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Legit question about Mac components...


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Legit question about Mac components...
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pscates2.0
Mr. Farmiga
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2005-10-18, 09:57

First off, you guys know me...a spec whore, I'm not. So bear that in mind when reading this.

Sometimes, in discussions with some of my PC-using buddies who are up on stuff (specs, features, etc.), I never really have much of an answer to things like Apple's pricing vs. specs and components used.

We all know the troubles they've had with Motorola (and now IBM) over the years, and getting Macs up to snuff on purely the processor side of things. But I'm not really talking about that (because that seems to be out of Apple's control, and just some bad luck and things like that).

What I'm talking about are things like hard drives, graphics cards, etc.

In so many areas, Macs are first out of the gate (wireless capabilities spring immediately to mind). But I look around at other sites (Dell and Sony mostly) and talk to PC-using buddies and they've all got 7200rpm drives in laptops and 128MB graphics, even on things priced the same (or much less) than the closest PowerBook competitor.

I look at Apple's $2600-plus PowerBook with 5400rpm (and until this year, it was 4200rpm!). And at some of their other offerings, and you think "okay, I know there are problems on the processor end of things right now, but what's the honest reason for some of these legit cases of something seeming under-spec'd...especially when you factor in the money we lay out for it!"

Can anyone speak to this?

I definitely don't need a lecture on how the OS trumps all and makes up for it (I know that, but still). No, I'm truly curious on why Apple DOESN'T go balls-out more on the components, in areas where they CAN make a difference and go head-to-head a bit more?

The old reliable "well, the OS is more slick and stable than anything you guys are using" retort wears thin, and doesn't always fit. No, I'm not looking for "ammunition" (I don't get into those silly pissing contests). But it makes ME wonder - as a loyal, devoted Mac user - why I find myself having to excuse or explain away things sometimes...



IS there much of a difference (in price) between 4200, 5400 and 7200rpm drives? Is that part of it? Simply pricing? What about between 32, 64 and 128MB variations of a family of graphics cards? That a money concern too? Too big for Apple to absorb or swallow?

Is it because Apple isn't making stuff for 95% of the users out there, and they have to make more on each unit and HAVE to charge the high prices (but often outfit it with lower-spec'd parts to even it all out some?).

Or does it come down more to design and technology reasons? Apple's stuff, being so thin, sleek and small in many cases (particlarly the PowerBooks)...does that limit them on being able to put in the fastest (hottest?) components? Do they do it to themselves then? Do they "put the design cart before the performance horse" in some cases?

Or is it a bit of all the above (pricing, combined with design not leaving much wiggle room AND marketshare factors).

Why doesn't a $2,600 17" PowerBook have the same types of things a similar Dell or Sony would have?

Set the OS, bundled software and other great features Macs have aside...I'm talking strictly about bread-and-butter components that are available to anyone to use, should they choose (hard drives, graphics cards, optical drives, etc.).
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FFL
Fishhead Family Reunited
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Slightly Off Center
 
2005-10-18, 10:01

Quote:
Or is it a bit of all the above (pricing, combined with design not leaving much wiggle room AND marketshare factors).
I believe so. I think minimization of heat generation is the biggest factor, though.
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pscates2.0
Mr. Farmiga
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2005-10-18, 10:06

Would we be happy to lose some of that sleekness and ultra-stylishness, then, for the sake of having true head-to-head performance in some of these areas?

At this point, after 4-5 years of it being a certain way, would we Mac users tolerate a 1.5" or 2" thick PowerBook, if it was a true "no compromises" performer? What are everyone's thoughts on that?

I wonder about that sometimes...how much we might "go without", in the name of having something slim and cute (that looks gorgeous, sitting on a table in a coffee shop)?



And does that forever box us in to a hole that's hard to work out of (as things only get faster, more powerful, etc.)?

Last edited by pscates2.0 : 2005-10-18 at 10:12.
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SKMDC
superkaratemonkeydeathcar
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: chicago
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2005-10-18, 10:07

Quote:
Is it because Apple isn't making stuff for 95% of the users out there, and they have to make more on each unit and HAVE to charge the high prices (but often outfit it with lower-spec'd parts to even it all out some?).

