definition HP Brightview Display (1366x768) (+)
  • Free HP DESKJET D4360 PRINTER (with mail-in rebate) (+)
  • Cost: $708.99 with $100 instant rebate.  Savings: $290.01; I did get some other free upgrades, but because they always have this kind of thing I keep them. Here is the link (for as long as it lasts)

The (-) indicates that the chosen component was less than it’s apple counterpart. The (=) indicates identical hardware.  The (+) indicates superior hardware. 

DECISION: I got a VASTLY superior PC from HP for almost $300 less!  The HP notebook even looks nicer than the white apple book.  Hands down winner here.

Because my previous configuration beat the next level up MacBook, I’ll move on to the MacBook Air using Dell’s website:

  • Dell XPS M1330 running Windows Vista Home Premium x64
  • Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T9300 (2.5GHz/800Mhz FSB/6MB cache) (+ & –)
  • 3GB Shared Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz (+ & –)
  • Ultra Performance: 128GB Solid State Drive (=)
  • 128MB NVIDIA® GeForce™ 8400M GS (–)
  • 13.3" UltraSharpTM  WXGA (1280 x 800) display with TrueLifeTM  (available with 2.0 MP camera) (=)
  • Weight 3.97 lbs; Size 31.8 x 2.31x 23.8 cm (–)
  • Cost: $1,444.  Savings: $355 / $1,055. 

This wasn’t as quite as good as comparison as I hoped.  I needed a Dell Laptop that did the Solid Sate drive (the whole reason for MacBook Air).  The processor is faster than both configurations of MacBook but with a slower BUS speed.  In mind this makes them a wash but depending on what you are doing it could make a difference one way or another although it’s not likely to. 

The other was the RAM.  I couldn't configure this computer with anything less than 3GB which is 50% more RAM, but again, it’s slower RAM so there could be some performance considerations.  Most of the time, though, the quantity of RAM beats out the speed of the RAM.  It’s still many times quicker than virtual memory residing on a disk drive. The graphics card available for the PC was not as good as the one that comes with the MacBook Air. The XPS system came in a bit chunkier in both weight and size.

DECISION: If you are in the market for a PC that is powerful and small / light and cost is not much of a consideration then the MacBook is a real contender.  I might have done better if I would have gone with Acer who is known for their small computers but I still rather doubt that I’d get something as small and powerful.  The MacBook Air is the winner for performance and size – that is if you can overlook the price tag.

The next comparison is the MacBook Pro series laptops.  While shopping at HP here is what I got and how it compares:

  • HP HDX 18t with Windows Vista Ultimate with Service Pack 1 (64-bit)
  • Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo Processor T9550 (2.66 GHz) (+ & =)
  • 4GB DDR2 System Memory (2 Dimm) (-)
  • 320GB 7200RPM SATA Hard Drive (=)
  • 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT (=)
  • 18.4" diagonal High Definition HP Ultra BrightView Infinity Display (1920x1080p) (+)
  • Blu-Ray ROM with SuperMulti DVD+/-R/RW Double Layer
  • HP Integrated HDTV Hybrid Tuner (+)
  • Cost: $1,606.99 Savings: $392.01 / $892.01 / $1,192.01 Again, here is the link so you can see for yourself.

I didn’t bother comparing all three MacBook Pro’s separately, the system I built beat even the high end MacBook Pro.  This HP system is every bit as good as the MacBook or even better!  What are the differences?  Again, I had a hard time coming up with comparable memory from the manufacturer. If I wanted that high end stuff, I can still get it on the cheap from New Egg.  I even got some freebies that I didn’t expect like a bigger monitor, Blu-Ray DVD-RW combo and an HDTV tuner integrated into the system. 

DECISION: The HP notebook is a clear winner!  If I had the $1,606.99 I would buy the PC right now! PC’s are a great deal!

CAVEOTS: I wasn’t able to weigh in on all aspects of the laptop such as battery life which I have no data from HP or Dell (mostly because it varies greatly between configurations).  I also make the assumption that the overall quality of the computer is equivalent.  This is probably a true assumption – all of the PC’s had very high ratings from their customers.  I also didn’t investigate warranty models very carefully so that is left to the buyer to evaluate. 


I wouldn't recommend to my parents, grand parents, co-workers, friends, or peers that they choose a Mac over a PC.  A Mac is not a better computer by virtue of being made from Apple.  You are paying more for a name brand just like anything else.  If the software you need to run is Windows based then buy a PC, if it’s Mac based then buy a Mac.  Simply running Windows in some kind of VM software is not going to give you a very good end-user experience.  The “Mac Tax” is real!


# re: Apple Tax?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 2:54 PM by Andy Behm

If you are going to try to demonstrate a 'mac tax' then stay within the specs. Match processors as exactly as you can (VM instruction capability included)screen size, overall computer dimensions and weight(your model from Dell weighs 1/3rd more than the Air). While I understand it's hard, that's why we need someone to actually do it. Once you've matched it as closely as possible (not Over configured - just match it) then you can make the additional argument that by customizing a PC to your actual desires, you can save even more.

Reading through your examples, it's too easy to dismiss the whole analysis because it's not clear exactly what is being compared, or you've chosen compromises that others wouldn't agree with.

# re: Apple Tax?

Thursday, May 21, 2009 3:25 PM by Phil

This is not a benchmark, Andy.  If it were, you'd be right.  But it's not.  He's making a case for the Mac Tax.

Have you ever shopped for a laptop?  You get the best deal by looking at what's out there and determining which ones will do what you want (OR MORE because MORE is just fine) and of that crowd, you get the one with the lowest price.  That's what the author did.  Do you really pick a CPU and then compare prices on the other machines with identical specs, eliminating the possibility of any superior machine despite its price?  Of course not.    

Besides, he already acknowledged the weight issue on the Dell vs. MacBook Air.  Maybe you'll notice that he did call the MacBook Air the superior machine in that case (and ignored the price tag, which would otherwise further prove his point).  He also stated that he might get better comparisons with other venders such as Acer.  But it was simply unnecessary.  There are 50 vendors that might have further fortified his argument, but he stuck with 2 of the more popular venders and that was all he needed to make his point.  

Additionally, I disagree with your argument that you save money by customizing.  Economics 101 should back me up on that.  If I can convince readers of that, they may also realize that the customizations the author noted probably increased the price of the PCs, further illustrating his point as they still came in with a lower price tag.