To compare price to performance of the new Intel Mac family, I priced out comparable versions of the iMac, MacBook Pro, and the Mac mini. To be completely fair, all of these are fine machines, and each is designed for a different purpose.
The iMac is a "prosumer" level computer. It is a fully featured computer, and is ready to run out of the box. It offers plenty of processing power for everyday word processing, Internet surfing, video editing, and music recording. The only shortcoming of the iMac is that it does not offer the expandability of the PowerMac G5 since its AIO (all-in-one) design has no expansion slots. Since most peripherals are FireWire or USB 2.0, this is not a problem for most users, but may be troublesome for some professional Mac users who need to add expansion cards for their work. The iMac also features built in Bluetooth and Airport wireless networking.
The retail price of the iMac came in at $1568.00 and was configured as follows:
- 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo processor
- 1GB 667 DDR2 SDRAM - 1x1GB
- 160GB Serial ATA drive
- ATI Radeon X1600/128MB VRAM
- SuperDrive 8x (DVD+R DL/DVD+RW/CD-RW)
- AppleCare Protection Plan for iMac
- 17-inch widescreen LCD
- AirPort Extreme
- Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
The MacBook Pro is, as the name suggests, a laptop aimed at the professional market. It is perfect for professionals who need to edit video or music away from home, but is not out of reach price-wise for the "prosumer" user. Unlike the iMac, the MacBook Pro does offer internal expandability in the form of an ExpressCard/34 expansion slot. Like the iMac, the MacBook Pro also offers extensive external expendability options with FireWire and USB 2.0. Also like the iMac, the MacBook Pro includes Bluetooth and Airport wireless networking standard.
The MacBook Pro's retail price was $2548.00 and was configured as follows:
- 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo
- 1GB 667 DDR2 - 2x512 SO-DIMMs
- 100GB Serial ATA drive @ 5400 rpm
- SuperDrive (DVD±RW/CD-RW)
- AirPort Extreme Card & Bluetooth
- Backlit Keyboard/Mac OS - U.S. English
- AppleCare Protection Plan for MacBook Pro
- 15.4-inch TFT Display
The Mac mini is a different beast than the iMac and the MacBook Pro. The Mac mini was originally targeted as a machine that Windows "switchers" would be able to adopt easily for a fair price and with minimal effort. For this reason, the Mac mini was designed to be plugged in to whatever monitor, keyboard, and mouse the buyer had lying around the house, and hence is not sold with any of these necessities. Besides finding itself on the desks of many Windows "switchers" as Apple hoped, eventually the Mac mini found its way into home theatre systems. Apple has wholeheartedly embraced this trend and has included an Apple Remote, Front Row software, and an Intel graphics chipset that allows the user to plug their Mac mini into their TV.
The Mac mini's retail price was $1098 and was configured as follows:
- 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo
- 1GB 667 DDR2 SDRAM - 2x512
- 100GB Serial ATA drive
- SuperDrive 8x (DVD+R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
- Mac OS X - U.S. English
- AppleCare Protection Plan for Mac mini (w/or w/o Display) - Auto-enroll
- Intel GMA950 graphics
Judging by price and processing power alone, the iMac is Apple's best value. At an affordable price point you get a very fast Intel Core Duo processor, plenty of hard drive space, and a beautiful 17" or 20" monitor. If you need a computer for home or the office and don't need the portability of a laptop, this is the Mac for you.
If you need the portability of a laptop, you will indeed pay a premium for the MacBook Pro, but unlike in the past with the PowerBook G4, the MacBook Pro will deliver comparable processing power to the iMac with the portability of a laptop. Although the overall value (smaller screen, higher price) isn't as good as the iMac, at least you get the same processing power.
If you have need for a media server or a computer to complement your home theatre system, the Mac mini may very well be the best product out there. For processing power and hard drive space it doesn't stand up to the value of the iMac (especially with the lack of a monitor), but for home theatre use or for a second home machine (possibly to complement your MacBook Pro), it's a great choice. Apple has done quite well with their new Intel offerings, and I am excited to see what else they introduce. The introduction of Intel processors has made for a great situation for the company and more importantly for consumers, and I really feel that things can only get better.