Or does it come down more to design and technology reasons? Apple's stuff, being so thin, sleek and small in many cases (particlarly the PowerBooks)...does that limit them on being able to put in the fastest (hottest?) components? Do they do it to themselves then? Do they put the design cart in front of the performance horse?
Those two points hit the nail most squarely, But I would think it applies to the expense of the iBook and the iMac. As to the Powerbook, you're paying premium prices and it's supposed to be state of the art and in the last year they've let that line languish. I understand the frustration of the inability to make the G5 work in it, (and isn't this probably the main reason they're making the intel switch?) but they should have adjusted the price in the last year.

"What's a Canadian farm boy to do?"
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curiousuburb
Antimatter Man
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: that interweb thing
 
2005-10-18, 13:34

faster drives also drain battery faster...
not a huge difference alone, but most of the spec whore laptops are teh suck at battery life.
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Luca
ಠ_ರೃ
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Minnesota
 
2005-10-18, 13:55

Quote:
Originally Posted by curiousuburb
faster drives also drain battery faster...
From what I've heard, that's not true. At least, the difference is negligable. The only reason not to use 7200 RPM hard drives is high price. A 60 GB, 7200 RPM notebook drive costs $150+, while a 5400 RPM one with the same capacity costs under $100. Capacities aren't as limited as they were six months ago, with 7200 RPM drives topping out at 100 GB and 5400 RPM drives reaching as high as 120 GB. Six months ago, those numbers were 60 and 100 GB, respectively.

VRAM is the one area that puzzles me. VRAM is nearly free and it doesn't add any heat or size/weight to any machine in which it is installed. At least if you're moving from 32 MB to 64 MB, they could just use higher density chips so they're using the same two VRAM chips. Adding VRAM to the machines that currently have 32 MB would improve graphics performance by a tremendous amount, while costing literally a few pennies per unit. There's no reason Macs can't all ship with double the amount of VRAM they currently include. Why not include more than necessary instead of less? It's one of the dumbest ways of holding back the performance of otherwise-capable Macs.

I know for a fact that lack of VRAM is to blame for poor Quake 3 performance on my Mac mini. This is Quake 3, folks. It's going on six years old. Shouldn't the mini be able to handle it at its max settings? Truth is, it would be able to, if they just used 64 MB of VRAM instead of 32 MB. If you doubt my assertion that VRAM is virtually free, just check video card prices on NewEgg. There's hardly ever a difference in price between two video cards with different amounts of VRAM, all other things being equal. In some cases, a 128 MB video card may cost more than the 256 MB version of the same card! And this is for a 128 MB difference in VRAM... a 32 MB difference won't noticeably affect costs, even when multiplied on a grand scale.

I agree that Apple should strive to make their notebooks as sleek and thin as possible. This is why they're still using a Mobility Radeon 9700 instead of a newer, faster GPU. And that's fine. It's things like not including more VRAM that truly baffle me.

The only reason I can attribute to them constantly using old, outdated components in all their machines is a supply issue. Old components don't cost less than new ones; in many cases, they cost more because they've been discontinued. But what I think happens is that Apple orders a million of something, pays for all of it, and then just keeps using it until they run out. Even if a newer, better version comes out two months after the latest PowerBook update, they won't update the PowerBooks because then they'd have to order a million more new components and let all the old ones go to waste.
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pscates2.0
Mr. Farmiga
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2005-10-18, 14:12

Well, then they need to knock that off.

How do other companies (Dell, Sony, etc.) go about this?

Luca touches on something I didn't even ask but often wonder about: the amount of time between official, major updates is long enough. But there have been so many times when we all KNOW there is a faster DVD drive available or whatever, and six months goes by and Apple doesn't use it. Then, on one of their yearly (at this point) updates, they'll finally throw it in (and disable 1/3 of the capabilities...but that's a whole other thread).



Odd practices, huh? Like they're always holding back just enough to bum us out and make us wait for the next revision...

Yeah, the VRAM thing baffles me too. I specifically asked last week if extra VRAM added heat or power drain, and was told "no". So for Apple - in 2005 - to still be using 32MB when there's no cost reason to do so...

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bassplayinMacFiend
Banging the Bottom End
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
 
2005-10-18, 14:24

I really think it's due to Apple's purchasing tactics. They order tons of a component (which helps them in the iPod nano department, they've ordered 40% of Samsung's output) and like Luca said, they won't update until those parts bins are empty.

PC laptop manufacturers can order in the same quantities as Apple but they'll run out of those parts sooner due to volume. This makes it easier for PC laptop makers to update their components. Also, there is much competition on the PC side, while on the OS X side there is only one manufacturer of OS X capable computers so there is much less pressure to update their offerings.

