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Scott's Column
Mac Pricing, Movie Formats and Storage, DVDFab Platinum

December 1, 2008
By Scott Lewis

Introductory paragraph goes here.

Current Topics:

Gaming

Warcraft III. I finally beat the last chapter of the UnDead campain. In this mission (for lack of a better word) you are protecting someone that is trying to raise an UnDead leader. You must protect this person for 30 minutes... in real time. There is a countdown clock running the entire time. You get attacked over and over again. I had done everything I could to build Spirit Towers (these fire at the enemy) and building troops. I tried building as many men as possible. I thought I tried everything. I would keep losing at less than 1 minute. 26 seconds left, 19 seconds left, 32 seconds left. Nothing.

Finally I tried something slightly different. I did the usual Spirit Tower building for defense. You are given some demon creatures to help you a few times during the mission. I left the second set of three creatures on the main pad by the person needing protecting. Then I also left the final four beasts that your are given on the pad. I left these 7 creatures on the pad to protect the spell caster in his task. I had done this before, but inevitably I needed those men to fight off the onslaught of attacks.

What I did differently was to leave those creatures on the pad. I grouped a bunch of Gargoyles (flying creatures) and sent them to the pad when the big attacks came with less than 3 minutes left. In fact, I moved ALL my men to the pad. The attacking people concentrated on the Spirit Towers. This bought me some time. I would normally try to stop them and die in massive battles. By waiting on the pad my biggest creatures blocked access to the center of the pad. There were only three ways on the pad. On the left was my base and the attackers just worked on destroying the base and not on getting to the spell caster, so I could ignore them. The attack on the right is the worst and where they always seem to get on the pad from. I positioned my big guys there and held them back so they did not go off the pad onto the area where the Spirit Towers were. I noticed that the attacks did not (or more likely could not) rain down a shower of stuff. This allowed my men to survive longer. But the key was that with the big guys on the steps blocked the attackers from getting onto the pad. In fact, only so many could fit on that section at a time so it was a slow battle at this point of congestion.

Sure enough it bought enough time for the countdown to complete. I won, even though I lost almost everything.

I am currently in the Orc campain. I can't wait for Starcraft 2 now.

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Movie Formats & Movie and TV Storage

Last month I mentioned that I have been ripping movies in MP4 format. Well, as luck would have it my son convinced his Mom to get the XBox 360 for Christmas (hopefully he is not reading this). As a co-worker of mine says, "The XBox 360 is the best damn Media Extender out there!" Now I have a problem. Media Center does not recognize the MP4 format, and the XBox will not recognize this format as a Media Extender.
This is a format war in my own mind. What should I do? For starters, this means that if I want to try and use the XBox 360 as a media extender I will need to rip movies in WMV format. The WMV format works with the Zune, so I could just rip my movies in this format. Not so fast. My son's iPod does not recognize WMV, and sometimes the Zune software converts WMV movies as it syncs (I was not able to determine why this happened on some movies and not others before I settled on the MP4 format).

I also mentioned last month that I rip my movies at the full 720 resolution. Since space is not at a premium on my Zune 80 I did this so they will play well when the Zune is attached to a TV. Well, the Zune is a 4:3 device and does not have any option for displaying content differently to a 16:9 TV. When I hook my Zune to my big screen TV I get a stretched 4:3 picture. Maybe I should be less concerned with 720 resolution on the Zune.

Since I rarely hook my Zune up to a TV (I did it while we were on vacation at the coast, and will do this on future trips to the coast) maybe I should just stick with movies ripped to 320 x 240. I can rip movies for the Zune and iPods at 320 and fit even more movies on my Zune. Then I can also rip movies to WMV format for Media Center and the XBox.

Perfect... until I get an iPod Touch with its 480x320 screen? Oops!

