Quality Versus Cost

My dad and I keep having the same circular conversation, and it starts out something like this:

Dad:  “I’ll tell you what, you would be stupid to buy an Apple laptop these days.  You can a laptop just as nice as a MacBook, with better graphics, for less than a Macbook.”

Me:  “But I don’t want to use Windows or Linux.”

Dad:  “I know, but the graphics in these laptops are just so much better and for less.”

Me:  “I’d rather buy the laptop that has a lower chance of being borked in 18 months.”  (My Fujitsu Lifebook only lasted 20, which, given what I paid for it, was a crime.)

Dad:  “Well, this Vaio is four years old now and it’s still running.  You just can’t play games on these new MacBooks, the graphics aren’t there.”

Dad and Me together, one at the other:  “Yeah, yeah, whatever.”

Conversation ends.

We have this conversation at least once a month, and it always bugs me because he’s irrevocably correct, there are new OEM laptops that are just as specced as a MacBook (or better specced) for cheaper… but I look at them and still prefer the MacBook. 

It’s not that either of us are wrong.  Dad and I are just coming at the problem from different perspectives.  Dad can accidentally break his iPod by flinging it across the room (true story), exclaim over the accidental destruction, and then go buy a new from Amazon with 1-day shipping so it will arrive before he leaves on his imminent overseas business trip.  If I or The Husband break our iPods… well that’s it.  Maybe if we are really good with the budget we could scrape up enough to buy a Nano to tide us over till the next iPodportunity, but that’s about it, and it’s must be acknowledged as a splurge.

So we approach the problem of a laptop from different perspectives.  Dad sees them as a commodity, I see them as, not an investment precisely, but as a tool, similar to a car purchase but on a smaller scale.

When we bought our Civic last year, we picked that specific make and model because it has good gas mileage, a decent array of features, has a great reputation for reliability and longevity, and is a blast to drive.  Sure, other comparative models have more features standard, like, say, automatic transmission, but they just couldn’t compete on the reliability front.   (Standard was actually a feature for us, but that’s beside the point.  Honda charged an extra grand for an automatic transmission compared to other less expensive midsized sedans that came with it.)

So if we go back to laptops, I don’t just take price and specs into consideration when I’m buying a computer.  I also consider how well it’s built, and how long it’s likely to last, and my experiences with Apple in these two areas has been great.  My G4 tower at work died right before Christmas, at 8 years of age.  I’ve watched my boss beat the stuffings out of two Apple laptops (a TiBook and a last gen iBook) and the second  is still going strong.  I have a Core Duo iMac that’s almost three years old and I can’t even come close to justifying a new one, although it did get a HDD replaced under AppleCare a year ago.

So, like a car, I’m willing to spend a little more on a computer with reasonable expectations that it won’t cause me much trouble or inconvenience, and won’t become quickly obsolete.  It all depends on what you value, and the tradeoffs you’re willing to make.

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6 Responses to Quality Versus Cost

  1. babychaos says:

    I hear you! Typing this on a windows lap top which replaced one that had gone back to the maker under warranty 5 times in the first year… until they lost it and had to send me a new one. Bought a dell, supposedly bullet proof and it lasted 18 months… That said, where your dad is right is that the only computer which lasted me a decent amount of time (8 years) was a Viao!

    Not sure what to do now, have £3000 worth of software, photoshop and stuff like that, which will not work on a mac. That’s my rationale. I guess I’ll have to be a buy a dell for £200 and throw it a way type of woman… bit like my cars. I used to buy them for about £200… er… until the current one.

    BTW Civic. Good choice. Standard. Excellent choice.

    Nothing feels as good as good design eh?!



    • GeekLady says:

      Psst, buy a mac and put a windows partition on it. All my opposition to buying a mac was based on buying new software, and I gave it up when I could boot into Windows AND own a Mac.

