April 9, 2015

The Apple tax, 2015 edition

The following table compares the current compact (13”) Retina MacBook Pro to potential alternatives. The current price premium for buying Apple as compared to similarly configured other brands is only 2-6%, compared with 40% in my 2010 calculation.

Discussion follows below.

Maker, Model CPU RAM Ram tech Display SSD USB Eth Size Wt W Sticker Best Notes
Apple, rMBP 2.8 i5 16 DDR3L 1600 2650x1600, 13” 512 2 No 12.4x8.7x0.7 3.5 3 2248 2062 Education discount
Apple, rMBP 2.8 i5 16 DDR3L 1600 2650x1600, 13” 512 2 No 12.4x8.7x0.7 3.5 1 1999 1879
Lenovo, T440s 2.9 i5 12 DDR3L 1600 1920x1080, 14” 512 3 Yes 13.0x8.9x0.8 3.6 1 2019 1776 Cell data +$280130 Amzn
Toshiba, Z30* 3.0 i5 16 DDR3L 1600 1920x1080, 13” 512 3 Yes 12.5x9.0x0.7 2.6+ 3 2204 2204 1905 w/1yr warranty; Win8.1

Wt = weight, lbs. W = warranty, years. Physical dimensions in inches (when in Rome…). Sticker = “no discount” price, USD. Best = best known current price.

The full name of the Toshiba Z30 is Toshiba Portege Z30-ABT1300 UltrabookTM.

Four years ago I wrote a post about the “Apple tax” (difference in prices between Apple and comparable Windows laptops) and found it to be around 40%. Now, my current machine is beginning to show signs of old age, so I’ve been scouting for a possible replacement in my idle time. Over the four years, Windows has gotten worse (the widely panned Windows 8 followed by the cromulent 8.1 that thinks and acts like every screen is a touchscreen), Linux has stayed roughly in the same last place with occasional widely panned attempts to “reimagine the desktop” and continued poor quality of desktop applications, and MacOS has done… relatively well, actually, but recently software quality seems to be turning for the worse and user data is being moved to the cloud by default, which is unsettling.

My hardware requirements for a perfect laptop are fairly simple: a 13” class machine (between 12 and 14”) - the current one is 15” and most of the time it is docked to an external monitor and input, so for the next iteration I will take better portability at the expense of screen estate; at least 12 GB RAM (the current machine has 8, and that is plenty enough even today, but since in many current models the memory is soldered I need to ensure there are enough resources for the future as well) and a 512 GB SSD (I need at least this much storage, and SSD makes a huge difference in responsiveness).

Toshiba and Lenovo have one competing model each. Out of those two, Toshiba is the closer match: same warranty, same memory and screen size, a slightly worse screen resolution, one more USB port and wired Ethernet. Lenovo is a little larger, has less memory and a shorter warranty.

With the education discount and a 3-year warranty, the Mac is actually $150 cheaper than Toshiba. Looking at sticker prices and one-year warranty, the Mac is 5% more expensive. The Lenovo is 5.5% cheaper when compared “discount-to-discount”.

Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Samsung and Sony do not offer a single model that meets my requirements: - Acer has no laptops with over 8GB RAM in 14” or below. - Asus has no laptops with both more than 8GB RAM and 512 GB SSD at or below 14”. - Dell has no viable options - the “home” section of their website has no machines with more than 8GB RAM at or below 14”, and the only option in the business class is the 9 lbs “Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme”. - HP has no viable options - the “home” section of their website does not show tech specs anymore and has no working search options, and the “business” section has no machines with more than 8GB RAM below 14” and no machines with a 512 GB SSD at or below 14”. - Samsung has no models with 512 GB SSD at/below 14”. - Sony no longer sells laptops in the US.

MSI has come up with an interesting machine, the gaming-specific GS30 Shadow, but its atrocious battery life is a non-starter for me.