I've been digging around PC laptop sites and unless you buy a top of the line laptop, a 7200 RPM drive is an upcharge item. Most laptops still come stock with 5400 RPM drives.

As far as GPUs go, Apple seems to always get the short end of the GPU stick. There just isn't the huge market for go fast parts on the Apple side compared to the PC side. Plus you still pay a huge upcharge for a current GPU. Some GPU upcharges are close to $300 if you want something close to the latest and greatest.

The GPU VRAM thing is all related to Apple's product crippling strategy. You can't have the mini with 128MB VRAM when the iBook still has 32MB or whatever. They'd have to increase VRAM across the board which leaves them with a bunch of full parts bins they'd have to scrap.

Remember, these obsolete GPUs may be off the market for new buyers, but nVidia and ATI still have to honor their purchase contracts with Apple. So even if you can't buy a Radeon 9200 32MB in the store (who would want one anyway?) they still have to fill Apple's order.
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Luca
ಠ_ರೃ
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Minnesota
 
2005-10-18, 14:46

There's another problem, a combination of their parts-ordering strategies and their infrequent updates. Macs these days are on an 8-10 month update cycle, which means that a lot of times there will be several months between updates to different product lines. It's happened before where Apple has been forced to decide between putting better stuff in their lower end machines and holding them back further to avoid doing just that.

It works better if I use an example. Early in 2004, the eMac was updated, with PowerMac updates still several months off. Apple gave the eMac an 8x Superdrive, faster than the 4x units they provided with the far more expensive PowerMacs. The only alternative would be to either wait on the eMac update (which they didn't want to do, it was clearly time for a refresh at that point), or leave the eMac with a 4x Superdrive, later upgrading it to an 8x in the next revision (which could be ten months or even a year later).

It's a dilemma Apple often faces when pro and consumer lines are staggered. They might give the best stuff available to the PowerBooks, but six months later the iBook is ready for an update and "the best of the best" from six months ago is now cheap and well suited to the iBook. But they don't want to make the iBook the same as the PowerBook so they put slightly below average stuff into it. Or they put the same stuff into it and then people stop buying PowerBooks because they're not a good value anymore.
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pscates2.0
Mr. Farmiga
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2005-10-18, 14:51

Quote:
Originally Posted by bassplayinMacFiend
I've been digging around PC laptop sites and unless you buy a top of the line laptop, a 7200 RPM drive is an upcharge item. Most laptops still come stock with 5400 RPM drives.
But what's an Apple PowerBook if not "top of the line"?

You're making my point: "most laptops still come with 5400...but the top of the line is 7200rpm".

Well, the iBooks are 4200rpm (and so were the PowerBooks, until January of this year!). And you can't even upgrade to a 7200rpm drive for a PowerBook, no matter what (well, perhaps come tomorrow... )

For Apple's $2200-2600 king daddy laptops, no less...



The iBooks should be 5400rpm, period. And the PowerBooks should offer (if not installed stock) a 7200rpm BTO option.

It IS their pro laptop, after all...video, music, high performance, etc.

Little things like that...they kinda bug me, just because.

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Graphguy
can't type
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
 
2005-10-24, 02:04

I think mostly it's because Apple has a higher markup than other computer-manufacturers.
If you can save 50$ on a harddrive, that's 50$ you can pad the bottomline with. Somebody also mentioned how Apple buys it components, which is also true.

Weight, formfactor and battery doesn't really matter here. Highend laptops like Panasonic and Sony are just as thin as the PB
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gsxrboy
Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
 
2005-10-24, 03:11

Lets take this even smaller, for a long time it has been said that Apples were just built better and used higher quality components.. (and lots of us probably have old macs still kicking around that fire up everytime they are called on to do so). Discounting the things that cant be different really like hdds and ram (normal oem bits), what about the quality of the components on board i.e. resistors, diodes, capacitors (opps not including rev 1 iMac g5's), power supplies etc .. are Apple computers built with significantly better higher quality nicer toleranced items such as these?
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Graphguy
can't type
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
 
2005-10-24, 03:19

Strongly doubt it. They outsource the production, I believe in the laptops case it's Asustek.
Apple: We need 200.000 Ibooks, how much is it going to cost?
Asustek: Ehm, 600$ a piece...
Apple: Great, 500$ it is then!
For build quality, I think voodoopc, Alienware etc. are who to go to...
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