TechSpot: Ultrabooks vs. 13" MacBook Air - Is the Apple Tax Real?

Earlier this week Apple announced updates to its entire notebook lineup, bringing it up to date with Ivy Bridge processors and a few other goodies. Like them, many other computer manufacturers have been showcasing new and updated laptops over the past few days and weeks at trade events like Computex as key partners including Intel, AMD and Nvidia roll out their latest and greatest products.

Ultrabooks in particular received quite a bit of attention, and we’re not surprised. Intel is putting a lot of weight behind the concept and expects it to be the main driver of PC market growth in the short term. Apple has already experienced some of this with the MacBook Air, which has rapidly become one of the best sellers in the Mac lineup. Arguably it's the laptop to beat if you are looking into buying an ultrabook-styled portable.

With all that in mind, we’re taking a couple of Wintel alternatives to check how well they stack up next to the new 13-inch MacBook Air and perhaps settle the old debate about the so-called “Apple Tax” — at least in this category, since there's no way a single comparison can be representative of the entire Apple Tax argument.

Read: Ultrabooks vs. 13" MacBook Air - Is the Apple Tax Real?
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The initial cost of a windows PC may be lower and there is NO argument for that BUT..... the very fact that most windows pcs are installed with bloatware that encourage the spending of peoples hard earned money does push the price upwards.

For example. Anti Virus, thats almost forced upon people (norton, mcaffee or whatever else 3rd party oems want to push). I do believe there is an article on Neowin about MS charging to remove bloatware. Want to add comments to a PDF in windows, that not possible out of the box is it?

As it stands right now if i have to pay $20 for an incremental OS update that offers me better work flows, better ways to get things done and overall enhances everyday OS based activities then im happy to do so. When Apple stops offering enahncements and provides security only fixes only next to logical OS fixes that;s when I'll stop paying for the next OS update.

What is the best os on the market.. Easy answer. The one that suits you and you like the most. Each to their own etc.

shifts said,
The initial cost of a windows PC may be lower and there is NO argument for that BUT..... the very fact that most windows pcs are installed with bloatware that encourage the spending of peoples hard earned money does push the price upwards.

For example. Anti Virus, thats almost forced upon people (norton, mcaffee or whatever else 3rd party oems want to push). I do believe there is an article on Neowin about MS charging to remove bloatware. Want to add comments to a PDF in windows, that not possible out of the box is it?

As it stands right now if i have to pay $20 for an incremental OS update that offers me better work flows, better ways to get things done and overall enhances everyday OS based activities then im happy to do so. When Apple stops offering enahncements and provides security only fixes only next to logical OS fixes that;s when I'll stop paying for the next OS update.

What is the best os on the market.. Easy answer. The one that suits you and you like the most. Each to their own etc.

The problem isn't bloatware but end users unwillingness to pay the price tag for a machine without such crap installed on the device in the first place. When you have consumers who think that it is their human right to be able to buy a laptop for $400 - how else do these moronic end users thing that Acer makes up for the low margins? that Acer is a charity and just love giving away really cheap laptops for the poor and disenfranchised?

Take Dell for example, pay $5, get the Windows 7 media and do a clean re-install once you get it - for $5 extra you can have a bloat free machine. There is a small outfit in California called Vizio, Samsung sell crapware free laptops etc. they all have a price tag higher than the crappy $400 Acer laptop but you can buy them.

Btw, if you want Microsoft to stop vendors from loading crapware on then great but then accept that the days of $400 laptops has ended.

The point is moot because nobody gives a **** about specs except hardware enthusiasts. Regular consumers and professionals alike buy Macs and are happy to pay whatever extra "tax" simply because OS X is more foolproof to use, offers a significantly better workflow, and is more powerful than Windows thanks to its Unix underpinnings.

It's like when you order a pizza. Do you question what variety of tomato is in the paste? How long the cheese was aged for? The fact that you could probably have the pizza for 10 cents if you just put all of it together yourself? No. You just order the ****ing pizza and move on with your life. And that's exactly what people want out of their computers outside of tech circles. No setup. No tinkering. No maintenance. Something that just lets them get on with their life.

