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Mars Report:

PC Magazine on G5 Quad Pricing: Fact, Fiction, or FUD?

Published March 15th, 2006

What An Expensive Computer!An expose such as this one about PC Magazine’s review of the Apple Power Macintosh G5 Quad system from late December, 2005, wouldn’t qualify as “news” in most media outlets. However, though I wasn’t able to just “jump on it” as a real journalist would have, a Martian never forgets! Besides, the story hasn’t changed, and PC Magazine still displays this outlandish information on its website as if it were fact, not fiction. After reading through the info I’ve gathered for this story, you can be the judge of the facts in this case.

The serious error here is that PC Magazine lists Apple’s Power Mac G5 Quad as costing . . . Guess! You’ll never guess how much they say it costs. Honestly.

OK, I gotta spill the beans at some point. PC Magazine says a Quad costs $7,023 to $9,522!

When I first read this in December, those numbers struck me as very odd, since I had just bought a new Quad for myself, and I didn’t pay anywhere near $7,000-$9,500 for it. The unit I bought was hardly the base model, either: I had paid an extra $350 for the Nvidia GeForce 7800 graphics card with 512MB of VRAM when it became available as an option, and also added $99 for Bluetooth and Airport wireless cards. And I got all this for only $3,448! How is this possible, you ask? Read on.

Let me start by asking a very basic question: “Who in their right mind would pay $7,000-$9,500 for a desktop computer?” And the answer?

Right! No one would. But guess how many PC users see the Quad listed on PC Magazine’s website as the most expensive system in PCdom and think,

“Gee, Apple computers sure are expensive! Look at this! $9,500 for one computer? Why pay that much when I can get the top-of-the-line Dell for only $4,700, according to this magazine. I had heard that Apples were a lot more expensive than PCs, and this sure proves it! No wonder they don’t sell very many. . .”

PC Magazine's Table Showing PowerMac QuadAnd thus the myth of the expensive Apple Macintosh is perpetuated, because there are millions of PC users who know nothing about the Macintosh but what they read in rags like PC Magazine. And besides those millions, there are the millions more who read the magazines that syndicate what PC Magazine says.

Very quickly today, I browsed through Google’s index for the last 3 months looking for articles on this topic. I found quite a few that simply parrot PC Magazine’s misleading price information (some of these sites are part of the same Ziff-Davis news conglomerate that owns PC Magazine):

Sadly, several Mac-oriented e-zines covered PC Magazine’s review as well, but the ones I know of focused on its praise for the machine’s speed and “blazing multimedia performance,” ignoring the major pricing gaffe. One of the reasons I didn’t rush to write this up 2 months ago is that I assumed some other blogger would take take PC Magazine to task by now on this, but the only protest I’ve seen of it is in the set of comments that follow the review, where a couple of readers make the same points I’m making here.

Clipping of PC Magazine ReviewAs one of the review’s Mac readers notes, PC Magazine makes at least one other error: It states that the two 500 GB hard drives in the test system don’t come as a RAID set. Bzzzzzt! If you knew Mac OS X, you’d know that its Disk Utility has capabilities far beyond anything you get with Windows. Disk Utility can not only set up various types of RAID arrays, it can also repartition your drives with an ease that would make PC geeks weep.

In addition, it’s hard to miss the reviewer’s snide swipes at Apple on pricing, which are peppered in among nicer comments:

Count on Apple not to let your money burn a hole in your pocket. …

For anyone other than graphics or video professionals, this system is probably overkill—not to mention a bank-account obliterator.

Article covering PC Magazine ReviewBut by far the worst offense is that price tag. Even though the review mentions in passing that the base price is $3,299 (without monitor), that’s not the number that skimmers will take with them. It’s also not the number that shows up in “mini reviews” that encapsulate the review for syndication, nor in the web site’s “Compare” feature, which lets you pit one system’s specs against another. No, there, and everywhere else, PC Magazine still says the PowerMac G5 Quad costs $7,000-$9,500!

What gives? Isn’t there any integrity or intelligence left in technology journalism? Why didn’t an editor catch this outrageous statement? Oh sure, PC Magazine gives this incredibly expensive machine a 4-1/2 star rating and, despite the snide remarks, an overall highly favorable review. But you know that at least 1/2 star was lopped off because the machine doesn’t represent a good “value” at that price, and it also didn’t garner the magazine’s “Editor’s Choice” star.

Now, there must be some truth behind PC Magazine’s price, right? They couldn’t have just made those numbers up! Well, I suppose there must be. However, to get to those kinds of numbers, here’s what you have to add to the base Quad:

  1. 8 GB of RAM, adding $2,300
  2. 1 Terabyte of storage, adding $875
  3. The Quadro FX 4500 video card, adding $1,350
  4. The 23“ Apple Cinema Display at $1299

With all of that, I was able to push the price up to $9,423.

