We've got our slide rule and paper out to compare the components that make the most difference to computing performance that we could make direct comparisons with. Let's see how they stack up (all prices were checked on 26 June 2008).
3.5-inch hard drives
Want to upgrade the hard drive in your MacBook at the time of purchase? You'll have to turn your wallet upside down. Going from a 120GB 5,400rpm drive to a 250GB 5,400rpm drive will set you back £90.01 from the Apple configurator. Doing the same upgrade with a Dell XPS M1330 costs just £30.01 on the Dell site. Here, Apple is a whopping 200 per cent more expensive than Dell.
Upgrading memory isn't cheap if you're an Apple customer. Buying a MacBook and switching from 2GB of 667MHz DDR2 to 4GB -- across two 2,048MB DIMMS -- using the Apple Web site will cost an extra £120. Doing that same swap with the Dell XPS M1330 costs just £40.01. Again, Apple is charging around 200 per cent more than Dell.
Apple's pricing for solid-state drives is on the high side, too. With Dell, going from a 250GB 5,400rpm mechanical drive to a 64GB solid-state drive in an XPS M1330 (only possible on some models) costs an extra £389.99. You can't go from a 250GB mechanical drive to a 64GB SSD with a MacBook Air, so this isn't a direct comparison, but you can go from an 80GB drive to a 64GB SSD for an extra £639.
Apple isn't massively expensive for everything, though -- processors seem pretty fairly priced. Jumping from a 2.1GHz (T8100) to a 2.4GHz (T8300) CPU in a Dell will cost you £29.99. We reckon the Apple equivalent costs £30.01, although it's hard to work out. Stay with us here.
The only way to work it out is via this rather complex method. By upgrading the spec of the entry-level MacBook so it matches that of the mid-range model as close as possible (increasing hard drive and RAM, so it costs £789), you're left with two differences -- the CPU and the DVD drive, and a £40 price gap to the £829 mid-range Mac.
Comparing similar components to the DVD reader (found in the entry-level MacBook) and the DVD writer (found in the mid-range model) reveals a difference of approximately £10. Taking this into account, any price difference between the two machines should be all down to the CPU, which basically puts Apple on level-pegging with Dell at £30.
Apple is generally more expensive than Dell for components that are, in most cases, identical to those used in Dell machines. So why so pricey, Apple? Less buying power? Greed? Good business sense? Whatever the reason, we think it's an interesting state of affairs. -Rory Reid