The Dell Price Advantage is Disappearing



My brother brought something very interesting to my attention recently. Although Dell offers a 15.4″ Inspiron starting at $499, to make it even roughly comparable in performance to a MacBook, you need to make it cost more than the Apple. No, seriously:

Once you start “customizing” the machine to be anything capable of running a modern OS, a category in which we are forced to include Vista, the total more than doubles. The default shipping OS for the $499 machine is Vista. The laptop, as configured initially, has 512MB of RAM, or a quarter of the recommended amount for Vista. The processor is a single-core running at 2GHz, and the drive capacity is a scanty 60GB, of which between a fifth and a sixth will be consumed by the OS, and somewhat more by preinstalled third-party software.

So, starting from the base price of $499, I added:

Dual core 2GHz CPU: $150
Windows XP Pro: $129 (Yep, you have to pay the price of Leopard to upgrade from XP Home to XP Pro)
1 GB RAM installed: $50
80 GB drive: $25
85 W/Hr battery: $50
802.11n wifi card: $100
McAfee AV software: $99
MS Office: $149
3-year warranty: $240

Dell grand total: $1501

And what of the Mac? Well, aside from costing slightly less, it’s also much less of a hassle to custom build.

At the Apple Store site, I configured a low-end MacBook for purchase.
Stock configuration: 2GHz Core2Duo, 1GB RAM, 80GB disk, 802.11n,
Leopard installed. To this I added:

3-year AppleCare: $249
MS Office: $150 (Or only $79, if you go the iWork route)

Apple grand total: $1498

Checkmate, Dell. I would really like to commend Apple for how easy it is to use their online store compared to Dell’s. The Apple experience is a single page, loaded only with relevant tools to install. Meanwhile, the Dell site is loaded with multiple versions of the same piece of software, or bizarre configuration options most people could not possibly give a crap about. I mean, really. Can you explain off the top of your head why an 85 Wh battery is better than a 60? Or what a 9-cell versus 6-cell battey is? More importantly, do you think anyone you know would? I mean, come on. Just give people what they need. This is absurd and ugly. Shopping at Dell’s site is like buying a used car from a guy named Moe off of Craig’s List (trust me, I have). There continue to be hidden costs you couldn’t have imagined, and it just keeps getting worse.

At this point, is there any reason to stick with Dell? There’s Parallels if you really need it, and MS Office, Quicken, QuickBooks, and most of the other staples have already migrated. Heck, Apple Mail even has built in Exchange support — which Windows doesn’t, unless you buy Office Pro with Outlook. How do you like them Apples, Redmond?

Thanks Andrew!

26 responses to “The Dell Price Advantage is Disappearing”

  1. Blake Sobiloff says:

    Heh, try spec-ing the Dell XPS M1330 with a comparable MacBook–the Dell comes out almost $800 more expensive (assuming you buy RAM from a third party)!

    Your comments are right-on WRT Dell’s configurator, too. I couldn’t make heads nor tails of the different battery options. Sure, more Wh means more runtime, but Dell gives you no clue if the larger battery integrates smoothly or if it protrudes like some cancerous wart.

  2. Avalon0387 says:

    However, Dell does has great monitors a LOT cheaper than Apple. I am hard pressed to buy an Apple monitor when can almost get 2 Dells for the same price.

  3. Miss_Lain says:

    True, but some people want their Windows separate from their Leopard. Parallels or Fusion has limitations on what runs with it. I guess you could dual boot for better performance and compatability, but if you do that you may as well have a dedicated Wndows machine. I’ve been running Vista with Parallels on my iMac (maxed RAM). Not pretty. XP Pro is better, but IMO still leaves something to be desired. With a Mac Pro and lots of RAM, maybe the experience would be more enjoyable.

    You can usually find some online coupons for Dell stuff. I found one for a $425 discount certain priced notebooks recently. And by using a credit card to buy the machine, many banks will give you an extra year warranty on top of Dell’s standard one year. So two years warranty included with the laptop price.

    Buy your own RAM, that goes for Dell or Apple because they both overprice it. I’d like to see Apple offer more hard drive options, but you get what you get. I think choice is good. If you know what you are looking. You’re right. Dell doesn’t describe their options throughly enough. And sometimes the buyer may end up with what they didn’t expect because of it. Even the customer reps become confused due to all of the options available, and that’s a disaster for customer service. If you want quick and easy, Apple does it much better. But then again, you are dealing with a smaller assortment of hardware (compared to Dell’s numerous CPUs/numerous optical drives/numerous versions of Microsoft OSs, etc.) with Apple than what Dell offers.

  4. jwolman says:

    Not that I really disagree with the main point of this post (Macs aren’t really more expensive than PCs), but I feel I should note that Dell has ridiculous sales (e.g., $700 off of $1500+ systems) that I don’t think Apple ever comes close to. The reason, I’m sure, is that Apple doesn’t NEED to offer them, but nonetheless–it’s possible to get that Inspiron for much cheaper than list price, often.