  2. Pingback: Posts about Everything Apple as of January 20, 2009 | Geek and Money

  3. Deacon David says:

    Several observations on this post which are not going to be well-organized. My apologies for being a bit random at the end of a series of long days…

    First, responding the main thrust of the blog post:
    Strangely, the apparent pricing disparity between MacBooks and similarly-sized (13.3″ screen) Windows notebooks is a myth. I recently had to configure a laptop for a professor who wanted a lighter and smaller laptop than the standard 14″ or 15″ notebook. It’s the bigger ones that tend to be on sale (and where Apple has the much pricier MacBook Pro models). Once you factor in AppleCare and similar coverage from Dell or other PC manufacturers, there’s very little difference in price. If memory serves, the MacBook wound up being about $40 more expensive.

    As the first side note, the most expensive configuration caught me completely by surprise – it was a 13.3″ Dell configured with Linux instead of Windows. It cost $250 mre than the exact same system configured with either Windows Vista Business or Windows XP Pro!

    Second side note: I’ve been using BootCamp and/or Parallels to handle my Windows aps and limited gaming since the intel Macs shipped. It’s nice and works very well. Still, I really wish that Corel would get off their collective rears and release a Mac-native WordPerfect. It is the only Windows application that I can’t live without.

    Qualifier to the main point: I use a MacBook Pro, which I am blessed to have as a perk of my job. I have managed to justify it by its ability to run anything (Windows/Linux and Mac) that I might ever have to deal with in the department. Even though I have been getting replacement notebooks every year, I have strangely not felt the need to upgrade to the latest MacBook Pro. I’m not sold on the design for a variety of reasons, starting with the keyboard. The MacBook, on the other hand, has had a worse keyboard for a couple of generations, so the new model is an upgrade in most senses (the new graphics chip is a big plus, the loss of FireWire is a somewhat smaller minus).

    Sidenote the Third: I am at a loss to justify the MacBook Air’s existence, in spite of having ordered one for a professor. It just does not strike me as a good design (not enough I/O ports). Still, I know people who think I am odd for loving the Mac mini.

    Sidenote the final: Something I am considering, for experimentation purposes, is trying out the “Hackintosh” technique to get Leopard running on a NetBook (probably one of the Asus EEE PCs). A very cheap Mac OS laptop with a built-in right click and a decent number of IO ports seems like it would be worth exploring at least. To me, this is what the MacBook Air should have been.

    Still, an interesting read…

  4. alcibar says:

    Another example of inaccurate reporting. I would love to buy a Mac laptop. Cost is not the issue. The issue is that Apple does not make a suitable laptop for the gaming road warrior. The required feature set includes the following:


    Less than 4 lb. Any serious road warrior
    knows that MacBook Pro is way too heavy

    Optical Drive

    Required by stupid DRM on games unless you want
    to go to a lot of trouble with cracks. Also kind of
    handy in general. If anyone wants to demonstrate
    easy trouble free gaming without an optical drive

    Linear Dimensions

    13 in prefered although not critical as 15 in fits in
    briefcase ok


    Discrete graphics card. Required for future proofing
    The 9400m in MacBook comes close but I question
    its viability 4 years from now. Four years is the
    lifespan for a high cost laptop. Also MacBook is too
    heavy although if it had a discrete card I’d jump on

    The best Apple solution that I can think of is the possible
    release of the 15 inch MacBook Air with a discrete graphics
    card. The larger footprint might let it handle the additional
    heat from the graphics card. And the weight might come
    in at less than 4 lb. Note there are no rumors of an air with
    a discrete graphics card — just wishful thinking.

    Note that Sony meets all the above criteria except the key
    point the Mac Os. I am reluctant to drop 2500 $ on a laptop
    and put a kludge version of Leopard on it. A 400$ MSI Wind fits the definition of a whimsical experiment.

  5. GeekLady says:

    Pfft, we were talking generalizations, Dad, and you know it. I understand perfectly well the reasons you don’t buy Apple computers, and I can’t argue with them – Apple doesn’t make less expensive gaming laptops, and they just aren’t the company for the hardware hobbiest.
    However, you keep going on about how people would be dumb to buy a MacBook when so many cheaper and/or better laptops exist. I think you don’t apply the same metric to computers than you do to cars, and that’s fair enough, you can afford to do that.

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