Computer Update 2 of 2: Computer Pricing Math

** Effective March 11, 2013 — we are temporarily suspending our recommendation for Dell branded computers.  Dell is going through a state of transition, through which a group of investors (including Michael Dell) want to take the company private.  If they form a new company, they may not be legally obligated to honor their industry-leading warranties.     Recommendations for Windows computers are amended as follows.

1. Lenovo Thinkpad (laptops) and Think Centre (desktops)

2.  Various brands – Microsoft Select program (laptops)

We hope Dell does the right thing here and we hope to be able to recommend their computers at a later date. **

In this second installment of this daily double, I wanted to touch upon a topic I wrote on in the November newsletter that I mailed to each of you — pricing considerations when buying a new computer.

Hopefully I can reframe the scenario for you. Unfortunately, there is not a clear answer. That hasn’t changed. I am going to use a phrase here — “baseline computer” – by baseline I mean a minimum standard of decency, not necessarily base model (to borrow a term from car buying). With Apple’s Macs — there are just a few models — there really aren’t any Apple alternatives that are lower or different in price.

So if we were to think about our baseline computers……
Desktops: In the Windows market, you have a Dell Optiplex 3xx series. Give or take $20 or $30, this computer is about $599 (with a decent monitor).
On the Mac side of things, their most popular desktop is the iMac — $1299.

Laptops: Windows — as you know I expanded my recommend list last week to include the online Microsoft Store in addition to offerings from Dell and Lenovo (directly). On the Microsoft store, there is a 13-inch Acer, Windows 8 laptop with a touch screen for $599. On the low end of the pricing spectrum, I think most of you would do fine with this.
For Macs, the 13 inch Mac Book Pro or Mac Book Air — are both $1199.

You see the spread here. Roughly $600 to $700 for computers Mac and Windows that will get the job done for you. I’m not going to make value judgements here. Let’s say the two desktops and two laptops are the same quality. Let’s say they will last the same amount of time. This could certainly be the outcome 4 to 5 years down the road.

Well don’t I always get the Windows computer? Isn’t the lowest priced computer out the door always the best choice for me? In all the years I’ve been in business and if you ask any other computer services provider, shop, etc., they will tell you that the Windows computers always have more problems. Typically these additional costs come in the way of viruses but they could also be the result of software errors in Windows itself or operator error. Again, lets assume the hardware quality is the same.

Some costs will be the same no matter what. If you are going to pay to have your computer set up — that is a universal cost. If your printer fails or your wireless router goes bad, you will pay for that whether you are using a Windows or Mac system. However, think back to my Update #1 from today. Think of the customer whose Windows computer DID get destroyed by the FedEx hoax. The computer had to be completely wiped out (the only true method of virus removal that I believe in), with Windows, and all key programs reinstalled. That was a $170 job.

Just last night – the customer experienced a software problem (not related to a virus) that affects a small but significant number of Windows 7 users. It is a continuous “boot loop” after Windows updates are installed. You cant never get into your Windows desktop. Unfortunately, we were not able to roll back the updates. This is not something you should all be worried about. The Windows update process is typically very smooth and protects you against security issues. Sadly, we had to back up her files and erase the computer once again and MANUALLY install the Windows 7 SP1 update as a download from microsoft(dot)com. Her computer is fine now, but this job was $175.

In case you are wondering the computer cost approximately $450. It was a certified-refurbished Dell Optiplex desktop. The Microsoft Office involved would have been a cost on either a Mac or a Windows system so that is not a factor. She has owned this computer for almost a year. And by doing the math, she has spent $345 on services that would not have been needed had she had she purchased the iMac. None the less, she hasn’t even crossed the 1/2-way point of the price differential between her computer and the iMac –which would have been $850 more expensive.

Outside of regular computer maintenance, tutoring, and other non-Windows-specific issues, she will have made the right choice if there are no future expenditures because of Windows. I like ’em both; I support Mac and Windows customers; I use both operating systems regularly. The scenario I described is not rare. It’s par for the course in my 15 years of doing this kind of work.

Of course, pricing isn’t the only factor in choosing a computer. Some may like the design of the Macs. Some of you may choose a Mac or a Windows PC because a certain program only runs on one but not the other. All of that must be taken into consideration in addition to the idea of paying now or perhaps — paying later.