This problem will not be solved quickly. My server is also short on disk space. I want to get a second hard drive for the server so I can expand its storage. The question is internal or external. I like the idea of a cheap internal drive such as the Western Digital WD10EACS 1TB for $115. Or do I spend the extra cash for an external drive like the Western Digital 1TB My Book for $160. That is staying with the same brand, but I could go with a Seagate FreeAgent 1TB for $150 or even a SimpleTech SimpleDrive 1TB External for $140. All prices were current on 11/11/2008 at NewEgg.

I am an idiot. I have been ripping movies and recording TV shows on my desktop PC (running Vista Home Premium/Media Center). I have limited disc space on this PC, so I have been moving some TV shows and movies to my server. Well, here's the idiot part. I would copy movies back and forth between the server and this PC for syncing with my Zune. While thinking about the Media Extender issue it dawned on me, I can point the Zune software to monitor the folders on the server for movies and TV content. Then I can sync directly from the server to my Zune. No more moving movies back and forth. Just let the Zune desktop application keep a list of all my movies. Then just decide which ones to sync at any given time.

I also did this with Media Center. I offloaded some TV shows to my server due to space on the PC. Well, I can have Media Center monitor that folder as well so I can keep my entire library listed in Media Center regardless of whether it is on the PC or on the server. This will become import when I use the XBox as a Media Extender. As I understand it (and this is not fact since I can't play with the XBox until after Christmas) the XBox will not be able to stream any content directly from shared folders. The content must be visible to Media Center on the PC which in turn becomes visible to the XBox.

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DVDFab Platinum 5

At the beginning of the year I spent a lot of time evaluating DVD ripping software. I was only interested in ripping movies to my hard drive for the purposes of syncing with my Zune 80. I do not go through the trouble to copy DVDs, my own or others. With a Media Extender coming soon the ripping of movies becomes more important. I decided to take a look at DVDFab Platimun 5. I was running version 4.x. With 5.x there are many more formats. For instance, WMV was not available with DVDFab 4, but it is with version 5. What is most compelling about version 5 is that it includes cropping features similar to Daniusoft DVD to Zune converter.

If you read the old comparison you will notice that I really liked Daniusoft, and even bought it. But I had to give up on it because too many movies had their sound out of sync. I get sound issues with DVDFab, but much less frequently.

With DVDFab 5 I get the best of both worlds. I get the better quality conversions and the cropping. DVDFab 5 is not perfect when it comes to cropping. Assuming I might get a iPod Touch (you know, the funnest iPod ever) I tried ripping a movie to 480 x 320, the size of the iPod Touch's screen. Well, 480 x 320 has an aspect ration of 1.5:1, while the Zune's 320 x 240 screen as an aspect ratio on 1.333:1. So I tried to rip a movie to 480 x 360, the same aspect ration as the Zune, but leaving a little bit of black bars on top and bottom. My goal was to have small black bars on the Zune, but played on an iPod Touch the black bars would not be present.

There are a lot of options for cropping in DVDFab. I used the advanced cropping feature to set the size of the crop to show small black bars (it has a preview). When I synced this to my Zune everything was tall and stretched. I had to manually crop the movie to show the small black bars. I was able to get the result I wanted, but could not do it with any of the simple tools. Not a really bad thing, but it will take some research as some movies are in different format.

I used two movies to test with... because they were close at hand. Live Free or Die and and The Fugutive. The Die Hard movie is in the format of 2.35:1 and The Fugitive is 1.85:1. In the end I had to switch from the 4th Die Hard movie to the first. Live Fre or Die Hard did not rip well. I don't know why. It may have extra protection on it that makes ripping a problem. The Fugitive gives mild black bars by default. To get the same effect with Die Hard I performed the following manually::

Movie     size       croppings for black bars on Zune
--------  ---------  --------------------------------
Die Hard  720 x 420  top: 30, bottom: 30, left: 120, right: 120

When I get movies that don't fit one of these formats I will have to calculate the croppings. And this assumes I want to crop with black bars on my Zune. Which really means I am cropping for the iPod Touch. If I want to crop the screen so I get a full screen movie on teh Zune I will need to follow these settings:

