best buy, i call bullshit

Today, I got my computer a bit of an extra lifeline. As avid readers of this blog (ahem, myself) would know, my HP dv5z pretended to kick the bucket a couple of weeks ago. It being my primary computer and me not being much of an internal-workings-of-the-laptop junkie, I decided to take it to Best Buy to get it fixed. Seemed like the consumer thing to do, right? Wrong. Best Buy quoted me $253 to fix what was quoted as a heat sink/fan assembly requiring replacement. Which is what I expected. Except that the part costs about $15 online (from eBay). It is out of stock in HP but the most expensive quote for it I saw was about $70. In the best case for Best Buy, that meant a cost of about $170 for labor (given that they have already stolen my $85 for “diagnostics”).

I got my computer back today and given that I have pretty much decided to buy a new one, went ahead and cored it. It was fascinating seeing all the little pieces that make up a laptop. I had gone about 3/4th of the way in previously but this time, with my HDD safe and a new laptop purchase in the near future, I went all the way. I got all the way down to the heat sink and removed it. I had purchased a can of compressed air from BB and used it to clean the fan assembly out. Sure enough, it seemed to be hitting something.

Feeling adventurous, I went ahead and disassembled the fan assembly. Using some suggestions I found on the internet, I applied some machine oil (or, in my case, the oil I use to oil my electronic clippers) to the axle that comes in contact with the fan system. I then put the piece back together and tested it out with the compressed air. No noise. I let it sit for a bit and then tried again. No noise. I put the rest of the laptop back together. I am now writing this post from that laptop. No noise.

In no way is this a permanent solution. In fact, I’ve gone ahead and ordered a replacement part from a vendor on eBay (and even got Bing CashBack back already!). But the fact of the matter is that what I did is not worth $170 in labor, any where in the world. It took me a little under 1.5 hours to disassemble the laptop, disassemble the fan, ponder what the problem is and reassemble the whole thing. And I’ve never done this in my life before (well I’ve disassembled this laptop a few times but not enough to do anything useful). That means that in Best Buy’s most convenient case, they’re charging about $113/hr to fix this issue.

That is a ludicrous value. I currently get paid a bit more than $30/hr if I estimate based on 40-hour work weeks. A Best Buy “Geek Squad” engineer makes 4 times this for being able to read a manual? Ridiculous.

Well, I’ve learned my lesson. If I can do it myself, there’s no need to go into a consumer electronics store to get stuff fixed by their highly overpaid “technical staff”. I feel a bit bad for all the consumers who are not technical at all who get duped on a daily basis. $85 for a diagnosis? Absolutely ridiculous.

The worst part of it all is that from what I saw inside my computer, no one seemed to have really opened it up to investigate it. I feel like I should have put a little sticky post-it note saying “remove this if you opened the computer” to see if someone actually looked into it or if they just mailed it to each other and fed me a extravagant quote.

Anyways, when the replacement fan comes in, I’ll go ahead and install it. The positive here is it buys me a few more days to make a decision on a new laptop.

narrowing down the contenders (part 2)

I took a look at two more configurations today before my patience, or rather impatience, got the better of me. On a side note, I’ve been doing a lot of personality surveys over the last few days as part of work and I realize that while I’m kind of analytical, etc., I’m still kind of spontaneous when it comes to making decisions. I’m sure my parents can vouch for this–when I was a kid and I wanted something, I usually wanted to get it from the first shop we visited. All the price comparing, looking for the best deal, etc. just came in the way of me getting the toy. Not much has changed–just the toys are more expensive, now (and I’m buying them). 🙂

So the two computers I added to my list were the Dell Latitude E6400 and the Apple MacBook. Here’s a short summary on each one’s spec:

Apple MacBook

Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo P7550 2.26GHz
Screen: 13.3″
Weight: 4.7lbs
Battery: “7-hour battery life”
Warranty: 3-years AppleCare
Price: $1,248 + taxes

The things to note here are that this uses an old processor (didn’t look to closely at the benchmark) and a slow hard-disk. I was also surprised that I had to pay about $350 for the 3-year AppleCare warranty; for some reason I was under the assumption that that was included in the premium price (my mistake). Given that this computer is pretty expensive, pretty crippled comparatively and is a Mac, it’s not high in my prioritized list.