  5. anonymous says:

    Sorry for the upcoming rant, but as a Mac user then I’m so fed up with this selective-retardation that some people turn to when trying to make a point justifying Apple. It’s so annoying to see intelligent and well spoken people suddenly claim that changing computer specs sends them to the corner crying in terror?

    Just because a food menu has 40 choices doesn’t mean you need ALL of them. So just like you would ask the fast-food kid for “no olives, extra tomato” then you would build a computer with “no monitor, extra ram”.

    Ordering a computer nowadays is easy no matter who you buy from. Dell, HP and Apple (yes, Apple) offer many customizable parts so let’s quit pretending a high school education isn’t enough to order a computer.

  6. aventw2 says:

    Ok you’re specing the system for Vista but buyiong 2 copies of Windows XP (Home and Pro) The home ed. is included in Dell’s price.
    You purchased Office for the PC but not iWork or Office for the Mac.

    I hate Windows and love Macs but this comparison is biased.

    If you were running XP you wouldn’t need all the hardware upgrades

    If you’re running Vista you don’t need 2 copies of XP.

  7. nak says:

    You’re comparing a 15.4″ Dell to a 13.3″ MacBook? Not exactly feature parity there buddy!

  8. Weston says:

    “Ok you’re specing the system for Vista but buyiong 2 copies of Windows XP (Home and Pro) The home ed. is included in Dell’s price.
    You purchased Office for the PC but not iWork or Office for the Mac.”

    Try reading the full article first. He included Office for the Mac in the price. Also, you need to understand that he’s upgrading xp home to professional to illustrate the ridiculous pricing teirs that windows feels they need. It’s not buying 2 OS’s , it’s simply upgrading. And Dell lets you choose between Vista and XP so he’s not saying you need a copy of Vista. I suppose it is a little confusing. And of course this article is biased, the blog is called “Cult of Mac”. Just understand that even if Dell appears cheaper if you upgrade them to the level of a Mac then the price differences become negligible.

  9. Fake Moe says:

    What you mean?
    You don’t like the car?

  10. Greg P. says:

    yes, if he compared it to a dell 12″ or similar, the dell would be even more.
    dell charges more for the thin and lights.
    apple is the way to go.

  11. Thomas says:

    Re: Bill Henderson on Monitors

    If you look into color calibration for Dell lcd panels, you’ll see that they have had (not sure if it’s been resolved yet) issues with brightness, being unable to lower to the right level. No worry to non-professionals who want a cheap monitor, but a game killer for the rest of us.


  12. Bill says:

    Not sure what you are smoking but you should pass it around so we can all get high and believe this nonsense together. Below is a price comparison as of 2007-11-05.

    Summary prices are:

    Apple $2,652
    HP 1,646
    Dell 1,471

    ~~~~~ MacBook Pro – $2652 ~~~~~

    15″ display
    2.2 GHz
    2GB RAM
    200 GB 7200 RPM hard drive
    AppleCare 3yr

    ~~~~~ HP dv6500t – $1646 ~~~~~

    15’4″ display
    2.2 GHz processor
    2GB RAM
    GeForce 8400M GS graphics card
    250 GB 5400 RPM hard drive
    12 cell battery (in place of standard 6 cell)
    OS recovery DVD
    MS Office
    3-year Pick Up and Return service contract

    ~~~~~ Dell Inspiron 1520 – $1471 ~~~~~

    15’4″ display
    2.2 GHz processor
    2GB RAM
    GeForce 8400M GS graphics card
    250 GB 5400 RPM hard drive
    12 cell battery (in place of standard 6 cell)
    OS recovery DVD
    MS Office
    3-year service contract

  13. imajoebob says:

    This isn’t exactly news. When I bought my laptop in 2003 comparable Dell’s cost $50 more. And to help Bill out here, comparable components is not the same as comparable performance. I priced notebooks to run Mathematica, my app needing the most horsepower to run. The Dell needed a 2GHz Intel with 1GB RAM. The PowerBook needed a 667MHz PPC (but they only made 1GHz) and 512MB RAM. These were the specs recommended by the Wolfram rep, not by Apple or Dell. The base price of the Dell was about $1500, but when it was brought up to spec it cost $2200 – without wireless Internet. The PowerBook was $2150, the only upgrade was bumping the RAM up from 256. Though if I wanted a 60GB drive instead of 40, the Dell ended up a few bucks less.

    Point being that comparable Dell performance has cost as much or more than Apple for a while. Apple doesn’t sell cheap crap. But in their categories they’re more than competitively priced. For real yuks read the PC World article on the fastest Vista notebook (….