Movie     size       croppings for full screen on Zune
--------  ---------  ---------------------------------
Die Hard  720 x 420  top: 60, bottom: 60, left: 160, right: 160
Fugitive  720 x 420  left: 110, right: 110

Keep in mind that cropping 60 pixels off the top and bottom of Die Hard just removes the black bars. Cropping 320 pixels (160 from each side) is removing a lot of content, almost half the frame. Some people call this Pan & Scan. In fact, DVDFab uses the term Pan & Scan. Pan & Scan is not just cropping. When you buy a DVD that is full screen it has been re-edited to follow the most important part of any scene. This is what they mean when they say, "This movie has been modified from its original. It has been formatted to fit this screen." Someone actually pans the view across the original letterbox image to determine what part of the frame is in the full screen version. What DVDFab (and any other cropping software) does is to just chop off the sides, regardless of where the important information is.

All of the above is assuming that I am still converting movies to a 480x360 (or 480x320) size. I don't know if that is necessary for portable viewing and I am considering saving movies in 320x240 so save space and allow more movie to fit on my Zune or my son's iPod at any one time. Unfortunately DVDFab does not offer the 320x240 option anywhere when I try and save movies in MP4 format (I still would like MP4 for portables because it is supported on the iPods and Zune). I can get the 480x360 needed for a 1.333 aspect ratio, but not 320x240. I will spend more time with this over the Thanksgiving break, but will have to report about it next time.

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Are Macs More Expensive

I have seen this question asked so many times (or more precisely, stated) that I can't count. Almost ever time I read an article about Mac pricing it is slanted toward the Mac or slanted toward Windows based computers. I even did a comparison of closely matched hardware myself. I think it is time to revisit this topic once more. Especially since I am considering getting a MacBook as my next laptop. Hopefully we can come to a single conclusion, and put this topic to rest once and for all.

I want to cover this topic from a number of ways. Yes, we will do the hardware vs. hardware comparison so see if the price of a Mac laptop is truly comparable to its Windows based laptops. However, there are a number of ways that hardware can be compared. Apple only has a few different models, whereas other vendors typically have lots of models and configurations. Plus there is the fact that there are many vendors making Windows based laptops.

I am going to stick to laptops for the purposes of this discussion for a couple of reasons. First, laptops sales exceed desktop sales. This is plain and simple. Next, in the desktop world there are only a few companies that make "all-in-one" desktop computers that match the form factor of the iMacs. You can save a ton of money if your desktop needs can be handled by the classic PC box with a nice LCD monitor. All-in-one designs are very limiting for upgrading and usually cost more. They also tend to have older technology in them from the typical desktop PC. Finally, I am going to stick to laptops because I am going to get one sometime in the near future.

Another aspect of buying a laptop (or any computer) is the total cost of ownership (TCO). This is a very gray area. The serious tech-no-geeks will say they don't mind installing all there favorite tools to combat viruses, spyware, backup, etc. Macs are pretty low on the virus food chain, and it is feasible to run one without anti-virus software. Should we include the cost of anti-virus software when comparing Windows to Apple? There are free anti-virus applications out there, so maybe not.

What about software applications? Microsoft Office is a prime example. Should a copy of Office be included in the comparison? There are free office suites that may fill the bill in both places. What if you need to run a couple of Windows applications that have no Mac equivalent. Should we include the cost of buying a copy of Windows to install on your Mac (using Boot Camp, VMWare Fusion or Parallels)? Then there is the cost of VMWare Fusion or Parallels itself.

Time is money. Let's say we use a free anti-virus and free anti-spyware application on Windows. Do we count the time it takes to update and use these programs toward TCO?

After we go over the hardware I am going to look at the "after purchase" experience and see if we can lock down TCO and put a number on it.

