On the hunt for a budget computer? Whether you choose a Windows-based machine or a Mac can make a huge difference in how much you spend and what you get. But remember: when it comes to investing in computer hardware, it’s about getting value for your dollar, not spending the bare minimum. The longevity, reliability and enjoyment you derive from your computer factor directly into whether you are getting a good deal or not.
For this review, we’ll be taking a look at the cheapest Apple desktop that money can buy versus the cheapest Dell that money can buy. By the end of this article, you’ll have a good idea of which is a better buy—or at least enough information to make up your own mind.
Price – Winner: Dell
Apple computers cost more. That’s a rule with very few exceptions. The lowest end Mac Mini will set you back $699 while the Dell Inspiron 570 will cost you a mere $279. But that’s not what this review is about. To determine which buy is a better value, we need to take a look at which advantages you get by paying more for a Mac Mini.
Operating System – Winner: Toss Up
Unless you throw yourself into the thick of geek debate, this one comes down to personal preference. You cannot run OS X on anything but Apple hardware (unless you invest your time, effort and skills into a Hackintosh), so that is the number one benefit of choosing a Mac Mini instead of the Dell Inspiron. The immediate benefits of the Mac OS platform for everyday users that, in general, it’s less prone to viruses, malware and hacking attempts (though not immune). Apple computers are also preferred by those in creative professions, such as graphic design, web design, music producers and film editors.
Windows, on the other hand, has a longstanding reputation as the platform best suited for taking care of business. It has a less spatial approach to managing windows and tasks. Plus, it’s the best fit for Microsoft products, such as Outlook, PowerPoint, Office, Word and Publisher.
That being said, Apple computers do support Microsoft Office and there are numerous Mac versions of Microsoft productivity programs. Also, Windows machines have many of the same creativity applications and suites, such as Adobe programs and ProTools. And given that much of what we now do with computers happens on the web in this day and age, the discrepancies between platforms are becoming more and more insignificant.
Again, which is better for you comes down to personal preference. Spend an hour or two on a friend’s Apple computer and see how it feels. Even if you are a lifelong Windows users, it shouldn’t be hard to adapt to an Apple environment.
Processor – Winner: Mac Mini
The Dell Inspiron 570 packs a AMD SempronTM 140 (2.7GHz/1MB cache) while the Mac Mini’s lowest configuration boasts a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo. Yes, the Inspiron’s processor is faster on paper, but in spite of the leaps and bounds that AMD and other third-party CPU manufacturers have made, Intel is still the leader of the pack. Of course, this is still a topic of debate among true geeks. But with these two processors, you are practically splitting hairs—especially since much of the performance differences you’ll see will be due to the platform discrepancies.
Disk Storage – Winner: Dell Inspiron 570
The Mac Mini has a 320 GB of hard disk space, while the Dell Inspiron 570 comes with a minimum of 500 GB of hard disk space. No other depths to plumb here—the Dell wins.
RAM – Winner: Tie
Both the Dell and the Mac come with a minimum of 2 GB of RAM. We would compare upgrade prices out of the box, but it’s always a good idea to upgrade RAM yourself. It costs much less and you can usually get higher end RAM units.
Monitor – Winner: Tie
Neither the Dell Inspiron 570 nor the Mac Mini comes with a monitor. That’s good news, because it means you can simply keep your existing monitor and hook it up, saving yourself $100 or more. Both computers have VGA and HDMI connectors, meaning they’ll be suitable for hooking up to older monitors or HD monitors. The Mac Mini, however, has an HDMI to DVI converter in the box, making it a wee bit more flexible.
Graphics – Winner: Tie
The Mac Mini has a NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics card. The Dell Inspiron comes with a Integrated ATI HD4200 Radeon. At first glance, it may seem like the Mac Mini has a dedicated graphics card—but don’t be confused. The Nvidia GT 320M is a dedicated graphics card, but the GeForce 320M in the Mac Mini is a chipset graphics card just like the Dell Inspiron. They offer comparable performance.
Form Factor – Winner: Mac Mini
The Mac Mini, as its name implies, is very small. It’s perfect as a multimedia computer or if you have limited desk space. The Dell Inspiron is a tower system, that may be more at home beneath a desk rather than on top of it.
Connectivity – Winner: Mac Mini
The Mac Mini has built-in AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi compatibility as well as a wired Ethernet port. The Dell Inspiron only has the latter. You’ll either have to buy a wireless card for the Dell or settle for wired networking.
Given the above, it makes more sense to buy the Dell Inspiron, unless you truly want a computer that runs Mac OS. While there are some areas where the Dell lags behind the Apple in terms of hardware, the Dell’s tower design lends itself well to upgrades—which are usually less expensive when performed by the end user.
That being said, Apple hardware tends to be more reliable over time. While any computer will easily last two to three years without issue, Apple hardware has a reputation for lasting much, much longer. It’s important to remember that PC slowdown is often caused by software bloat, rather than hardware issues or obsolescence. So whichever computer you choose, it pays to maintain it over time.