Dell Latitude E6400

Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo P8800 2.66GHz
Screen: 14.1″
Weight: 4.3lbs
Battery: 9-cell
Warranty: 3 years
Price: $1,071 + taxes

I looked at a couple of Latitudes since they seem to be the business machine of choice (NI business laptops are usually Latitudes, although interestingly they are not available on the Dell EPP page). Unfortunately, they haven’t refreshed their line yet, as they still have the old-school Core 2 Duo’s and only DDR2 RAM. Isn’t a big deal, but not really future-proof, considering that I am getting a 3-year warranty.

Needless to say, I’m not going to be buying either of these configurations.

In fact, I have pretty much decided on the Sony VAIO CW Series. I’ve spec’ed out a couple of configurations and it seems to have the most power for the best price. The only downside is that the machine is 5.3lbs, which is only about half a pound lighter than my HP dv5z, but then again it is only half a pound heavier than the Apple. I was strongly leaning towards the EliteBook 8440P, which has so far got lots of good reviews. However, it made more sense to go with the VAIO: (1) Double the RAM (4GB vs. 2GB) and using only one slot so upgradable, (2) 70GB more of HDD space, (3) cheaper by $70 and (4) I can engrave something into the bezel (currently I have decided “sohummm”). In fact, I’m so sure about getting the VAIO that I already applied for financing and was approved for $3,500 of credit with 6 months on 0% APR. Given that I’m looking to pay this out over 3 months max, I don’t know how I can let this deal go (not to mention the credit approval makes me lean towards looking at one of the more expensive lines, too).

Anyways, that’s it. Looks like VAIO is going to re-enter our family after my Dad had one of the ultra-portable models back in the day.

narrowing down the contenders (part 1)

As I have mentioned recently on this blog, I’m in the market for a new laptop computer. I’m tired of big, bloaty, excessively hot, heavy computers so I’m looking for something that is small and lightweight, yet powerful enough to do some development on. With my home entertainment center all set up and performing at peak, I have no need to invest in a decent graphics card or a ton of RAM, although these things would be useful while doing some development work.

Over the last few days I’ve looked at several different contenders and have come up with the following shortlist. This list can still change and it even includes an HP (even though I had sworn off them). This research has demonstrated to me that buying a business laptop (which all of these unilaterally qualify as) is a much more expensive affair than buying a consumer laptop. The HP that is quickly going to waste and was my previous laptop was purchased for under $700 before warranty. These business notebooks are minimum of about $850 before I spec them up.

Anyways, enough dilly-dallying. Here are my contenders. I’ve chosen them based on price, size, weight, sexiness and heat dissipation (one of my major factors!).

Dell Studio 15

Processor: Intel Core i5-430M 2.26GHz
Screen: 15.6″
Weight: 5.54lbs
Battery: 9-cell
Warranty: 3-years premium + LoJack
Price: $1,011 + taxes

Now, I know what you’re thinking. This is a consumer-level laptop that suffers from all the issues that the HP did. It is about half a pound lighter. Could be lighter if I went with the standard 6-cell battery. I know, putting this laptop up makes me seem very hypocritical or perhaps even appear like one of those people who do not learn from their mistakes. Well, this laptop isn’t my top choice. I’ve included it more to show the price disparity than anything else!

Dell Onyx Adamo

Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo Su9400 1.40GHz
Screen: 13.4″
Weight: 4.00lbs
Battery: 6-cell
HDD: 128GB Solid State Drive
Warranty: 3-years
Price: $1,395 + taxes

This is a laptop that was recommended to me by Jesús. It is sleek and at least the stock graphics make it look immensely sexy. It has a small form factor and is designed to rival the Macbook Air, although it weighs in at a pound heavier. One drawback is that it is the only laptop in my list that does not have an internal optical drive. I’d have to purchase a USB CD-ROM drive to be able to install Windows, etc. If I chose to get the Onyx Combo Drive, that’s another $120 (I think it is actually included in my price above).

HP EliteBook 8440P (WH256UT)

Processor: Intel Core i5-520M 2.40GHz
Screen: 14.0″
Weight: 5.20lbs
Battery: 6-cell
Warranty: 3-years
Price: $1,199 + taxes

And the HP option returns. I was very vehement about not investing in HP in my earlier post, but having read a few reviews, it seems HP’s busines line (EliteBook) is a world apart from the consumer line Pavilion series. I read several reviews for this unit, and did searches specifically for heat issues, fan problems and other issues. It seems that this EliteBook is a hell of a lot better at handling heat than previous EliteBooks, which were way better at handling them than the Pavilions, to begin with. The downside here is that the machine comes only packed with 2GB of RAM and it’s still quite heavy (5.20 lbs) compared to the Adamo. If I recall (and I will verify this) my HP dv5z-1000 weighed in at around 5.8lbs.