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MacBooks vs. Windows Laptops

Our first foray into the hardware side is to find comparable Windows laptops to match the hardware you get with a MacBook. I don't want to go crazy here so I am going to look for Windows based laptops that closely match the $1,299 MacBook. This is the MacBook I am closest to buying, so this comparison may help me pick my own laptop. Here are the basic specs for the MacBook, Dell and Sony I found on each of their web sites:

MacBook
$1,299
2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
2 GB RAM
160 GB Hard Drive
13.3" @ 1280 x 800
nVidia 9400M
Video memory 256 MB (Shared)
DVD Superdrive
4.5 lbs.
Dell XPS M1330
$1,249
2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
3 GB RAM
250 GB Hard Drive
13.3" @ 1280 x 800
nVidia 8400M
128 MB Discrete
CD/DVD Burner
4.5 lbs.
Sony VGN-SR290
$1,295
2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
2 GB RAM
160 GB Hard Drive
13.3" @ 1280 x 800
ATI Radeon HD 3470
128 MB discrete
CD/DVD Burner
4.14 lbs.

Dell XPS M1330 is pretty much the laptop to choose to go toe-to-toe with the MacBook. As you can see form the chart above it does a pretty good job. Mac Fanboys will tell you that the 9400M is better than the 8400M. True. But neither is going to give a great gaming experience, assuming there were games worth playing on the Mac. The MacBook uses shared video memory while the Dell is using dedicated video memory. Maybe this is a wash, maybe not. No matter how you look at it this is a close competition. One has a slightly fast video chip while the other has dedicated memory. I doubt the casual user will notice a difference in performance that can be traced to the video. The XPS includes 50% more main memory and a larger hard disk in its based configuration. I optioned the Dell with Bluetooth and 802.11n to be fair to the Mac, but you could save a few bucks here if those items are not needed. Also, if you are willing to live with integrated graphics with the Dell, you could stay with the base 4 cell battery and weight drops to just under 4 lbs. I had to upgrade the batter to a 6 cell as part of the nVidia option, which increases the weight slightly.

Let's take a look as Sony. Again, a wash as far as the hardware is concerned. I think Apple is starting to loose ground here. In all fairness the previous generation MacBook at $1,299 came with a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. At the time Apple started using the 2.4 GHz CPU most of the competition was running 2.0 GHz or slower processors. With Apple lowering the MacBook to 2.0 GHz it made it easy to custom configure laptops from Sony and Dell that easily compete. The last time I did this exercise I had to seriously jack the price of the Windows laptops to get the speed high enough for an apples to apples comparison.

In the end Apple is not offering anything special on the hardware front at $1,299. The $1,599 MacBook brings back the 2.4 GHz CPU and has a backlit keyboard as well as the usual increase in hard drive space. I didn't look around, but I suspect I could match that with comparable options from Sony and Dell. I did not look at HP because they do not offer a 13.3" laptop, and I am saving Lenovo for the next section.

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Windows Laptops vs. MacBooks

Wait a minute. I just compared the MacBook to Windows laptops. What is this about. Well, yes, I did look at Windows based laptops that closely matched the hardware specs of the MacBook. However, those Windows laptops were custom configured to match the MacBook. Now we are going to look at some of the popular laptops from the major vendors and see how the MacBook lineup compares. The reason for this is to show how you can get a very nicely equipped Windows based laptop that is a bargain when compared to the MacBook.

I am going to start this section with the Lenovo brand. This was IBM's Thinkpad lineup before they sold it off to Lenovo. They are still excellent laptops. The Lenovo laptops I like best are the SL400 and the more serious T400. Lets look at a standard configuration from each model line and see how they stacks up.

Elite ThinkPad SL300
$1,059
2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
2 GB RAM
160 GB Hard Drive
13.3" @ 1280 x 800
nVidia 9300M
Video memory 128MB discrete
DVD Recordable
802.11n
4.6 lbs.
Elite ThinkPad SL400
$959
2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
2 GB RAM
160 GB Hard Drive
14.1" @ 1280 x 800
nVidia 9300M
Video memory 256MB discrete
DVD Recordable
802.11b/g
5.5 lbs.
Enhanced ThinkPad T400
$1,129
2.40 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
2 GB RAM
160 GB Hard Drive
14.1" @ 1280 x 800
ATI Mobility Radeon 3470
Video memory 256MB discrete
DVD Recordable
802.11n
4.7 lb.

