I've been an Apple computer owner since 1987, and a Mac user since 1989. After I finished grad school, I worked at Apple's phone support facility in Austin while sticking around town to
In other words, I'm a fan, and a big believer in the Apple/Mac ethos. That doesn't keep me from rolling my eyes at Apple's product announcements today, specifically regarding the Mac Pro line of tower computers. They're surely all fine products, but their price tags go a long way towards confirming the legion of nerdy Apple-haters' complaints about inflated hardware pricing from One Infinite Loop.
Since the Power Macintosh line was retired in favor of the Mac Pros a few years back, Apple has made no effort at all to purse the Mac enthusiast market, which is to say Mac users who want to get under the hood and tinker. During the Power Mac era, you could get an expandable Macintosh for around $1200. With one of these boxes, the more tech-oriented Mac fan could snap open the hood and slap in new drives, expansion cards, more memory, even different processors with relative ease.
Since the release of the Mac Pros, however, Apple has made it clear that only businesses or independently-wealthy enthusiasts need apply when it comes to user-expandable computers. The newest Mac Pros start at $2500, a staggering price in today's computer market--and they're the cheapest towers Apple has sold in several years. If you want a Macintosh within the normal price range for a desktop computer, let's say $600 to $1500, you'd better get used to the idea of the sealed-box iMac or Mac Mini.
There's no mystery as to why the Pros cost so much, and it's not because their innards are magically delicious. From the very beginning of the Mac era, Apple has always made its bones with astronomical markups on its highest-end products. The company has something approaching a captive market in the design and entertainment worlds, where high-performance, high-dollar Mac Pros predominate, and that cluster of safe, guaranteed sales has gone a long way towards building and maintaining Apple's ginormous pile of cash reserves.
It used to be kind of difficult to make an apples-to-apples pricing comparison (so to speak) on Mac products, but since Apple converted from PowerPC chips to the Intel standard, it's much easier to approximate how much it would cost to build your own machine with about the same performance.
Using the specifications listed at the online Apple Store for the new bottom-of-the-line Mac Pro, I surfed over to online retailer NewEgg and priced out similar (or identical, when available) hardware for a roughly equivalent system. You can click through for examples of the motherboard, i7 processor, video card, memory, case and power supply, hard drive and DVD burner. All of that stuff added up to $811.92 plus shipping. I didn't bother scraping together stuff like Bluetooth or TOSLINK audio, but let's generously estimate another $250 for the various cats and dogs, which brings us to $1061.92.
"But Will," you say, "That's all interesting, but you aren't figuring in the cost of the Mac operating system. You can't put a price on Apple's R&D to get you the thing that makes a Mac a Mac!"
But sure I can. A copy of the retail OS X 10.5 installer disc costs $129, and the set of iLife applications included with every Mac is another $79. Anybody who'd bother going to the trouble to buy a box full of computer parts and then put them together themselves should have no trouble Googling up the instructions for getting that OS X installer to work on generic PC hardware (and the vast majority who think that's way too much hassle have already bought iMacs--or Dells).
Tack on the software prices, and you've got an equivalent Mac Pro for around $1270, or roughly $1330 less than Apple's sticker price. If you're a business that depends on constant uptime and factory warranty support, that extra money is most likely worth it.
But if you're an individual who's happy being their own technical support line, and who wants top performance for bottom dollars... that's another story. And that's why the Mac enthusiast market has been effectively outsourced by Apple to the burgeoning Hackintosh scene--something yours truly sort-of predicted on the very day Apple announced it was signing on with their new Intel overlords.