Sony VAIO CW (VGN-CW290)

Processor: Intel Core i5-520M 2.40GHz
Screen: 14.0″
Weight: 5.30lbs
Battery: 6-Cell
Warranty: 3 years
Price: $1,129 + taxes

This is the first time I’ve looked at Sony for a laptop. Again, this is slightly heavier than what I’m interested in, but it’s got a good spec sheet. It’s coming in at $70 less than the HP EliteBook, although the finish looks a lot more plasticky compared to the aluminum finish that the EliteBook supposedly has.  Otherwise it seems like a good deal–in fact it is the only deal on the Sony VAIO line that seemed anywhere near affordable. Given that Sony is a luxury laptop line to begin with, I’m hosting that their general consumer offerings are better than their counterparts from Dell and HP.

So that’s part 1. Part 2 will probably contain a few Mac offerings as well as a few of the less powerful, more portable offerings. I’m hung between getting a computer that is really light because I don’t want to end up with a Tablet PC-like Visual Studio experience.

toasted laptop

Today I found out that my laptop has been effectively toasted. Not a great result for a computer I bought about a year and a half ago (I think I bought it in September 2008). Turns out that the CPU fan and heat sink assembly apparently needs to be replaced. Best Buy quoted me $253.06 to do the replacement, which is ridiculous given that I bought the computer itself for about $650 including a 1-year warranty. I looked up the fan and heat-sink assembly part number on the web and a new one costs between $30-$50 (depending on which processor/video card assembly I have), so, to me, it looks like Best Buy is trying to take me for a ride. Of course, the “diagnostic” costs ran up $85, which I don’t get back. Ridiculous how much repair companies screw over less-technical consumers. Most consumers wouldn’t even attempt a repair themselves–I tried it but didn’t want to wreck anything, so stopped halfway.

Anyhow, this means I’m once again in the market for a new laptop. I think I’m going to go with a Dell, this time, given that I haven’t heard too many problems about them and NI has some nice employee discounts with Dell. This is the first time I’m stepping out of the HP market in nearly 6 years (basically since college) and given my experience with Toshiba (in high school) and Compaq (which has now been bought by HP), my realistic choices are basically Dell, Lenovo and Sony. And, I guess, Apple. I will be not-very-seriously looking at Apple during my purchase, this time, and if the pricing matches up properly, who knows? Of course, I’d have to sacrifice 64-bit Windows (I think?) unless Boot Camp can run that stuff now.

With my old laptop, I’ve already salvaged my hard-disk so what I could do is reuse the RAM in my new purchase (if their timing, etc. matches up) or try to buy the fan/heat sink assembly online and fix it myself. We’ll see after I get my laptop back.

Anyhow, that’s it for now. Just a bit of grumptastic news, but the bright side is I will be getting a new computer soon (oh, my!). internet fraud scam

This morning I woke up to an email for one of the domains I own, with the following text:

Dear CEO,

We are a domain name registration and dispute organization in Asia, which mainly deal with the global companies’ domain name registration and internet Intellectual property right protection in Asia. Currently, we have a pretty important issue needing to confirm with your company.
On January 6. 2010, we received an application formally. One company named “Citters International, Inc” wanted to applied for the network Keyword “brandscapesworldwide” and some domain names through our body.

Now we are handling with the registration of find that the keyword of these domain names and network keyword is identical with your company’s. So we have to confirm with you at two points:
1. If your company consign Citters company to register these domain names and network Keyword, we will send application form to them and help them finish the registration at once.
2. If your company have nothing to do with Citters company, they maybe have other purposes to register these domain names and network Keyword.

I want to confirm that are you the corporate representative of this company? If you do, I will feedback some problems to you; if you do not, please send my words to your company’s coprorate representative or lawyer. We need your answer of force adeffect. In order to deal with this issue better, please contact us by telephone or email as soon as possible.

Waiting for your reply ASAP.