That's three standard configurations. Using standard configurations does have its compromises. The SL300 & T400 come with 802.11n, but the SL400 uses the slower 802.11g. It would be a $20 option to upgrade to the faster WiFi on the LS400. None of these laptops have Bluetooth which would be another $20 for any of them. Finally we come to the screen. In the standard configuration all these laptops have 1280x800 screens. However the SL400 and the T400 can be upgraded to 1440x900 for $50.

I mention the compromises with the Lenovo models because if you were to walk into a store to buy one you would get one of these. However, you could order the laptops with those items you want. But the goal in this section was to compare standard packages to standard packages.

Except for Bluetooth and 802.11x issues all these Lenovo laptops are quite attractive on price compared to the $1,299 or even the $999 MacBooks. What you have here is a lack of a really good business class laptops from Apple. Their MacBook is a premium home laptop. As a consumer in the Home/Office market the LS series from Lenovo are excellent choices.

Something else to consider. Notice that for $1,129 you get the 2.4 GHz processor that you would have to spend $1,599 to get with a MacBook.

On a personal note I really like the size of the T400 with a 14.1", 1440x900 screen and a weight of 4.7 lbs. This would make for a very portable machine that has enough screen size and real estate to entice me away from Apple. Please Apple come out with something that better bridges the gap between the $1,299 MacBook and the $1,999 MacBook Pro with its 15.4" screen. The $1,599 MacBook should really been a 14.1" machine.

Now let's take a look at the average person shopping at Best Buy. After all, they sell Macs at Best Buy. What do they have in stock on the Best Buy shelves that I could compare to the available Macs. This really does allow us to compare stand packages. I don't know where I could buy a Lenovo locally and would custom order one... with the 1440x900 screen. But if I was going to the store with the intent of coming home with a laptop what would I be able to buy?

I did not want to take a bunch of notes in a store, so I went to their web site. But this is reasonable for this exercise. I first restricted my search to laptops with screens 14" and smaller. I tried to look at laptops with at least 2GB of memory (I wouldn't buy one with less) and discrete graphics. I also tried to stay with Intel Core 2 Duo processors. I next went to ultra-portables, which Best Buy describes as 5.5 lbs or less. Here's what I came away with:

Dell XPS X1330-146B
$949.99
2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
4GB Memory
320 GB Hard Drive
13.3" @ 1280x800
NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400 GS
Video memory 128MB (dedicated)
DVD Recordable
No Bluetooth
4.5 lbs.
HP Pavilion dv3510nr
$1,099.99
2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
4GB Memory
320 GB Hard Drive
13.3" @ 1280x800
NVIDIA GeForce 9300 GS
Video memory 512MB (dedicated)
DVD Recordable
Bluetooth
4.6 lbs.
MacBook
$1,299
2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
2 GB RAM
160 GB Hard Drive
13.3" @ 1280 x 800
nVidia 9400M
Video memory 256 MB (Shared)
DVD Superdrive
Bluetooth
4.5 lbs.

Both of these laptops make compelling cases for a Windows laptop at a price lower than a comparable MacBook. The Dell does not have Bluetooth, which I consider a minor point, but still a point. I could easily see buying a Bluetooth mouse to go with a laptop.

If I adjust my search to 15.4" laptops Apple really suffers. I saw 48 laptops in the 15-16 inch range with Intel Core 2 Duo processors. How many had discrete graphics I don't know. Not many I am sure. Suffice it to say if you are looking for a nice laptop you have plenty of choices to choose from.

Discrete graphics is not for everyone. In fact, until October 2008 all 13.3" MacBooks came with intergraded graphics. If you are not doing any serious gaming or video editing then you should be fine with integrated graphics. If you do go the intergrated graphics route I suggest looking for Intel's 4500 Series graphics. It will work much better with Windows Vista's Aero interface.

