Monday, December 22, 2008

How Come Dell Can Sell

Sometimes it pays to step outside the box one inhabits for a perspective shift.

For example, I've been chewing over whether it makes more sense for me to buy an Apple Certified Refurbished early 2008 MacBook Pro 2.4 GHz for Can$1,449, which is a decent discount of Can$650 from what they were selling for new a couple months ago, or to buy an Apple Certified Refurbished (ACR) 2.4 GHz MacBook for Can$1,049. Or even go with the black 2.4 GHz MacBook for a hundred bucks more than that. Or wait until some of the new Unibody machines hit the refurbished channel. Or wait until Snow Leopard ships....

If you share this affliction, you know how it is. And then I opened the newspaper this week and there's Dell Canada advertising Inspiron 1525 notebooks for the netbook-esque price of $549. That's Canadian $549, and with the Canabuck having dropped into the mid-to-upper 70 cents range US from its dizzying, intoxicating historical high of just over US$1.10 a year or so ago, we're talking a full-fledged Inspiron laptop here for the equivalent of US$440 at today's exchange rate.

Dell Inspiron in Sunshine YellowFor that astonishingly small amount of cash you get a 15.4" widescreen display, a Pentium dual-core processor (2.0 GHz/667 MHz FSB/1 MB cache; for a Core 2 Duo add $100), 2 GB of RAM, a 250 gigabyte hard drive, an 8x dual-layer SuperDrive, wireless, HDMI out, free shipping, and it comes in your choice of seven attractive colors: Jet Black, Espresso Brown, Ruby Red, Midnight Blue, Spring Green, Flamingo Pink, and Sunshine Yellow. Uh, make mine Espresso.

Dell Inspiron in EspressoBy comparison, the refurbished black MacBook has a 13.3" display, a Penryn Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB of RAM, a 250 gigabyte hard drive, an 8x SuperDrive, wireless, an external display port that requires an optional adapter, free shipping, and will set you back $1,149. (If you opt for a white housing and a 160 GB HD, it's $1,049 for a refurbished unit.)
Too Cheap?

Steve Jobs says you can't build a laptop computer for under US$500 that isn't junk and that Apple doesn't do cheap. So the Inspiron 1525 is definitely cheap, but is it junk? I'll venture that there are some quality and design compromises by comparison with the MacBook, but are these egregious enough to justify opting for a machine that costs more than twice as much and isn't even brand new?

ITManagement's Jason Perlow says he buys his PC in boxes from discount clubs like Costco, where quad-core 4 GB DELL and HP desktops with 500 GB hard drives can be had for $499-$699 as disposable commodities - using them for a while and then presumably passing them on or even discarding them and buying another.

That may make bottom line economic sense, but it rubs me the wrong way in several contexts. For one, it is hideously wasteful and contributes to the tsunami of electro-trash that is becoming another of the world's manifold environmental problems.

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