Few people have heard of it, yet many consider John Blankenbaker's KENBAK-1 to be the first commercial personal computer.

Koss introduced these headphones over 40 years ago, and they remain affordable favorites to this day.

Message To Steve: Apple Is Stuck in the 1980s

Macintosh 128K

I would love to own an Apple Mac. The operating system is amazing and I'm tremendously fond of Apple design. However, the company only sells a single machine -- the diminutive Mac Mini -- for under $1000. Sadly, it's woefully underpowered and insanely overpriced.

Those with long memories will tell you that Apple Macintosh computers have always been pricey. The original Mac -- equipped with a monochrome display and 128K memory -- debuted in 1984 at a price of $2495. Its advanced technical design, playful operating system and radically different shape allowed Apple to market it at a premium against a flood of boring beige PC clones.

Fast-forward almost a quarter century and Apple is still playing the same game. The trouble is that their machines are now based on the same commodity hardware as a standard PC, yet the company keeps prices sky high on the basis of good looks and an excellent operating system. However, as component prices drop and performance skyrockets, the Apple premium has reached insane levels.

Let's compare the Mac Mini to a cheap Dell PC:

Macvspc

[Update: One irate reader visited the Dell site and couldn't find the machine listed above. Here's a link. I added Vista Home Premium to get the $399 price.

Another reader didn't like that I used the Intel E2200 in this comparison, although it's built on the Conroe dual core architecture with a smaller L2 cache (it's all a branding game). It benchmarks higher than the Core 2 Duo Mobile in the Mac Mini, although in the real world I wouldn't expect as good performance. Still, adding a significantly more powerful e8200 Core 2 Duo processor only adds $150 to the Dell. To use a car analogy, Apple is using the same motor and transmission as GM but charging Porsche prices.]

Apple should be ashamed of themselves. 

The Mac Mini retails for twice the price of the Inspiron but comes up short in many areas. The main problem is that Apple has chosen miniaturization over performance by using notebook-class technology in a desktop case.

The use of expensive mobile parts drives the cost of the Mini through the roof for no good reason. A case in point: the Mac's Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 Mobile processor has a street price of about $300, yet it underperforms the Dell's economy-class E2200 which retails for a mere $100. Yes, the Mac's processor is more energy efficient, allowing Apple to cram it into a tiny box. But is that worth a $200 premium?

To be blunt, the Mac Mini's only saving graces are that it runs OS X and is cute as a button.

Apple's bizarre strategy should raise huge concerns for Apple investors and fans. Where is Apple's killer entry-level machine? Why are they sacrificing performance and expandability to produce pretty but underpowered computers? Why do they keep trying to foist all-in-one iMacs on us, when the industry has demonstrated that consumers want the ability to mix and match?

Apple understands that they don't need to dominate the notoriously unprofitable budget PC market. Instead, they've been focusing on building profitable premium machines. The downfall of this strategy is that it's now possible to buy excellent quad core PC desktops for under $1000, yet Apple's least expensive Mac Pro retails for a breathtaking $2799. Sooner or later, Apple will have to step up to the plate and release a proper mainstream PC.

I suspect millions of people are willing to pay $799 for an Apple desktop that offers performance and expandability comparable to a typical PC. I'd even be willing to pay a couple of hundred dollars extra for a pretty Apple case and OS X. But twice the price for an underpowered toy? Come on.

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