When Apple lowered the speed of its most popular model of laptop they basically took away its advantage in the hardware department. You can custom configure a laptop to match the MacBook for the same or less money. Also, if you are willing to compromise on a few features (Bluetooth, Integrated Graphics) then you will get more memory and bigger hard drives with comparable speed from the competition.

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Software and the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership)

This is the most controversial section of this comparison. Some people (really techies raise your hands) will argue that they can install all their existing software onto a new Windows laptop, but would have to buy new software if they were to switch to a Mac. I know I reinstall all my software on every laptop in the house, but would have to buy some new software if I get a Mac. But does that really count? How many of us have a library of discs sitting around to install on any machine we get. I do, do you?

This is also a gray area. Let's take the biggest software investment first, Microsoft Office. Microsoft has gone back and forth on this a number of times. Sometimes an Office license allows you to install on more than one machine (typically a desktop and a laptop). With activation this may be a real limitation. Let's take the scenario of the person that has a laptop but is in the market for a new laptop. They bought a copy of Office for their old laptop and have the disc. Technically it is against the license agreement to install it on a new laptop unless you remove it from the old. But you can't install that on a Mac (at least not without installing Windows on the Mac). You would need to buy Office for the Mac.

So do we count Microsoft Office as part of the TCO. If so, then we can leave it out here and assume that a Mac or a Windows laptop purchaser must buy this application. End of discussion. I know a lot of you are going to complain about this one. But I don't know what is fair. Clearly a Windows user switching to the Mac will have to buy Office for the Mac or use an alternative such as Open Office (Free) or iWorks ($99). If this is a laptop purchased for a business then the business should be including the cost of buying Office regardless of the hardware. End of story.

If you are using the cost of buying Office for the Mac to claim Macs cost more than you are making an unfair comparison. The person buying their first computer will have to buy Office if they need it whether it is a Mac or Windows laptop. If you are switching from Windows to the Mac you will have to buy Office (if needed) even if you have the ability to install an existing copy of Office for Windows, or else run Office for Windows on your Mac.

Which leads to Windows on a Mac. There are two ways to run programs for Windows on a Mac. Through Apple's Boot Camp which repartitions your hard drive and allows you to install Windows in a dual boot fashion, or through virtualization software that lets you run Windows application from your Mac environment along side Mac applications. Again we have a dilemma. Can you install an existing copy of Windows you have the disc for on your Mac. Maybe, maybe not. Again, activation could make this impossible. I have copies of Windows from MSDN (Microsoft Developers Network) that allow many installs for a single product key. So I can install Windows using one of these discs. But that goes against the developer license which states the software be installed on a development machine.

So, if you want to buy a Mac you can pay around $100 for a Windows license and optionally buy VMWare Fusion or Parallels Desktop (approximately $60). This is a very real cost, but it is optional. You can run Mac versions of a lot of software. Maybe you have a suite of applications that do not have install restrictions. I have a copy of Paint Shop Pro 8. It is old, but it does everything I need. I install it on every machine in the house. This may or may not be kosher, but there is no activation to prevent this. I would not buy multiple copies of it either. I installed Halo on multiple computers as well. We either pass around the disc or use Virtual CD to play the game. Maybe not correct, but I am not going to buy three copies of the same game in one household.

So I guess it comes down to what you absolutely need. Here is what I NEED. I have been keeping track of my software usage since I upgraded my laptop to Windows Vista. Here are the programs I use:

Paint Shop Pro 8
Office
Expression Web
Money
Nero

For me I use Expression Web and Money 95 (4.1). Money is an old version I got when Windows 95 came out. It still works great. I have it installed on my desktop. However, Expression Web is what I use to maintain this web site, so I will have to install this on my next laptop. I can escape the Money application since it is on my desktop and I am content to leave it there. Some people don't have that option. But I need Expression Web so I would have to buy Parallels or Fusion and should buy a copy of Windows. That means I need to add $60 to the cost of a Mac.