Fry said,
simply because OS X is more foolproof to use, offers a significantly better workflow, and is more powerful than Windows thanks to its Unix underpinnings.

Eh no. Its not more foolproof to use, subjective meaning anyway, and 95% disagrees with you. Better workflow ? eh no, the horrible Dock system and no real full screen ability. yeah I'm sure that's why most graphics and pretty much all workstation computers run Windows.

As for more powerful to to unix underpinnings ? where did you come up with that fantasy story ? cause that's just plain wrong. in fact the NT core is far mode modern and more efficient in many ways, which it should be, it's not ancient unlike Unix.

I really hope the basis for the judgment doesn't solely rest on screen size/resolution and processor vs. price.

Yup, that's how I decide how good a computer is. Screw RAM. HDD size, speed, and type (SATA, etc). HDD vs SSD. GPU. Amount and type of ports. You know, all the stuff that doesn't matter.

Enron said,
I use Windows because I can make more money with it.

EVERYONE makes more money with Windows. The only major high end corporation that runs Apple computers on any major level is Pixar...and that's only because they are/were owned by Steve Jobs and have no choice. 8P

excalpius said,
EVERYONE makes more money with Windows. The only major high end corporation that runs Apple computers on any major level is Pixar...and that's only because they are/were owned by Steve Jobs and have no choice. 8P

From what I understand that is no longer the case - the heavy lifting is done by a cluster of linux servers as with the case of Weta Digital. When it comes to servers the heavy lifting is done either by AIX, HP-UX, Solaris or Windows. Anyone who suggests using Mac OS X Server for anything other than a small 20 person networking is nuts.

Edit: My post is coming from the perspective of a person who has a MacBook Pro, iMac, iPhone and iPad.

excalpius said,

EVERYONE makes more money with Windows. The only major high end corporation that runs Apple computers on any major level is Pixar...and that's only because they are/were owned by Steve Jobs and have no choice. 8P

While I agree with the idea that enterprise loves Windows, Google uses only OS X and Linux internally and virtually all people involved with media use OS X.

thealexweb said,

While I agree with the idea that enterprise loves Windows, Google uses only OS X and Linux internally and virtually all people involved with media use OS X.

Media/Graphics shop here. Retiring our last mac next month. The concept that Mac's are superior for media is wrong. 10 years ago, yes. Now. No.

As far as Google. That is much less to do with productivity and more to do with competition and marketing. They want to destroy Microsoft and don't want to pay them to do so. From what I've read they are working on their own Linux distro internally.

Enron said,
I use Windows because I can make more money with it.

Which runs on a Mac. You are basically saying you can make more money on a Mac than a Windows based PC since you can make money using Linux, OSX, and Windows on a Mac without using hacks or VMs. On a Windows based machine, you are limited to Windows and Linux or VMs. The Windows vs OSX arguement hasn't been relevant in years since Macs were switched to Intel boards. Please come back to the present.

MrHumpty said,
Media/Graphics shop here. Retiring our last mac next month. The concept that Mac's are superior for media is wrong. 10 years ago, yes. Now. No.

As far as Google. That is much less to do with productivity and more to do with competition and marketing. They want to destroy Microsoft and don't want to pay them to do so. From what I've read they are working on their own Linux distro internally.

They hate Apple and Microsoft so them using OS X alongside their custom distro rather than Windows is noteworthy.

MrHumpty said,
Media/Graphics shop here. Retiring our last mac next month. The concept that Mac's are superior for media is wrong. 10 years ago, yes. Now. No.

Well you're defo in the tiny minority that's for sure.

ILikeTobacco said,

Which runs on a Mac. You are basically saying you can make more money on a Mac than a Windows based PC since you can make money using Linux, OSX, and Windows on a Mac without using hacks or VMs. On a Windows based machine, you are limited to Windows and Linux or VMs. The Windows vs OSX arguement hasn't been relevant in years since Macs were switched to Intel boards. Please come back to the present.