Best Regards,

Auditing Department

At first I was afraid, I was petrified…. oh wait, that’s a song. But anyways, I tried going to (the domain listed as the website for this company) and they did not exist. I then Googled the company and found a wealth of similarly worded emails that have been largely considered a scam. Apparently what this company does is prowl the WHOIS database to find companies that have only registered a .com TLD and don’t have the other TLD’s, specifically the .cn and .hk ones. Then, they send this strongly worded and poorly grammatical email to the admin and tech contact listed in the WHOIS, spurring them into action. I suspect their eventual goal is to sell the .cn and .hk and possibly other domains at highly inflated prices to these hapless domain owners.
Not exactly a scam, or fraud, but kind of unpleasant anyway. Just posting this so that anyone else who encounters such an email in the future can take heed!

iTunes kills the iPhone Experience

This Black Friday I made the jump to purchasing an iPhone. AT&T had a pretty awesome deal going on which allowed me to snag a refurbished version of the 3G-S 16GB for a mere $49+$18 upgrade fees+some taxes. Total price was around $70, the condition being a 2-year contract, which I’m not too worried about since I’ll probably be staying with AT&T anyways. I was already paying for a BB data plan, which is equal to the iPhone one, so no extra charges there.

The phone itself is beautiful. Of course, having used the iPod Touch for nearly a year now, I knew what I was getting myself into. I was able to activate after a few issues and copied over all my apps from my iPod Touch using iTunes. So far so good. Next, I found a tutorial on the web that essentially used iTunes to create ringtones. Splendid, right? So I created a couple. Then, I thought, “Oh, I might as well get all my music into my iTunes.” This was possible now finally that I have my Windows 7 Homegroup set up properly. So I went ahead and added the music folder to iTunes and went and did my P90X workout and showered.

Once I came back, I was ready to crank out some ringtones manually. Not. iTunes was busy “Determining Gapless Playback Information”. A feature that I really don’t care for. And one that is programmed badly enough that it ends up using all of iTunes’ resources, rendering the program unusable. Now, iTunes wasn’t a fantastic program to begin with, being slow and clunky, so imagine how the end user experience is when your mouse events are delayed by 5-10 seconds. Ridiculous. Luckily, there was an “X” right next to the message, and I clicked it and decided to hunt around in the Preferences for a way to disable it.

Midway through my search of the first Preferences tab, I noticed my mouse events slowed down again. “What?” I thought to myself. After about half a minute more I was out of the preferences dialog and to my disgust I found that iTunes had decided once again to “Determine Gapless Playback Information”. Annoyed, I clicked “X” again and sure enough, about 5 seconds later, it was back! Not only that, but it started from the first track every time! Looking around on the internet for a few fixes, I found a couple that should have worked but didn’t. I realized that now that I have bought my first “real” Apple product, I will have to enter that realm where I sacrifice a few of my rights as the owner of a device to do what Apple wants me to do. In this case, this means that I will have to let it run for the 30-60 minutes it must take to set up this feature which I don’t care about, anyway, and come back to do my ringtone-making tomorrow.

And they complain Windows 7 takes a minute to boot up…

yay networking and remote access!

Two cool features that I unlocked today, despite knowing about them for a while, were networking and remote access. I had heard of LogMeIn for a long time and even used it in one of my classes at Rice last year, but I had never realized the true potential of it. I set up a LogMeIn account for myself this morning and tested it out at work. I was very impressed by how well the technology works and though its no Windows Remote Access, I did not have to fiddle around with port settings, security settings, firewalls and the like to get it working. Thus, at lunch at work, I took the liberty to remotely install SVN on my computer and start to set up a web-based SVN system through WebDAV. I’m planning to couple this with my DynDNS account that I created a few days back and hopefully soon I will have a computer that’s hosting a variety of different servers running.

Second was home networking. I hadn’t previously had success while trying to use Windows 7’s Homegroup feature to get my home network in place. Seems like it was an issue with the way Hubert had created the Homegroup that prevented this. Just a few moments ago I created a new Homegroup following a really easy article on Neowin. It took less than 10 minutes to do and I was able to set up my own libraries and share data out of the 5 partitions I have in an organized manner. The library feature is pretty nifty, too. This time the Homegroup read/write permissions actually worked and I was able to copy a bunch of data that I had on my laptop over through the network. The speed certainly left something to be desired, but this beats the USB flash drive system any day of the week!

That’s all for now. I haven’t checked the ability to share files that aren’t in a library and this did seem to be the problem earlier. So perhaps the problem is still there, and just hidden away. Hopefully not!


I’ve been riding the Microsoft high for the last week or so, so it was only fair that they would let me down and really screw up. Oh well, thankfully I’m not a Microsoft fanboy, so I will go ahead and call them out on their faults.