Anyone converting from Windows is probably going to need this at one point or another. Since many of you do not have copies of Windows to install you will have buy a copy. In fact I saw this at Best Buy. A guy came in while we were having my wife's laptop checked out (CD ROM issue, but they cleaned it and got it working for free). He had a MacBook he recently purchased there. He was a college student and they required him to run a Windows application on his computer. So he purchased Parallels and Windows and had the Geek Squads install it all for him. I didn't say anything but they sold him a copy of Windows XP Professional at twice the cost of Windows XP Home. I can't imagine he really needed anything in XP Professional that would prevent him from saving $100. But it was not my place to say anything. In the end most people will need to buy a copy of Windows. That's about $100.

So, we are going to formally add $160 to the TCO for a Mac for those switching from Windows. Mac fanboys will tell me I am wrong here and tell me their is Mac software that can do everything a Windows computer can do. But in the end these are the techie Mac people, not the casual users.

On the other hand, I cannot say strongly enough that really good anti-virus and anti-spyware are absolutely necessary for a Window computer. I really like PC Tools Spy Doctor which costs about $40 for three computers (per year). Yes, you can find free applications (AVG Anti-Virus is my favorite free anti-virus application), but I think for something as serious as anti-virus software you should do the right thing and pay something to the developers. If you install the Free AVG on a bunch of computers do the right thing and buy one full copy. If everyone takes the approach to use the free version then there will be no incentive for the companies to continue working on the product.

I am going to add $40 to the TCO for a Windows computer. And I am not going to add this to the Mac's TCO. That's right, the Mac is such a low priority target for these kinds of threats that a little safe computing should be enough.

Now for the big question. Does time to clean up a Windows computer count against cost of ownership. Time is money. But this is time people would not be spending making money. If you spend 2-4 hours a month at home running anti-virus scans, and anti-spyware updates and scans this is not going to take money out of your pocket. You expect to spend this time. Even the techies are going to put in this time. Though they may say that they have it down to almost no time at all. That only works because they spent massive amounts of time learning the system so that only with all their knowledge and experience can they get it down to almost no time. In other words... they already spent the time.

I am going to give this to the Mac fanboys. Yes, time spent cleaning up a Windows machine is part of the experience and part of the cost to own it. The trouble is putting a price on it. I say $100 a year is fair. To continue to make it fair we will run that cost for 3 years, a reasonable time to own a laptop. However, I can only do this for personal computers used at home on personal time. A computer used in a business environment would require proper I.T. support. And they do their own TCO analysis.

So we have a TCO for the Mac of $160 (plus the hardware itself) and we have $420 for the Windows laptop (again, plus hardware price).

Now we did not even get into support. How much support do you get (or you techies... how much support do you provide)? Since the Mac has hardware and software from the same company there is better integration between the two. Also, the far fewer configurations in the Mac world make it easier to hit a target with your software. Windows computers cost less to repair (out of warrantee) than do Macs. Parts are cheaper. Do we count this? If you don't buy an extended warrantee for your laptop and you have to replace part of it how can we determine that. Memory, hard drives, etc. These things cost more on the Mac side of the house. Though there are ways around that. I am sure some Mac techies will tell you how you can install a generic hard drive in a Mac with no trouble. But would Joe The Plumber know how to do it, or would he take it to Geek Squad and have them upgrade his computer.

At this point the pendulum swings toward Windows. Heck, if the hardware out and out fails and you have to buy another machine to replace a broken one two months out of warrantee then the previous costs of ownership go into the new computer and the Windows based laptop will probably be cheaper to replace than a Mac laptop.

In the end it is nearly impossible to determine exactly which platform has the lowest TCO. Yes, you have software costs on both sides. You have maintenance tasks on both sides. You have support issues on both sides. In the end this is too difficult to answer here.

I believe the techie who want to switch from Windows to a Mac will learn all he needs to know to support himself and save money doing so. If he stayed with Windows he would leverage his existing knowledge and tools to make maintenance a minimum expense. However, there are still those real costs of some software.

