Are Macs Overpriced?

As with many of my other posts, this one was inspired my conversations I have at work.  I was talking to one of my coworkers who was using his Macbook Air to configure a switch.  I walk up to him and tell him to put that toy away and use a real computer.  He went on and explained to me the things he liked about it and why he felt is was the better choice for him.  Not once did he utter the words “Macs don’t get viruses”.

I talked about things I didn’t like about the Mac, admitting that I don’t use them daily.  Ultimately, I hit him with “Macs are overpriced”.

“No, not really”, he said.

The gears in my head were turning.  I had to objectively find out the answer to this question.  Are Macs overpriced?  I set out to find the answer.  In an effort to keep things fair, I am writing this post using my trusty Mac Mini.

Mac Mini

The Mac Mini

I start off with the Mac Mini.  A computer meant to lure unsuspecting Windows users to the dark–or space gray–side.  Starting at right around $500, it is the least expensive Mac in the lineup.  Like many desktop computers sold these days, the Mac Mini does not come with a monitor.  Curiously, it does not come with a keyboard or mouse either.  Apple wants you to plug your existing keyboard, mouse and monitor in and use it.  Considering it only has a single HDMI out and two Thunderbolt 2 ports for video output, you’ll likely need an adapter to connect the monitor.  Apple will gladly sell you an HDMI to DVI adapter for $30.

Starting at $500, you get a 1.4 GHz dual-core Core i5 processor.  A quick search found this to be the Core i5-4260u.  You also get 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM and a 500GB 5400RPM hard drive.  The RAM is soldered to the motherboard, so you better buy it with all the RAM you will ever need because upgrades are not possible.

At the time of writing, the Mac Mini hasn’t been updated since October of 2014.  This means that you are paying 2017 prices for a three-year-old PC.  Based on this alone, the Mac Mini is overpriced.

Considering the Mac Mini has been unchanged for over 1000 days, it is long overdue for an update.  Ideally, more powerful CPU offerings and user upgradable RAM would make the Mac Mini a more attractive offering to the wayward PC user.

Macbook Iar

Macbook Air

The next entrant is the Macbook Air.  Starting at $1,000, it is the cheapest of the Macbooks.  As its name suggest, the Macbook Air is incredibly thin and light, weighing in at just under 3 pounds and approximately 0.68 inches thick.

Packed in this small package is a 1.8GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, likely the Core i5-5350U.  You can only get 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM in this laptop.  Once again the RAM is soldered to the motherboard, rendering upgrades impossible.  For storage, we only have SSD options, starting at 128GB and going all the way to 512GB.  Unlike the RAM, the SSD is user replaceable.  You get a 13.3-inch TFT display with a resolution of 1440×900.

The Macbook air has the features one would expect from an ultrabook.  The display and CPU offerings are lacking though.  The CPU was released in 2015.  Just like the Mac Mini, you’re paying 2017 prices for hardware that hasn’t changed since 2015.  Because of that, I would say the Macbook Air is overpriced.

I think Apple needs to upgrade the display on the Macbook Air to make it more attractive.  While the everyday user might not be able to notice a performance difference between a CPU from 2015 and one from 2017, something about paying a premium for old technology just isn’t right.  What it boils down to is if the Macbook Air had a better display and current generation hardware, it would be worth the price.

Given the status of the current lineup of Macbooks, it is possible that the Macbook Air will be retired. Especially when you consider that the 13-inch Macbook Pro is slightly thinner than, and approximately the same weight as the Macbook Air.

Macbook

Macbook

I feel the Macbook is a niche device.  It is a low-power, ultra-portable laptop designed for someone who spends a lot of time on the road.  The fact that this laptop only has a single USB-C port further solidifies this notion.

With a starting price of $1,300, the base configuration comes with a 1.2GHz dual-core Core m3-7Y30 processor, 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM and a 256GB SSD.  RAM is not upgradable after purchase, however the Macbook can be configured with up to 16GB of RAM.  For a premium, the processor can be upgraded to the dual-core, hyperthreaded Core i7-7Y75 running at 1.4GHz.  You also get a 12-inch IPS display with a resolution of 2304×1440.

If you can get past the single USB-C port that serves double duty for charging and expansion, the Macbook is what the Macbook Air should be.  My gripe is the entry price tag of $1300.  If Apple were to retire the Macbook Air and drop the price on the Macbook by about $300, I feel that would help sales of the Macbook without cannibalizing sales of the Macbook Pro.  As it sits right now, the Macbook is overpriced.

Macbook Pro

Macbook Pro

The Macbook Pro is Apple’s mainstream laptop.  It is the most powerful laptop that Apple offers.  With the 13-inch model starting at $1,300, you get features that are to be expected in an ultrabook.