This story has to do with the Windows Installer framework and how poorly it is designed. On or around October 14th, Microsoft released a “critical security patch” that fixed SQL Server 2005–KB970892. Great… I always keep my patches up to date–or try to–so I went ahead and downloaded it. I didn’t actively do it, of course, since Windows Update takes care of all that. Unfortunately, the update was poorly designed and kept failing. All the time. Every time I opened my start menu, the little “Updates will be installed on shut-down” shield was winking at me. I didn’t realize it was the same update over and over again, and thought that perhaps updates are being triggered by each other, so that different updates are being installed.

However, a visit to the Windows Update page showed that the same KB970892 patch kept failing. With the descriptive error code of “Unknown error”. Awesome. If I had been a lazier, less obsessive person, I would have ignored the problem and let it fix itself. However, I decided to use “teh Google” to help me out. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with the issue. Apparently lots of people were having the problem. Solutions ranged from registry fixes to starting/stopping SQL services to many other random options. All suggested by third parties, since Microsoft didn’t think this was big enough to address. Even on their own damn forums.

The option I chose, that was marked the answer on one particular MSDN forums thread, involved downloading the Microsoft Windows Installer Clean Up utility and getting rid of all the installers for SQL Server products. This seemed like a viable solution since I haven’t and don’t plan to ever use SQL Server, so I set about my business. Now, a word of warning (unfortunately from hindsight). Just because it is called a “Clean Up utility” doesn’t mean that is what it does. I thought “clean up” had to do with cleaning up temporary files and the like that were generated on program installation. In actuality, clean up means to actually delete the installer files for the products you choose. Why anyone would want to do this is something I won’t understand, but why the utility is called clean up is something I’m pissed off about now. Very.

So I went through and removed all the installers for SQL server, inadvertently. I then happened upon a post later in that thread saying that following those steps broke Office. Hmm… interesting. I opened up Microsoft Word and sure enough I was greeted by a flurry of installer dialogs followed by an error message saying that Office wasn’t installed for this user. No Office. Fine… I’ll just repair it, right? Wrong. No repair allowed. Apparently you need to have the installer for SQL server to repair Office. Okay, gah, I’ll just uninstall and reinstall it. With a flashy new computer, the process is going to take 15 minutes tops.

Strike 3, I’m out. I can’t uninstall Office either, using the installer. Apparently to uninstall Office, you need to have the installer for SQL Server 2005. The logic here was beginning to baffle me. How many freaking dependencies did I have to fulfill to remove a freaking program? I Googled and found Microsoft-provided instructions for removing Office 2007 manually. There was an automatic utility I used first that seemed to succeed but I still wasn’t able to install Office since it was apparently still “installed”. But not for me, for some mysterious user that didn’t exist, so I wasn’t able to use it.

I used the manual-manual instructions, finally, and backed up the registry and set about deleting files here, there and everywhere. It took about 30 minutes to do and once I was done, I restarted. And the freaking SQL Server 2005 update was still sitting in Windows update, accompanied by a “Microsoft Office 2007 System Update”. WTF? I just went through and REMOVED MS Office… how the hell could I now be getting an update for it? Nonetheless, I selected both to install and it seemed to… WORK! I restarted my computer and guess what? Failed update… again.

Getting thoroughly annoyed, I decided to try and use System Restore to restore to before I had tried any of these shenanigans. No deuce there, either. Apparently system restore depended on some file that had been removed, and hence kept failing. I was under the impression that system restore files were stored in some alternate location so they could be used to usefully recover from a system “failure”. Apparently, not. So now I’m left with a computer with a mysterious version of Office 2007, an update for a program that doesn’t exist and a major headache.

Microsoft’s installer framework has baffled me. It seems like a ridiculous prerequisite for an installer to depend so heavily on another component such that it cannot even uninstall a program. I mean…. any program I install should be completely uninstallable, right? If I remove ALL Microsoft Office products, it should handle all the dependencies and remove EVERYTHING, not leave things here and there. This is nothing new, of course. If you install Visual Studio 2008 and then the service pack, you cannot actually uninstall the IDE without manually uninstalling the service pack first. And they don’t even tell you that… the uninstaller just goes through a process and then fails with a generic error message. Ridiculous.