At this point I am sticking to what I said above. I put TCO at $160 for the Mac and $420 for Windows. That means the Mac gets a $260 advantage.

My current favorite laptop is the MacBook @ $1,299 and a tossup between the Lenovo LS400 and T400 @ $959 and $1,129, respectively. Add the 14410x900 screen to those and the prices are $1,009 and $1,179. If we add in the difference for TCO that brings the Lenovo laptops to $1,269 and $1,439. Both give better hardware specs and one is still cheaper that the MacBook.

So, are Macs more expensive that comparable Windows laptops. In a word... No. However, they are not cheaper either. And there are far more Windows based laptops that put a variety of hardware out there for much more attractive initial prices than Apple. It all depends on what you want or need in a laptop. And you never need a Mac.

Other Opinions

I will admit it is not easy writing a completely objective article on this issue. Like I said at the beginning I see lots of slanted arguments. In the end I think I did the opposite... I wanted a fair comparison so I forced a fair comparison.

Let's see what others have to say on this matter. As a point of information, I did not read any of these articles until I finished what I wrote above. After reading it I see a lot of overlap with my own opinions and facts.

Mac vs. PC: The Truth About TCO on Newsfactor.com - This article tries to cover both sides, and in doing so never draws a conclusion of its own. It is worth reading as it quotes a number of people with good arguments on both sides of this issue.

Adding Up The Apple Tax by Ed Bott - Ed received a MacBook to try for a few months, and then wrote about the cost issues. He is classically slanting toward Window based equipment for the same reason I gave (large selection of most computers, though high end equipment is comparable), but he slams the Apple offering using the approach that he has a lot of Windows based software that has no equivalent in the Apple world. Reasonable for a long time veteran of Windows, especially those that make a living from Microsoft's products, but this does not cover the approach I tried above which was to try and look at it like it could be someone's first computer. I could have dinged Apple harder, but felt that it is unfair if all you want to care about is running old software. When software goes 64-bit (more than it is now) and I make the switch I hope to eliminate as much 32 bit software as possible. This is why I added the cost of a Windows license and virtualization software to the Apple. I would do the same thing to run old applications regardless of which platform I was coming from or going to. But this only applies to people switching. If you are a Mac fanboy than you already have your Mac software and the choice is utterly simple... stay with the Mac. Ed looked at the cost of switching compared to buying a replacement laptop, and of course it costs more to switch. If Ed has to use Linux he would also have to run Windows in a virtual environment or buy (yes, some Linux software has to be paid for) some software.

Is The New MacBook Expensive? and Are Macs More Expensive? Let's Do The Matfh Once and For All and Are Macs More Expensive? Round Two: Survival of the Cheapest on Technologizer - Harry McCracken takes a look at Mac prices before and after the October releases of the new hardware. He did a similar price comparison that I did in the first section above, compared custom configured hardware to Apples standard offering. In his first article he draws the conclusion that the MacBook is comparable to Dell and HP but Sony is more expensive. He avoids the entire software aspect of this argument. In his second article he draws the same conclusion, Macs are higher end machines within there price brackets and they are comparable to Windows based laptops with equivalent hardware specs. McCracken doesn't rest. He followed through like I did. He looked at what was available at Best Buy (and in stock) and found that deals at Best Buy do get you more laptop for your money... if more laptop means more memory and bigger hard drives and screens.

Sorry, But Macs Really Are More Expensive by Michael Miller - Michael takes my second approach above. He thinks it is wrong to compare off the shelf MacBooks to custom configured laptops from various vendors, because "custom goods cost more." Michael compared items at Best Buy. Doing so he compared the $999 white MacBook with its integrated graphics to a few other laptops and the Windows based laptops won. This will be the case with integrated graphics based machines. Now that Macbooks have better graphics chipsets (though still shared video memory) it is harder to find comparable Windows laptops at Best Buy. But I proved it can be done, and I also show if you don't need integrated graphics you can get a lot more in a laptop that may be what you need, not what Apples says you want.

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Conclusion

This is where I wrap up for the month.

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