The base configuration features a 2.3GHz dual-core, hyperthreaded Core i5-7360U processor with 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM.  Storage is handled by a 128GB PCIe SSD  Just like other Macbooks, the member cannot be upgraded after purchase.  The Macbook Pro can be configured with a maximum of 16GB of RAM.  The 13-inch display has a native resolution of 2560×1600 while the 15-inch model supports 2880×1800.  They both are IPS panels with 500 nits brightness and support for the P3 color space, ideal for photo or video production.

The ultrabook arena is crowded and the Macbook Pro faces competition from other vendors.  However, if you were to put down $4,100 on a fully specced out Macbook Pro, there are very few laptops that can offer a 3.1GHz quad-core, hyperthreaded Core i7-7920HQ, 16GB LPDDR3 RAM and 2TB PCIe SSD.  The only thing that I found in a quick search that is comparable is the Dell Precision 7520.  Configured with the same CPU, 2TB PCIe SSD (by way of 2 1TB PCIe SSDs in RAID 0), 32GB DDR4 RAM and a 15-inch 4K display comes in at approximately $600 more than the Macbook Pro.  Tank into account the fact that the Dell is twice as thick and 2 pounds heavier makes the Macbook Pro look even better.

As much as it pains me to say, the Macbook Pro is not overpriced.  I’d even go as far as to say it offers a good value.  The problem I have with the Macbook Pro is the “Pro” name in it.  A product marketed for professionals should be able to support more than 16GB of RAM and the RAM should be upgradable after the time of purchase.

iMac

iMac

Going back to Apple’s desktop we have the iMac.  There are three models to choose from for the iMac, two 21.5-inch models and an 27-inch model.

The $1,100 iMac is the cheapest of the bunch.  It offers a 1920×1080 Full-HD display.  Inside is the same Core i5-7360U found in the Macbook Pro.  Unlike the Macbook Pro, the iMac comes with current generation DDR4 RAM.  This particular model is configurable with 8GB or 16GB.  Also, unlike other Macs, RAM is upgradable after purchase.  Storage is handled by a 1TB 5400RPM hard drive, although this can be upgraded to a 1TB Fusion Drive or 256GB SSD.

If you upgrade to the 21.5-inch iMac with the Retina 4K display, you get a true quad-core CPU in the Core i5-7440EQ or the quad-core, hyperthreaded Core i7-7700.  Additionally, a 512GB SSD is available for this model, which starts at $1,300.  The display features a resolution of 4096×2304 and supports the P3 color space, making it ideal for digital content creators.

Starting at $1,800, we have the 27-inch iMac.  This features the Retina 5K display with a resolution of 5120×2880 and supports the P3 color space.  Additional processor options include tie Core i7-7700K running at 4.2GHz.  Memory can be upgraded by the user as well, allowing for up to 64GB of DDR4 RAM.  On the storage front, a 2TB Fusion Drive and 2TB SSd options are available.  Fully specced out, this model will set you back $5,300.

In its base configuration, I don’t believe the iMac to be overpriced.  I find it to be comparable to competing all-in-ones at that price point.  It’s when we start configuring upgrades that the price starts to exceed the value received in return.

At the time of writing, the Mac Pro section of the Apple web site appears to be down.  It is possible that the Mac Pro is being discontinued in favor of the upcoming iMac Pro.  Good thing to considering the Mac Pro was released in 2013 and hasn’t been updated since.  Based on that alone, the Mac Pro is overpriced.

Conclusion

Full disclosure here.  I am not an Apple fanboy, but I don’t consider myself an Apple hater either.  My experience using a Mac is limited and I based my opinions on what’s under the hood.  I did not factor in things like build quality of the machines and user experience.  I have always felt that function always took a back seat to form.  This is evident with the Mac Pro which was released with previous generation processors.

In an effort to hide this fact, Apple does not specify the model number of the CPU in the store or on the box.  Even looking at the tech specs, you’ll find the model number of the CPU absent.  I suspect that Apple doesn’t disclose this information to lead consumers to believe that the hardware inside is current generation.

It seems that Apple’s mainstream Mac products actually offer a good value.  The Macbook Pro and iMac are typically kept up to date with modern hardware.  It is worth noting that the price Apple charges for upgrades is astronomical.  Upgrading to 64GB of RAM on the iMac will cost $1,400.  You can easily get 64GB of RAM for $550, a little more than a third of what Apple charges.

Apple’s SSDs are pricey, but they are insanely fast, featuring read speeds of nearly 2.8GB/s and 1.4GB/s write speeds.  If you’re looking for ridiculously fast SSDs, look no further than a Mac.

If you’re in the market for a Mac, I would suggest that you get one of their mainstream offerings as they offer the best value.  What are your thoughts on Macs?  Am I totally wrong?  Share them in the comments.