Bang for Your Buck

When my wife and I were shopping for her new iMac back in February, we noted some interesting comparisons afforded by Apple’s wide-ranging product line. To wit: you can buy a low-end iBook and a 17" iMac — complete with extra RAM and an Airport card for the iBook — for less than the cost of a 17" PowerBook:

12" iBook + Airport Card + 512 MB memory   $1200
17" iMac + 512 MB memory $1900
17" PowerBook $3300

The 17" PowerBook and iMac are very much comparable, especially in terms of display (both provide 1440×900 resolution) and processor performance (1GHz G4s). There are significant differences, but they’re not huge:

  • the PowerBook has a faster system bus (167 vs. 133 MHz)
  • the PowerBook has a FireWire 800 port
  • the iMac has a faster and larger hard disk (80 GB/7200 rpm vs. 60 GB/4200 rpm)

And so it certainly seems very tempting, to me at least, to walk out with two new computers — an iMac for use as the primary computer, and an iBook for use as a portable — rather than a lone use-it-everywhere PowerBook. This certainly isn’t true for everyone, but I’m at my desk well over 90 percent of the time I’m using a computer; thus, the non-portability of the iMac wouldn’t pose a problem. And when I am using a portable, I’m seldom doing anything computationally-intensive. The iBook doesn’t have a SuperDrive, but the iMac does — do you burn DVDs on the road that frequently?

Once you’re off the desk, the lunchtray PowerBook is indisputably a more powerful machine with a much nicer display. And there’s a certain simplicity to using just one machine, all the time: no need for syncing files, email, and preferences across two machines. But the iBook is two pounds lighter and runs cooler — making it a better machine for literal lap-top use.

I mention this comparison not to damn the 17" PowerBook for being overpriced, because it isn’t (or at least not by much). What I think is noteworthy is the value in the iBook line: $1100 buys a really nice portable. Considering that just a few years ago a decent PowerBook cost at least $3000, it seems like an exceptional bargain.

Can you tell I just bought an iBook?


Nathaniel Irons makes similar observations regarding Apple’s flat panel display line, arguing convincingly that splurging on a 23" Cinema Display just isn’t worth it:

The cost of building a big beautiful LCD screen rises faster than the size of the display, so it’s no surprise that the 23" high-end display costs considerably more than the 20". However, every recent Apple desktop machine has shipped with a video card that can run two displays at once. The company also sells a $99 adaptor allowing their video cards to simultaneously drive a second Apple flat-panel display.

In light of this, I was startled to notice that the 23" costs exactly as much as the 20" and the 17" put together, while the combined area of the two smaller displays offers as much of a bump over the 23" as the 23" offers over the 20".

There’s more, including charts. Good stuff for anyone in the market for a new display.