Psystar Mac Clone Not the Deal They Make it Out to Be.

There’s lots of talk about Psystar and their selling a cheap PC as a Mac, complete with Leopard.

That last part is important, because without Leopard it’s not a Mac anyway, and yet some articles quote the base price of $399 even though it doesn’t include the OS!

Fortune even goes so far as to ask the question:

Basically, it’s a Mac Mini with twice the memory at half the price. So what’s not to love?

I’ll tell you what’s not to love:

  • With Leopard installed it’s $554. We’re $45 from the base — and $245 from the high-end — Mini. That’s hardly half the price.
  • Firewire adds another $50. Now it’s more expensive than the base and $195 less than the high-end. (Since it’s more expensive than the base, I’ll make comparisons with the high-end.)
  • What you gain with the hack: A slightly faster processor, twice the memory, twice the hard drive, and the ability to expand.
  • What you gain with the Mini: Support and a warranty that will be honored, the iLife application suite, wireless networking, Bluetooth, remote control, small form factor, quiet operation, and regular updates from Apple.

Regarding support and warranty, Psystar doesn’t have much to say about it. In the FAQ the warranty description begins thusly:

Psystar will be your intermediary for the exchange of defective parts in the Open Computer and OpenPro for one year (365 days) from your original purchase.

Oh goodie, they’ll be my intermediary.

As for support, they don’t talk about that at all (nothing in the FAQ). But when you think about it, how can they provide anything meaningful in this regard? They are hacking Leopard onto a machine and will obviously have zero recourse from Apple or any other development to address incompatibilities or other issues.

Regarding upgrades, Psystar says this in the FAQ about whether updates can be applied:

The answer is yes and no. No because there are some updates that are decidedly non-safe. Yes because most updates are not non-safe

Translation: “Beats us. Did you not get the part about us hacking Leopard onto this machine? We haven’t a clue whether an update will work or knock down the whole house of cards.” The FAQ answer is simply their way of acknowledging they don’t know what will and will not work.

Anyone who buys one of these and thinks they’ll get reasonable (or perhaps even any) service, support, and upgrades are the kind of suckers born every minute that P.T. Barnum loved.

A “bargain” Mac is not feasible at $399, even if Apple opted for smaller margins. The warranty and good support add too much to the cost. Dell, HP, etc. pull this off by shipping all support overseas and/or not providing very good service to begin with. Apple has not taken this route; their customer satisfaction scores bear this out.

While I do believe the Minis are a bit overpriced for what you get, there’s no way Apple should try to get into the cheap machine game.

5 thoughts on “Psystar Mac Clone Not the Deal They Make it Out to Be.

  1. Well i learned Two good things at following all these threads about the Psystar Open computer:

    1) buying a regular Apple Mac mini is not all bad especially since it comes with Leopard, iLife, working drivers, updates, and a better platform of support.

    2) If I goto Newegg, I can build for about the equivalent cost, a fairly complete PC box without OS, and download and install Ubuntu Linux for free and with some degree of ease.

  2. Jeremy,

    You bring up good points, but I’m not so sure I can agree with them. This is supposed to be a Mac with two advantages:

    – Cheap
    – Expandable.

    Regarding cheap, even the lowest end Mac has firewire, so I don’t think it’s inclusion is off base. Especially since for editing Movies (a Mac hallmark) firewire is the most common way to get movies into the Mac in the first place. Psystar didn’t leave it off because they felt no one would use it, they left it off to advertise a cheaper price and hoped no one would notice. Kind of like leaving the cost of Leopard off.

    In fact, this thing isn’t “cheap” because Apple is way overcharging, as Psystar claims, but rather because Psystar left off a bunch of stuff and just don’t bother to point it out. The whole thing wreaks of used car sales.

    Regarding expandable, Psystar offers one video card upgrade, what if I want to add something else? And what about all other expansion upgrades? Psystar would have you believe you can slap in anything you want, but the fact is they haven’t a clue if that’s true or not. So what if you add a killer gaming card and it doesn’t work? Will Apple help? Of course not, you’re running a hacked system. Will the video card vendor help? Of course not, you’re running a hacked system. That means it’s up to Psystar to provide the support you need, and I don’t see where they’re in any position to do that.

    If Psystar wasn’t advertising all this expandability than maybe I wouldn’t make as big a deal out of it, but the fact is support could be a big deal with this machine, and I think it will fail completely.

  3. Excellent analysis … good catch on the “exclusion of Leopard for $100-$120”.

    Also, iLife – if it were a PC application would be in the “Adobe price range”

    To jeremy above,

    Anyone who is even slightly serious about a Mac or knows about burst rates between firewire and USB – it makes a huge difference – your argument is solid though because the intended audience may not care – but I am glad it’s on my mini.

  4. Dell also achieves lower prices by whoring out your hard drive to the highest bidder and putting their crapware (“trial software”) on there.

  5. Good work on pointing out that it’s not a $399 Mac, it’s a $554 Mac with Leopard and $633 with Leopard and iLife.

    On the other hand, while the cost of support is both real, and of interest to anyone seriously interested in using computers, I don’t think it’s a factor that will be considered by those interested in this particular *type* of computer, and thus not really fair to factor into the value equation. This computer is only a smidge above the level of the kind of computer you would find on the home shopping channel. It’s aimed at fools, and the value proposition only makes sense if you treat the product as a disposable one, not something to be fixed or maintained.

    I also think the firewire argument is a bit thin as the average consumer, (let alone the dummies this thing is marketed towards), does not have firewire gear.

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