Thankfully, I had made a backup of my entire registry before I set about removing any installers. So my plan of action tomorrow will be to restore the entire registry and hope things work from there. Of course, I’m not hopeful, since I have technically removed all the files for the Office installation now, so having the registry recovered is probably going to create a ton of deadlinks. Whooptee doo daaa!

On another note, I started re-watching Lost. I figured if I started now I would be all refreshed by the time the new season rolls around next year.

windows 7 launched!

I’ve been following a lot of tech news sites of late and feel like it would be worthwhile writing my responses to them on my blog rather than lost forum posts. 🙂 This one’s in response to Five Ways Windows 7 Could Become another Vista on PCWorld.

Actually surprised to see one of few articles on PCWorld that isn’t glorifying Apple at the expense of Windows 7. It seems most people ignored the whole “devil’s advocate” section of his article just so that they could come here and show off their virtual biceps.

With regards to UAC, I was one of the few who was happy to have it from Vista itself. I always feel better knowing exactly what’s going on with my system files and who wants admin access and why. The result being that I’ve gone nearly my whole life and definitely my whole life on Windows Vista+ without getting a single virus. People keep attacking Windows for being insecure, but the fact of the matter is that you have to do at least a stupid thing or two to expose a hole that cannot be easily patched by Microsoft.

Regarding drivers, with Vista being around for a couple of years, most driver development has been geared towards that platform, and hence will be compatible with 7. With MS dropping XP support in a couple of years, it would make sense for device developers to focus on the Vista/7 target platform.

I disagree with the point about performance improvements. I think at least between Vista and Windows 7, Windows 7 has been much faster and much more stable all the time. I ran Vista and Windows 7RC off the same machine to test this, in a dual boot environment. Even with the Windows 7 install booting off an external HDD through eSATA, it was far and away mindblowingly faster than Vista. In fact, after two months of using both, I realized the majority of my time was spent on Windows 7 so I went ahead and upgraded my Vista installation to the RC. I’ve been using the RTM edition since around September and just got done installing it on my powerful new build. The boot time is literally on the rate of seconds right now, which is ridiculous. Of course, this is because its a new computer, but compared to a clean install of Vista, the difference is absolute and large.

Windows 7 is indeed expensive and I would feel the bite if I wasn’t an MSDN subscriber. It would be nice for them to make the price lower. But you’ve got to see at the same time that Microsoft cannot contend with Apple in the OS pricing model. Apple knows that for 99% of the purchases made for their OS, they will have made a hardware sale. Apart from the few Hackintosh builders out there, OSX only runs on Apple hardware. So they can afford to drive the price down really low because they’re going to be making a sale of a MacBook, iMac or Mac Mini. Compare this with Microsoft, who will make very few retail sales of the OS since the vast majority of the PC market purchases pre-built computers. Microsoft has made most of its money from OEM sales to the likes of HP, Dell, etc. and these prices are low so they won’t recover the costs of development. Retail buyers will feel the pinch. However, look at any professional software and you will realize that Windows 7 isn’t that ridiculous. If users are willing to shell out thousands of dollars for the Adobe Creative Suite and other specialized applications, the price tag of just about $130 on an OS doesn’t seem to ridiculous.

Direct upgrade from XP was never going to be possible and Microsoft was adamant about this from the beginning. Users who thought that MS were just joking around really shouldn’t have and should have prepared for a migration well beforehand. They can continue using XP, of course, but I would personally migrate while Microsoft still supports the XP platform since it’ll likely be a lot harder later.

iMac? $1601.37 reasons I will not switch anytime soon!

Anyone who knows me will know that I’m not the biggest fan of Macs. I’ve had the pleasure of using an Apple iMac quite consistently during my time working in the Marketing & Communications department at Rice University IT and thoroughly enjoyed using it for web-design and graphics development, two of my responsibilities that were made easy by iMacs. I always knew Macs were a bit pricey, but only when I actually began setting about building my own computer did I get an idea of how much.

As many of you may know, Apple released their new line of Mac computers today. They released MacBook Pros, the good old iMac and a Mac Mini or two. Among their new offerings were two iMacs built on the latest Intel quad-core chipset–the Nehalem architecture’s LGA 1156 offerings (the Core i5 and i7). These babies start at a price of, wait for it, $1999! This is daylight robbery, in my opinion, and I’ll take it upon myself to prove exactly that.

