For a long time I have maintained that Macs weren’t really that expensive compared to Windows PCs; it’s just that Apple refused to make low-end systems. Recently, I’ve been suspecting that situation was changing. But I was shocked by what I discovered when I actually worked the numbers.

I decided to compare a 15-in. MacBook Pro with a Dell XPS M1530. I chose the Dell because it is a premium notebook with which I come very close to matching the hardware configuration of the MacBook. Here’s how the hardware lines up:

  Dell XPS M1530 15" MacBook Pro
Processor Core2 Duo 2.4 GHz Core2 Duo 2.4 GHz
Base RAM 3 GB 2 GB
Hard drive 320 GB 250 GB
Video adapter Nvidia GeForce 8600 Nvidia GeForce 9600+9400
Display resolution 1920x1200 1920x1200

The bottom line is the Mac comes with somewhat more capable graphics, the Dell with more base memory and a slightly larger hard drive. Not a lot of difference.

But the Dell can be had in this custom configuration for $1,324, and Dell often will discount this during promotions. The MacBook fetches $1,999, with discounts (other than academic pricing, which Dell also offers) rare to nonexistent.

Yes, the MacBook is considerably better looking and it comes with a really nifty assortment of software. But for that $675 difference, you can buy yourself a copy of Microsoft Office Home & Student, a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements, and have plenty left over for a nice netbook.

What has happened is pretty simple. Last year saw tremendous downward pressure on notebook prices, which Apple managed to resist. It successfully introduced new MacBook models last fall with upgraded specs at pretty much the same prices as the models they replaced. And the gap grew and grew. In today's market, those Apple prices look unsustainable, especially with Microsoft getting ready to replace the clunky Vista with a considerably slicker Windows 7.

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