dell xps 13 and macbook air

The common wisdom is that Macs are more expensive than Windows PCs. This is true, if you compare a $250 Windows laptop to a MacBook that starts at $899. But, given comparable hardware, Macs aren’t necessarily more expensive than PCs.

This is similar to phones, really. Sure, an iPhone is more expensive than cheap Android and Windows phones, but an iPhone is comparably priced to high-end Android phones from the likes of Samsung and HTC.

Macs Are More Expensive Because There’s No Low-End Hardware

Macs are more expensive in one crucial, obvious way — they don’t offer a low-end product. While you can get a cheap Windows laptop or Chromebook for between $150 and $250, MacBooks start at $899 for the most inexpensive MacBook Air. In 2012, the average price of a Windows laptop was $450, which is still far below the price a Mac starts at.

If you’re spending less than $899 on a laptop, a Mac is just a more expensive option compared to that $500 laptop the average person is eying. That’s fine — inexpensive, low-end PCs are improving every single year, and they’re plenty capable for many people.

But, once you start looking at higher-end PC hardware, Macs aren’t necessarily more expensive than similarly spec’d-out PCs.

cheap hp chromebook

MacBooks Are Price-Competitive With Comparable Laptop PCs

If you’re planning on spending around $1000 on a lightweight, ultrabook-style laptop, let’s compare what you get with both Macs and PCs.

A 13-inch MacBook Air costs $999, and for that you get 128 GB of storage, an Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and Intel HD Graphics 6000.

Let’s compare to the Dell XPS 13, a popular and well-reviewed PC ultrabook. Other manufacturers offer similarly priced laptops. Unlike the MacBook Air, it starts at $799 — $200 cheaper. However, the $799 model only comes with an Intel Core i3 Processor and Intel HD Graphics 5500. If you want to step up to a Core i5 processor, you’re paying for the $999 model. This does get you 8 GB of RAM, but you’re still stuck with the slower Intel HD Graphics 5500. The Dell XPS 13 does have a much nicer 1920×1080 display while the MacBook Air only offers a 1440×900 display.

On the other hand, the 2015 Dell XPS scored 7 hours 18 minutes in Laptop Mag’s battery life test, while the 2015 13-inch MacBook Air scored 14 hours — nearly double the battery life.

So, comparing the Dell XPS 13 and MacBook Air, the Dell XPS 13 offers a higher-resolution screen and double the RAM, along with less weight and a smaller size. The MacBook Air offers double the battery life and faster graphics hardware, and that’s without even getting into comparing the keyboard and trackpad. You may decide you prefer Dell’s laptop with a higher-resolution screen and more RAM over the longer battery life and other benefits, but that’s far from a no-brainer.

macbook air

Mac Minis Are Price-Competitive With Comparable Desktop PCs

But what about desktop PCs? Well, Apple’s Mac Mini starts at $499. This gets you a mini PC with a 1.4 GHz Intel Core i5 CPU, 500 GB mechanical hard drive, 4 GB of RAM, and Intel HD Graphics 5000.

Intel offers a kit known as the Intel NUC, which allows you to build your own small-form-factor PC — admittedly, the Intel NUC is smaller than the Mac Mini. This kit costs you $349,  This gets you a 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 processor and Intel HD Graphics 6000. But it doesn’t come with RAM, a hard drive, or even a copy of the Windows operating system — you have to pay for all those separately. So Intel’s own small-form-factor PC will be more expensive than Apple’s Mac Mini, in addition to requiring assembly.

HP offers an HP Pavilion Mini Desktop, and it starts at $319 with a faster 500 GB mechanical hard drive than the Mac Mini offers. But it includes a slower Intel Pentium processor. For a comparable processor, you have to pay $449 — and that gets you a Core i3 processor, not a Core i5 processor. You do get a larger 1 TB drive for this as well, but you’re paying a fairly similar amount of money.

Dell’s gaming-focused Alienware Alpha is the odd man out at $499, offering superior performance with NVIDIA graphics. If you plan on playing PC games, then this is absolutely a better deal — but, if you just want a mini PC and only plan on using desktop applications, those NVIDIA graphics aren’t really necessary and mean the Alienware Alpha will use more power. Macs just aren’t competing in certain markets — this includes gaming computers.

mac mini

This pattern tends to repeat itself as you check out other Apple products. You can find cheaper options from other manufacturers, but look for products with comparable specifications and you’ll find they come out looking pretty similar. Yes, you absolutely can quibble and find some PC products that are a bit cheaper than comparable Macs. But, overall, Macs are fairly close in price.

As long as you’re looking for the type of product Apple offers, a Mac will be fairly competitive. But Apple doesn’t offer computers for everyone. For example, if you’re looking for a cheap computer or a powerful gaming-focused computer, Apple doesn’t offer those and you’ll definitely be better off going with PCs.

Macs also offer higher resale value. Macs just tend to hold their value better over time than PCs. If you plan on selling your laptop on eBay or Craigslist in a few years, you can generally recover more of its value if it’s a Mac.

Image Credit: ShashiBellamkonda on Flickr, llcatta86 dotcom on Flickr, Paul Hudson on Flickr, nubobo on Flickr

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
Read Full Bio »