Recent news about security hacks on OS X should have us on guard against grabber headlines, right? We can’t help ourselves. We’re suckers for screaming headlines.
Now PC Magazine is in the act with “Your Next PC Will Cost $159.” That’s an implied assumption, if I’ve ever heard one. How can an iPod nano cost more than a “fully equipped” PC?
Remember that the iPod comes fully equipped. Even at $599, Apple’s hot-selling Mac mini needs a keyboard, a mouse, and a monitor (not to mention a little more RAM).
How should I react to a headline that screams, “Your Next PC Will Cost $159.” A healthy dose of skepticism is a good start.
Fry’s Electronics’ OutPost is selling a PC for $159. What do you get for $159? How does it compare to a Mac mini at $599? What do you have to add to the $159 model to make a fair comparison (hint: lots)?
PC Magazines review of Fry’s GQ3131 leaves a bit to be desired. For example, “The surprising thing is that the GQ (short for “Great Quality,” by the way, not Gentleman’s Quarterly) turns out to be a powerful PC. It’s low-cost, in other words, not high crap.”
We’ll need an arbiter to define “low cost” and “powerful” but you get the idea. Still, there’s that headline screaming, $159.
The GQ3131 comes with AMD’s Semptron 2400 chip at 1.67 gigahertz, making it comparable to last year’s Mac mini with the PPC chips (if you don’t mind such comparisons).
Unlike the Mac mini, there’s a keyboard and a mouse, but no monitor.
It’s a minitower model, black, not beige.
At $159 you can’t expect much, at and that price point you won’t be disappointed.
The only challenge is trying to upgrade it so it’ll match the minimum Mac mini. Easier said than done.
The GQ3131 comes with four USB ports, built-in audio with six channels, and 10/100 ethernet. Graphics is motherboard based, though specs were difficult to obtain.
The Mac mini comes with a similar number of ports, plus Firewire, audio, and gigabit ethernet. The Mac mini is not a cheap PC.
$159 also gets you a 40 gigabyte hard drive and a 52x CD-ROM. No, no CD-ROM/DVD combo drive. It won’t even burn CDs. The minimum Mac mini will burn CDs and read DVDs, and it’s slot loading, not tray loading.
Oh, the Mac mini minimum model comes with a 60 gigabyte HD.
How about RAM? What are you expecting for $159 when Apple charges $100 simply to add another 512 megabytes to a Mac mini? The GQ3131 weighs in with a mere 128 megabytes of RAM.
That’s not a typo. It’s 128 megabytes vs. the Mac’s standard 512 megs. What’s the GQ3131 running? Windows 95? Almost.
The GQ3131 runs Linspire 5.0, a variant of Linux but with a GUI designed by Fisher-Price (I’m just guessing). Linspire in a box at CompUSA usually costs about $50, so you’re really getting the computer for only $110.
Linspire comes with a bunch of the UNIX-family of tools, in Linux form. This includes OpenOffice, so there’s already a Microsoft Office knock-off inside.
Besides a burial, what can you do to a $159 PC that brings it closer (I can’t bring myself to use the term “on par”) in feature compatibility with a base Mac mini?
This is a much more difficult task than it sounds. The Mac mini comes with superior SATA drives, gigabit ethernet, DVI out, and Firewire. You’d have to rebuild the GQ3131 from scratch to get all that.
Adding RAM, a larger hard drive, and a CD-ROM/DVD combo drive could cost an extra $100, or so, but it’s still not comparable to the Mac mini.
Even then you’d have to add Bluetooth, and a PC version of Airport Extreme, not exactly easy to get working on some versions of Linux.
In the end, adding all the extras to the $159 GQ3131 makes it more of a $400 Frankenbox, and it still doesn’t have any resemblance to a Mac mini.
After that, it’s just comparing Mac OS X, iLife’s iTunes, iPhoto, GarageBand, iDVD, and iWeb to… you get the picture. It’s just not easy to compare the two.
What surprises me is to look at such a Frankenbox for $159 and realize that a new iPod nano starts at $149. The economics just don’t make sense.
Who’s being ripped off? Us poor Apple Tax users who pay for something cool that works? Or the folks who plunk down $159 for PC and don’t know the experience can be so much better.
Finally, another brief lesson in economics. The PC Magazine article which touts “your next PC” at $159, is a five page review. That’s five pages. Each page must have about 10 ads. The whole review is at least 50 ads.
And you’re still left with a bad taste in your mouth over a $159 PC and a grabber headline.