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“Apple Tax” Cuts

At the Apple keynote today, they made a few hardware upgrades. As far as prices go, the "Apple tax" got reduced a bit. If you’re looking for a new laptop, their lineup just got a little bit less painful.


Here’s a little comparison of some middle-of-the-line apps, specced out about the same:

Item Apple Dell HP Lenovo
Name Macbook Pro Inspiron G60t Thinkpad T550
Screen 15" 15" 15" 15"
Resolution 1440 x 900 pixels 1366 x 768 pixels 1366 x 768 pixels 1680 x 1050 pixels
Processor 2.53 GHz Core2 Duo, 1066 MHz FSB, 3MB L2, 64-bit (P8700?) 2.40 GHz Core2 Duo, 1066 MHz FSB, 3 MB L2, 64-bit (P8600) 2.40 GHz Core2 Duo, 1066 MHz FSB, 3 MB L2, 64-bit (P8600) 2.53 GHz Core2 Duo, 1066 MHz FSB, 3 MB L2, 64-bit (P8700)
Hard Drive 250 GB, 5400 RPM 250 GB, 5400 RPM 320 GB, 5400 RPM 250 GB, 5400 RPM
RAM 4 GB: 2x 2GB 1066 MHz DDR3 4 GB: 2x 2 GB 800 MHz DDR2 4 GB: 2x 2 GB 800 MHz DDR2 4 GB: 2x 2GB 1066 MHz DDR3
Operating System OS X Leapord Windows Vista Ultimate Windows Vista Ultimate (64 bit) Windows Vista Ultimate
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, 256MB shared memory X4500HD X4500HD ATI Radeon 2650, 256 MB
Camera 1.3 MP 1.3 MP No 1.3 MP
Optical Drive 8x Dual Layer DVD Writer 8x Dual Layer DVD Writer 8x Dual Layer DVD Writer 8x Dual Layer DVD Writer
Bluetooth Yes Yes No Yes
Wireless Airport Extreme: A/B/G/N Support A/B/G/N Support A/B/G/N Support Intel 5300: A/B/G/N Support
Battery 7 hours, sealed 9 cell battery 12 cell battery 9 cell battery
Price $1,699 ($1,599 at the bookstore) $1,099 $1,207 $1,617


 So, there’s my quick comparison. Apple is still the most expensive, but keep in mind that Apple and Lenovo (formerly IBM) have a better reputation than HP and Dell for laptop durability. Thinkpads are almost indestructable, and the Macbook Pros are carved out of a slab of aluminium, while the HP and Dell might not be quite as sturdy. Apple claims to be the "most environmentally friendly" of the bunch, but I didn’t really go through and investigate too deeply.

As far as screens go, the Thinkpad has the biggest one. The Apple and the Dell were LEDs, the Thinkpad was a CCFL, and the HP was unknown…

The Dell and the HP models are at their higher end for processors (other models might be able to crank out higher specs, keep that in mind), but the Apple and the Lenovo still had reasonable upgrade capabilities.

The hard drives are fairly standard, HP was offering a free upgrade to 320 GB, so that might be a nice bonus.

All models but the Inspiron were able to handle up to a 500GB hard drive, but you could probably buy a third party one and put it in yourself.

RAM was an interesting comparison: the MBP and the Thinkpad both came with DDR3, but the other two were still coming with DDR2, and with slower speeds. The average user might not notice or care, and might even appreciate the cost savings, but if you’re doing anything too memory intensive, DDR3 might be a better choice. Also, if you’re thinking of upgrading further down the road, DDR2 will only go up in price, as less and less of it is made.

As far as graphics cards go, the Lenovo was the clear winner, with Apple pulling ahead of the Dell and the HP. If you shelled out a bit more cash, the Macbook Pro can take a comprable graphics card to the Lenovo. Also keep in mind DIY upgrades in mind for the Dell and HP – a little bit more tedious on a laptop than with a desktop, but still a possibility.

All of the optical drives were pretty standard. The Thinkpad had the option to add a BluRay drive in for an extra $600 or so. Sort of outrageous, but always an option.

Built in cameras and bluetooth were pretty standard across the board, except for the HP, which was lacking both.

Batteries were an interesting comparison. Apple boasts 7 hours of battery life, with 50% screen brightness while web browsing and editing text. With the exception of HP, who claims 3.5 hours for a 6 cell battery, the other three didn’t give estimates as to how long their batteries last. Apple’s got a drawback, though. Their battery is sealed, meaning you can’t bring two batteries with you on a long plane ride, or just buy a new one when it dies – you have to go to the Apple store (or mail it in) to have them replace it. 

Now, price. Dell was the clear winner in price, but general convention and reputation puts Dell and HP in a different class from Lenovo, mostly from their IBM legacy, and Apple. Compared to the IBM, the Apple tax has definitely been cut, but you still pay a lot more than one of the cheap Dells or HPs. Now, everyone’s got their own preferences, and you should give any new laptop a spin before buying, at the bookstore, Best Buy, friend’s house, etc. Keep in mind that all of the manufacturers that I looked at have higher and lower end models.


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