After Apple’s new laptop announcement I was curious about the price difference between Apple and Dell. I mostly ignored the Windows vs. macOS value proposition but equated macOS Leopard with Vista Home Premium (not basic).

Many of the comparisons I’ve seen try to put dollar figures on intangibles like the value of the iLife suite against comparable Windows programs or of good design or of solid construction. I’m not going to do that. You can decide for yourself whether that carries any weight for you.

If you’re interested in just the summary - at the low-end, Apple tends to be 10-20% more expensive then Dell for equivalent performance and features. In addition, Dell will sell hardware that has much lower performance and features then Apple will and that end of the market is completely unserved by Apple.

Here’s the results:

Apple 13” MacBook (5 lbs, 12.8”w x 1.1”h x 8.9”d) Dell Inspiron 13 (4.9 lbs, 12.5”w x 1.5”h x 9.4”d)
- Starts at $999 ($920 from MacMall w/$45 mail-in rebate) - Starts at $499
- Comes with 2.13 GHz Core 2 Duo, 3MB L2 Cache - +$175 2.1 GHz Core 2 Duo, 3MB L2 Cache
- Comes with macOS Leopard - +$30 Vista Home Premium
- Comes with iLife 09 - Comes with Microsoft Works 9
- Comes with camera - +$25 to add camera
- Comes with 2GB DDR2 memory - Comes with 2GB DDR2 memory
- Comes with 160GB 5400 RPM hard drive - Comes with 160GB 5400 RPM hard drive
- Comes with 8x slot loading CD/DVD burner - Comes with 8x slot loading CD/DVD burner
- Comes with 55 watt hour battery - +$30 56 watt hour battery
- Comes with 802.11n - +$25 802.11n
- Comes with Bluetooth - +$25 Bluetooth
- Nvidia GeForce 9400M - Intel GMA X3100
- Ends at $999 ($920 from MacMall w/$45 mail-in rebate) with: - Ends at $779 with:
- No ExpressCard slot - Slightly slower processor
- No 8-in-1 media card reader - Slightly slower memory
  - Slightly smaller battery
  - Much slower video
  - No gigabit ethernet
  - Firewire 400 but not 800
  - ExpressCard slot
  - 8-in-1 media card reader

Apple (through MacMall) is 15% more expensive then Dell. That price difference ($141) buys you slightly better performance, much better graphics, a better screen and a slightly smaller case but no ExpressCard and no 8-in-1 media card reader.

The MacBook is clearly a better option for video editing, but they’re both equally adept at web surfing and email. If you live near an Apple store, you can take advantage of the free Genius bar support. Is that worth a $141 premium? Depends on your priorities.

Let’s move up to the “premium” 13” laptops.

Apple 13” MacBook Pro (4.5 lbs, 12.8”w x 1”h x 9”d) Dell XPS M1330** (4 lbs, 12.5”w x 1.4”h x 9.4”d)
- Starts at $1199 - Starts at $749
- Comes with 2.26 GHz Core 2 Duo, 3MB L2 Cache - +$125 2.1 GHz Core 2 Duo, 3MB L2 Cache
- Comes with macOS Leopard - Comes with Vista Home Premium
- Comes with iLife 09 - Comes with Microsoft Works 9
- Comes with camera - Comes with camera
- +$100 4GB DDR3 memory - $35 4GB DDR2 memory
- +$100 320GB 5400 RPM hard drive - Comes with 320GB 5400 RPM hard drive
- Comes with 8x slot loading CD/DVD burner - Comes with 8x slot loading CD/DVD burner
- Comes with 58 watt hour battery - +$30 56 watt hour battery
- Comes with 802.11n - +$25 802.11n
- Comes with Bluetooth - +$25 Bluetooth
- Nvidia GeForce 9400M - +$125 Nvida 8400M GS
- Backlit keyboard - Ends at $1114 with:
- Ends at $1399 with: - Slightly slower processor
- No ExpressCard slot - Slightly slower memory
- SD card reader but no 8-in-1 media card reader - Slightly smaller battery
  - Slower video
  - No gigabit ethernet
  - Firewire 400 but not 800
  - No backlit keyboard
  - ExpressCard slot
  - 8-in-1 media card reader

Apple’s price (you can’t custom configure from third-party dealers) is 20% more expensive then Dell’s. That price difference ($285) buys you slightly better performance, better graphics, a better screen and a slightly smaller, aluminum case but no ExpressCard and no 8-in-1 media card reader.

The MacBook Pro is still a better option for video editing and graphics work and has a higher build quality. If you switch the XPS M1330 to a better screen with LED backlighting the Dell gets smaller but almost halves the remaining price difference with the Mac.

Overall, what’s important to understand is that the Dell’s have to be upgraded to match the Apple laptops. This isn’t necessarily a knock on Dell. Many consumers wouldn’t bother upgrading their chosen laptop, they would accept the cheapest options and live with the decreased speed and functionality. So the Inspiron 13 could be as cheap as $499 (45% less then the Mac). For those consumers, the Mac is extremely expensive.

The difference between the two approaches is that Apple decides what the minimum, acceptable hardware performance and feature set will be for their laptops. Dell allows customers to make that decision themselves. For consumers looking for the cheapest computing without regard for performance, Apple doesn’t provide any realistic options. For consumers like myself, who are looking for performance and feature options, Apple is within shouting distance on price.