Testing the Apple Tax

Prompted by an article Zach Epstein posted to BGR last Thursday titled Testing the ‘Apple tax': What would it cost to build a Windows version of the new Mac Pro? I planned to link his piece as a smug counterpoint to all the people I know who like saying that they can build a more powerful machine for “1/3 the cost"1 of my overpriced Apple computer. As I thought more about the notion of an Apple tax though, I realized I had more to say on this topic than a juvenile “ha ha”.

Last week I visited a long-time friend of mine while on Christmas vacation. Before I bought a new Retina MacBook Pro, he and I had counted ourselves amongst the strongest of PC fanatics: throughout the entirety of our short lives on this earth we had both never owned a machine without the DELL logo emblazoned upon the lid, and would not even consider owning something so ridiculous as a Mac. We wanted to do real work, after all, and as well all know work does not get done on anything sporting a bitten apple. Ready for a new computer before college though, hesitant to adopt Windows 8’s problematic paradigms, and curious as to how the other half lived, I changed my mind, took a leap of faith, and bought a Mac. Sitting in my friend’s room last week having neglected to share this now month-old news with him, I searched for words to justify my change of heart. To my surprise, I found them in the very reasons we loved to hate Apple’s products.

We got on to the topic of computers, as we invariably do, while waiting for his laptop to open the CADD program Inventor. Since last I saw him he and another friend had built a 3D printer, so given his ability create a functioning digital model of nearly any conceivable object we set out to create a Lego part yearned for in our years as FIRST Lego League participants: a peg bushing. Those familiar with the world of Lego robotics will immediately grasp the rationale of such a piece, just like a quarter bushing; others will stop reading here. As we waited for Inventor to start, his system slowed to a crawl: even opening a sticky note took significantly longer than it should have on a machine built in 2012 and equipped with an i7 chipset; after a minute or so, his fans kicked in adding a subtle whine to the din of our parents’ voices downstairs. He dismissed the noise: “They turn on with the computer.” A better opportunity could not have presented itself on a silver platter as I explained that it took HandBrake encoding a 1080p video alongside Transmission saturating my internet connection to establish that my new Retina MacBook Pro did indeed possess fans; up until that point I had assumed it did, but as the weeks wore on without the slightest whir I had began to believe otherwise, that Apple had somehow managed to obviate the need for a cooling system within this tight aluminum clamshell. And then came the kicker: even under such an extreme load2 my Mac has yet to experience a demonstrable decrease in performance.

Using these qualities, made all the more attractive by the veritable wind tunnel his inch-and-a-half fan had created, as a jumping-off point, I continued expounding upon the virtues of this new machine: in addition to unfettered power and for all intents and purposes nonexistent fans, I still manage to get somewhere in the range of six to twelve hours of battery life depending on my use case in a laptop only slightly larger than his screen. I will not buy another Mac next time I need a new computer for love of the operating system, I explained, although OS X continues to grow on me the more I use it, but instead for the fantastic hardware that I cannot get anywhere else: while I may find a computer with similar technical specifications and maybe even at identical price points, I will never track down one also capable of running eight hours without charging or fitting inside a folder alongside my notebook paper. Zach’s article retroactively corroborated this statement: finding similar PC hardware proved just as impossible for Apple’s ten inch monster the Mac Pro as it would have for the MacBook Pro’s form factor, which is to say nothing for the price such typically commands in both machines. As Zach’s piece illustrated, in reality a comparable — based solely on performance — PC would cost significantly more than an offering from Apple.

When building a PC, one must choose one or the other, power or form factor; when choosing an Apple product, one never need make such a demoralizing decision. This unique combination of attributes makes any “Apple tax” worth paying; the fact that no such premium exists in reality is icing on the cake.

A friend of mine did, in fact, spout this exact and improbably low figure on numerous occasions.

Those familiar with HandBrake’s tendency to utilize all available processing resources, leaving the machine with virtually nothing to complete every other necessary task from opening a new application to minimizing a window, can relate.