So, is it possible to spend $9,500 on a Quad? Indubitably! But it’s hardly within the normal price range, which is how PC Magazine makes it appear. As a matter of fact, the magazine’s test system only had 4GB of RAM, but they added on the lust-worthy 30-inch Cinema Display as their test monitor! (How does the monitor help you test the PC, other than letting you see what’s going on…?) And when you substitute those choices for the ones above, you actually end up with the identical price: $9,423! So, where does the $7,000 come from in the magazine’s price range? Why, it’s the Quad without a 30-inch monitor, don’t you know.

Adding insult to injury, PC Magazine actually has the temerity to include this statement among the “cons” for this system: “The Nvidia Quadro graphics are overkill.”

Huh? You’re judging a system based on its most expensive graphics option, rather than the card that ships in the base model? I happen to agree that the Quadro is overkill, and I’m sure most other Mac users do, too. But I like knowing it’s an option, and I’m sure there are some high-end graphic designers–particularly those who work a lot in 3D–who might actually need that card. Hell, if you can afford it, it’s one of only a couple cards that can support two 30-inch Cinema Displays.

Another clippingGrrrrr. See why I was pissed when I saw this review? A reasonable price range for the Quad in a magazine like this would be maybe $3,249 to $4,748. That starts with the very well-appointed base model and adds a 20-inch Cinema Display, an upgraded video card (to the Nvidia 7800), and an upgrade to 2GB of RAM. Without question, a Quad with those specs would compare favorably to the Dell X600, the most expensive Dell in the magazine and the one they compare the Quad to in their ”Compare“ table. (Though PC Magazine lists the Dell as costing $4,700-$5,500, you can actually get one for somewhat less than that.)

So even though the Quad has four processors and is much more expandable than the Dell (which tops out at 2GB RAM, for example, while the Quad can go up to 16GB!), it’s quite comparable to the Dell X600 in performance and overall hardware specs. Yet PC Magazine says a Quad will cost you at least $7,000 without a monitor, whereas you can get the Dell for $5,500 including a huge 24-inch monitor! Now, which would you choose? If you’re a PC user, you would say ”this is a no-brainer.“ (You may have noticed that some PC users are very much into ”no-brain“ thinking.)

One more note about this whole mess. I would personally never buy a Power Mac with 2GB of RAM from Apple (although I must say I’ve never seen Apple RAM prices as low as they are now). That upgrade cost me $300, but I can get 2GB of equivalent RAM from Other World Computing (for example) for $200.

Here’s a snapshot of what PC Magazine shows on their website today:

PC Magazine's Summary Review of PowerMac G5 Quad

If anybody with influence in this industry reads this, please spread the word about the fraudulent data PC Magazine is publishing about Apple. It’s precisely errors like this that perpetuate the ”Apple is more expensive“ myth, which many of us “Macheads” are struggling to disprove. Indeed, the error is so egregious I can’t help but think that some of Microsoft’s FUD money may be involved, even though the magazine bills itself as ”The Independent Guide To Technology.“ Because of articles like this, people don’t just get the impression that Apple computers are ”a little“ more expensive. Rather, they seem to think that Macs cost ”a lot“ more.

Now, I’m not putting all the blame for this myth on PC Magazine. They just happen to have provided a present-day example of how this myth stays alive. To my way of thinking, it’s inexcusable for a responsible technology journal to continue to feed that myth now that Apple computers are actually a little less expensive than comparable PC’s. (Computer hobbyists: Before you whip out your pen, let me remind you that I’m not interested in how much it costs you to build a computer with your bare hands, any more than I’m interested in how much you’d save by building your own car, refrigerator, TV set, or stereo. It’s irrelevant to the discussion.)

If you actually do a feature-by-feature comparison, as I did in my study of the market last year, making sure you configure today’s PC’s and Macs with equivalent hardware and software, you’ll find that Apples are now less expensive than PC’s such as Dell. (This analysis doesn’t even take ROI into account, as a more recent study–which concluded that PC’s are twice as expensive as Macs–has done.) As I said last year, including equivalent software in the PC-Mac comparison equation is not only a good idea, it’s absolutely necessary. After all, computers exist only as a mechanism for running software, and it’s the quality of the software that accounts for a large part of the computing experience. Without software, you’d have nothing more than an ugly, heavy, black plastic box (in Dell’s case) or a beautiful, heavy, aluminum-clad end table (in Apple’s case).

Neither of which would you shell out $3,000 or more for. Am I right?

So spread the word… PC Magazine is flat-out wrong in pricing the PowerMac G5 Quad, and they should correct the error. You can buy a PowerMac G5 Quad for less than half the price they list, which means: For about the same as an equivalent PC, or somewhat less.

Note: I tried to find some statement of methodology on PC Magazine’s website that explains how they come up with the configurations they use for their reviews. I couldn’t. Even if this is a system Apple configured and shipped to PC Magazine without their input (which I doubt), they have a responsibility to their readers to base their review on actual system prices rather than on the price of one very highfalutin configuration. After all, Macworld’s reviewers presumably got a test system as well, but they report the Quad’s price accurately: $3,299.

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