Not sure what you're on about here, but I was talking about operating systems, not hardware capable of running another OS. I do own Apple hardware (running Windows), but I could also run OS X on general PC hardware if I really wanted to. Does that get Apple's blessing? No, but I don't particularly care about them being anti-competitive. But if you want to go there, I'd just say I could save more money by using off the shelf PC parts instead of buying Apple.

I used to use Mac OS for graphics, but found Windows to work just as well for it.

The only question that needs to be asked is whether you want to run Mac OS X or Windows - that alone will tell you whether you're going to buy a PC or Mac. Unless you're a complete moron no one chooses a computer in isolation - "if I buy a Mac what games can I run on it? what applications do I need and can it run on Mac OS X? what third party hardware do I have and will it work with Mac OS X" are the questions asked and no just going it and choosing computers purely based on hardware specifications alone.

Mr Nom Nom's said,
The only question that needs to be asked is whether you want to run Mac OS X or Windows - that alone will tell you whether you're going to buy a PC or Mac. Unless you're a complete moron no one chooses a computer in isolation - "if I buy a Mac what games can I run on it? what applications do I need and can it run on Mac OS X? what third party hardware do I have and will it work with Mac OS X" are the questions asked and no just going it and choosing computers purely based on hardware specifications alone.

You can run windows on a mac, and osx on a pc (although the legality is questionable).

xn--bya said,
You can run windows on a mac, and osx on a pc (although the legality is questionable).

If you're going to run Windows on a Mac you might as well get a PC given that the support for Windows provided by Apple just gets it over the line but doesn't provide you an equal experience one gets when running Mac OS X on the same hardware. Regarding Mac OS X - whether it can run on a PC is completely immaterial because the issue is about hardware support, software support and whether Joe or Jane Sixpack can install it as easily as one upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8 which Apple does not provide for Mac OS X on generic PC's.

To be perfectly frank - if you're willing to hand over the cash you can get laptops and desktops in every way as well integrated and good looking as a Mac but the question is whether you're willing to pay the price tag of if you're of the mindset that since it runs Windows it must automatically be dirt cheap (and subsequently of poor quality over all).

AWilliams87 said,
As far as I can see, only the Macbook air and Apple TV are price competitive with their alternatives.

And the iPad, all their other products have inflated prices.

cant be bothered signing up to techspot to comment, but there's a lot of talk about cheaper upgrades (OS), but no one mentioned the frequency of these upgrades or the fact that OSx updates are more akin to service packs.

Windows 7 was released in October 2009, Windows 8 will be realised around the same month in 2012 - 3 years between spending any money on an update.

Windows 8 will include many new features as we all know, but also the support ffor windows 7 should you wish to keep using it will be for many many years, compare all this to OSx updates and their support and the argument for OSx updates being cheaper starts to look mighty weak!

Also as some have said on here, the prices quoted are the RRP, which apple will sell at (the sole retailer) as opposed to the others that will be sold through competitive channels and thus the prices will be cheaper.

Now I do love the hardware apple makes, the air and pro are gorgeous and the fact boot camp allows windows is a massive boost, but this article is simply biased.

duddit2 said,
cant be bothered signing up to techspot to comment, but there's a lot of talk about cheaper upgrades (OS), but no one mentioned the frequency of these upgrades or the fact that OSx updates are more akin to service packs.

You people really need to drop this because the only fact of the matter is it's just not true. The whole service pack argument is purely based on the fact Apple uses a .x version numbering scheme, keeping the "ten" intact, instead of an entirely different name/number. Another fact is version numbers don't mean anything these days best demonstrated by Google Chrome. You shouting "service pack" indicates you have no idea whatsoever what all the changes different OS X' releases have brought forth so far. You also seem to be under the impression Microsoft's service packs actually include major new end-user features which simply isn't the case.

duddit2 said,
Windows 8 will include many new features as we all know, but also the support ffor windows 7 should you wish to keep using it will be for many many years, compare all this to OSx updates and their support and the argument for OSx updates being cheaper starts to look mighty weak!

When comparing sheer retail prices you'd need a fair amount of €16-€24 costing OS X updates before coming close to what a Windows release typically costs. And what are all these new features Windows 8 will include? For the end-user it basically boils down to better cloud integration and the same old features we've been using for ages repackaged in a Metro wrapper.