First, to gain even ground, let’s look at a spec-down of the two computers at hand. I’m going to compare the price of the components of the computer I build with an equally spec’d out iMac. Here we go:

iSohummm Edition

Processor: Core i7-860 2.8 GHz
Motherboard: ASRock P55D Pro
RAM: Corsair XMS3 2x2GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics Card: Gigabyte GV-R467ZL ATI Radeon HD4670 1GB
Hard Drive: 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black (7200RPM)
Optical Drive: 22x Samsung DVD+R 8x DVD+RW 16x DVD-ROM 48x CD-ROM
PSU: Corsair TX650W
Case: Antec Three Hundred Illusion
Keyboard-Mouse: Microsoft Wireless Desktop 6000 v2

Apple iMac 27-inch

Processor: Intel Core i7-860 2.8 GHz
Motherboard: UNKNOWN
Graphics Card: UNKNOWN ATI Radeon HD4850 512MB
Hard Drive: 1TB UNKNOWN (7200RPM)
Optical Drive: 8x DVD±R 8x DVD+RW 6x DVD-RW 8x DVD-ROM 24x CD-ROM SuperDrive
PSU: UNKNOWN (but apparently >365W)
Case: Apple 27″ IPS-enabled Monitor
Keyboard Mouse: Apple Magic Mouse + Wireless Keyboard Bundle

A total difference of $2380.42 – $779.05 = $1601.37. Hence the title of this post. “But what about your display!” you scream. Well, I’m going to be using my HDTV as my primary output for a while (until a decent LCD offer comes around). That cost me ~$854 after taxes and a 3-year warranty from Fry’s. And it has S-IPS (that’s Super IPS, for those who’re wondering) technology, supposedly. And it’s about $15 inches bigger (only diagonally, though) than the iMac computer. So the question is… is the all-in-one functionality+magic mouse+a slightly better gfx card worth a whopping $800? Or is Apple taking its dedicated user community on a ride (again)?

To better answer this question, I want to highlight a few details I picked up on while customizing my cart:

  1. Upgrading from the Core i5-750 (2.66 GHz) to the Core i7-860 (2.8 GHz) costs $200 on the Apple store, before taxes. The retail price of an i5-750 on Newegg is $199 and that of the i7-860 is $289. The difference is $90. Apple is charging its customers $110 extra to make this upgrade (remember, the mobo+everything else does NOT need to change to enable this since both are on the LGA 1156 socket), over the retail cost, before taxes.
  2. Upgrading from one 2x2GB memory kit to a 2 (in essence, buying another 2x2GB memory kit) costs $200 on the Apple store, before taxes. The retail price of the most expensive 2x2GB DDR3 SDRAM kit at the 1066 MHz clock speed on Newegg costs $87.49. The price difference is a whopping $112.51 extra that Apple is making from its consumers. Unless their original mobo only has 2 memory slots (which is kinda scary to begin with) and they need to do a mobo upgrade to support the second kit (did not appear true for any of the P55 boards on Newegg).
  3. And here’s the kicker–Apple charges an upgrade price of $250 for a 2TB hard-drive from a 1TB offering. That’s $70 more than the most expensive 2TB 7200RPM SATA drive on Newegg! And that is to upgrade from a 1TB, which usually retails for around $90. So, Apple is charging consumers an extra $160 approximately, to upgrade their HDD from 1TB to 2TB than it should cost.

What does this mean? It means that Apple is not only charging a ludicrous premium on their i7 offering, but they are at the same time charging HUGE premiums on upgrades. I’m going to be in the market for another TB and another 2x2GB kit of RAM come Black Friday, and I don’t expect to spend more than a total of $150 on that (did I mention that my mobo also has onboard RAID support?). That’s more than Apple is charging than market to upgrade from a 1TB to 2TB.

It’s crazy. I’ve not been making many friends with Mac fans over the last couple of days (especially on a certain CNET article) but the fact remains that these prices are heavily, heavily inflated. The iMac, I understand, is targeted towards home and home business users, compared to the Mac Pro, which is targeted towards business users and professionals. I shudder to think how much one of those will cost, after being loaded by one of the higher end i7 chips. Probably well into the $4000’s as a base price.

I’ll admit it here and once. If that Mac was available for around $1500, I’d seriously consider getting it. The cost would be just about $700 more than what I’ve spent currently to get into a seriously hard-to-upgrade, all-in-one machine with a sexy display. The best part would be I could use bootcamp and run Windows 7 off of it. But at this price, it would make more sense for me to upgrade all my components to their max (getting a 58xx video card, getting the $999 i7 chip) and I reckon I’d still just about break even.