Apple vs. Windows Pricing: It’s All About TCO

The debate du jour: should you pay twice as much for a Mac than you’d have to pay for a Windows PC?

(Data source: NPD)

Just about everyone attributes the price difference to Apple’s marketing, Brand Power.   But I think by focusing on out-of-the box prices, they all miss the boat: it’s all about TCO.  Total Cost of Ownership.

I started to chronicle the hassle of just running a Vista PC and dealing with random, unexplainable failures, but more or less gave up.  Compare this to the anecdotal evidence of my Mac-user friends, who, despite occasional hiccups all agree: it just works.

I don’t know how you value your time (heck, sometimes I wonder about mine), but most computer users probably are not in the minimum wage bracket. Considering the days and nights I spent trying to fix this Vista monster, I’m quite sure I would have been better off paying more upfront for a Mac.  My TCO would have been lower.  And not even my Virtual Invoices can make up for that.

See today’s debate on: Apple Watch, DailyTech, TechBlog, Mark Evans, Microsoft Watch, Technovia , jkOnTheRun, The Digital Home, Hardware 2.0,

Update: Finally, some sanity – here’s Jake:

Focusing on out-the-door pricing seems too narrow to ask such a broad question. It would be very interesting to see a comparison of expected full costs (not just OOTB) for each of the major O/S.


  1. Viswakarma says

    “TCO”? Who cares! I am a masochist and I need the pain that I can get for free with Microsoft Windows!!!

  2. Don’t get trolled. It’s one of those budget 6lb, dim screen models, and probably discounted to clear stock (can’t find it on the HP web site).

    If you can afford to take care of your back and eyes, you’d be looking at the higher end models that HP (and Dell and others make), which are more into Apple’s price/feature territory.

    And that is when you start calculating TCO.

  3. Assaf,

    I am not talking about specific models. In fact the Vista Beast I have at home is a pretty decent HP one, with a really nice screen (although only 22″).

    You’re probably right, at this range there is no 2:1 price ratio.. but this only emphasizes my point, i.e. that even with an initial 2:1 ratio the Vista TCO is higher, when I add up all my time.

  4. I’m definitely emphasizing your point. Time is money, depending on how much you make, for some people it may not offset the cost of hardware.

    Unless you’re already looking for quality products to begin with, in which case all the vendors are more or less same price point, and anything you save on TCO is pure profit.

    Few months with a Mac paid for early retirement of the not-that-old-just-as-expensive PC, and some of the software I acquired along the way.

  5. But Zoli – I know lots of Mac owners who have faced high TCO due to shonky engineering (form over function perhaps) – bung hard drives, dead screens etc etc etc

    My Dell Vostro laptop hasn’t missed a beat since I got it

  6. Good point, but Apple seems to have forgotten that principle around the iPhone…the 5 year TCO is dramatically bloated by AT&T and down the line by its own 30% expectation on any Apps which sells through its store…

    How big is iPhone 5 year TCO? check out the 4 scenarios I have developed below

    and then updated for the 3G version

  7. Vinnie, Thomas Hawk posted similar experience re. 3G coverage in San Francisco:

    I guess this calls for an updated slogan: “Twice as fast. Half the time.”

  8. I want the Eee PC added to the list, since absolute price seems to be the only criterion. This would also throw a Linux distro into the TCO mix.

    My overall problem (and what makes this a great debate) is that skills and luck make this an impossible question. Not everyone has the skills/desire to work out issues with the O/S or buy and install the not-included webcam.

    The funny part is that this debate is happening among the wrong crowd.

  9. Talk about the eee, I actually tried the very first one. It lasted for a day – turned out to be completely useless for the Web. Size matters, after all …

  10. Agreed, IMHO too small, but cheap, which seems to be the primary factor here.

  11. Good link Rich. I’m not nearly as methodological as Tom’s hardware, but I replace once a year, and every time I research, Macs are about the same as the equivalent PC.

    I don’t understand the Eee either. I’m either carrying a backpack which fits a 13″ notebook, or just enough pocket space for a phone. It’s neither here nor there, and not even a tablet you can curl in bed with.

  12. My 24-inch aluminum iMac makes me smile … even when it’s off. 🙂

  13. What if we counted passion as a feature. Which brand would be cheaper?

  14. Well, it’s true that a Windows machine is not really cheaper than a Mac machine.
    The problem is that there is NO low end machine for Mac.
    I can start with 500USD, then gradually, as I have money improve it.
    With Mac I just have to shell out the 2000USD at once. Or more, if I don’t want the cheapest Mac.
    (Yes, here it starts at around 2000USD.)
    So for me Mac is not an option. Not to mention that the Mac service here is the worst you can find. And costs a lot.

    I have to note though, that I have 0 problems with Windows, a bit more with Linux and only know 2 people who owns Mac – one of them returned it after about 4 months, he could not cope with the continues crashing and freezing. You know, the faulty series they had to recall for overheating all the time.

    So, all in all, as far as I am concerned they are the same quality and price, Mac is better for music and graphics, Windows for gaming and general usage, Linux for practicing command line stuff. 🙂

  15. @Roland Hesz:

    True. But I’d say used Mac kit compares favorably to new Windows machines – any individual purely-local task may be marginally slower, but the entire system will be far more stable and usable (and thereby cost-effective, especially if you value your time).

    I continued to use my 1996-era Power Tower Pro 225 on a daily basis until the motherboard failed last year. (Try doing that with a 1996-era Windows PC.) I’ve historically made most of my living from Windows software and systems work – but for the last 3-4 years, Windows is the last thing I use when I just want to get something *done*. When I was a young man, and had hair, I enjoyed “outsmarting” various MS software packages, making them work more-or-less the way I wanted and learning the deep internals. Now that I have other important things to do with my life, I can’t be bothered. I got Vista on a “free” Lenovo laptop when I signed up for DSL service here (Singapore); two days after unboxing it, I had Ubuntu dual-booting on it, and have started Windows less than 20 times in the last 15 months. Linux at least lets you see and control what’s going on, but it still fails the ‘It Just Works’ test. TCO, indeed.

  16. Your right the hassle of just running a Vista PC is just not worth it, back to mac next time.


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