Edited by .Neo, Jun 15 2012, 11:45am :

.Neo said,
You people really need to drop this because the only fact of the matter is it's just not true. The whole service pack argument is purely based on the fact Apple uses a .x version numbering scheme, keeping the "ten" intact, instead of an entirely different name/number.

I'm no big fan of OSX, but I do have to agree with this. If one is going to nit-pick build numbers, you could say that Windows XP (5.1 and 5.2), Windows 7 (6.1) and Windows 8 (6.2) are technically service packs as well, and they're not free either.

Max Norris said,

I'm no big fan of OSX, but I do have to agree with this. If one is going to nit-pick build numbers, you could say that Windows XP (5.1 and 5.2), Windows 7 (6.1) and Windows 8 (6.2) are technically service packs as well, and they're not free either.

Exactly.

.Neo said,

You people really need to drop this because the only fact of the matter is it's just not true. The whole service pack argument is purely based on the fact Apple uses a .x version numbering scheme, keeping the "ten" intact, instead of an entirely different name/number. Another fact is version numbers don't mean anything these days best demonstrated by Google Chrome. You shouting "service pack" indicates you have no idea whatsoever what all the changes different OS X' releases have brought forth so far. You also seem to be under the impression Microsoft's service packs actually include major new end-user features which simply isn't the case.

When comparing sheer retail prices you'd need a fair amount of €16-€24 costing OS X updates before coming close to what a Windows release typically costs. And what are all these new features Windows 8 will include? For the end-user it basically boils down to better cloud integration and the same old features we've been using for ages repackaged in a Metro wrapper.

As someone that owns a MacBook Pro, and a homemade Windows machine, I'd have to disagree. Intelligent people are not referencing the version numbers whatsoever when they make this argument. Microsoft keeps their build numbers as point releases to maintain driver support. Vista went to 6.0 because they changed their driver model.

They are referencing features. Take a gander at what Lion and Mountain Lion added. Then look at the difference between Windows Vista and XP; Windows 7 and Vista; and Windows 8 and Windows 7. Of those, only Windows 7 was more like a service pack (it was a quick release to get rid of the Vista name, which was doing terribly because of initial bad press due to bad drivers).

Looking at Lion, the only real difference that the user experiences is the Mac App Store, which was made available on Snow Leopard, and Mission Control, which is really just a combination of multidesktop and Entourage (Lion did finally bring in ASLR for security, but see the next sentence's parenthesis). Looking at Mountain Lion, they add a nice sandbox model that is invisible to the user (anyone remember the immense security improvements in Windows XP SP2?) and some random apps that have been ported over from iOS, plus some new multitouch support that they originally pioneered on the desktop a few versions ago, but which has become boring (I only use multitouch on my Pro's trackpad for mission control features).

The last two updates (Lion, and now Mountain Lion) have been rather mild, and I really am not too keen on continuing to pay for updates every year, which seems to be Apple's way of sucking more money out of me. I really like OS X, but these updates have been very obvious money grabs from an already cash rich company. As long as I enjoy my MBP, I will most likely continue to update for security reasons, but I am less thrilled by it every time as I see the feature list and ideas dwindle.

Feature lists for the two most recent OS X updates:

Lion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M...ion#New_or_changed_features
Mountain Lion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O...on#New_and_changed_features

Mountain Lion's is particularly short. Both include updates to their various apps, such as Mail and FaceTime.

I don't get it, the more expensive computers are slightly better than apples offering but its ok there is no apple tax?
Tabloid reporting

virtorio said,
It's a shame none of the default configurations come with 8 GB, but at least you can finally configure them with 8 GB.

yeah at Apples 4x ram prices since theyre soldered one, and they have a special SSD that you can't replace, also premium priced, and the battery? glued in. can't be replaced without breaking cables....

virtorio said,
It's a shame none of the default configurations come with 8 GB, but at least you can finally configure them with 8 GB.

I didn't know you could upgrade the ram on an MBA.

This is all well and good, but the prices used in the graph are a bit misleading. They appear RRP - which Apple will obviously sell their products at, but the other two models used in the comparison can be found for cheaper.