No, the iMac Pro Apple Tax Isn’t a Real Thing

3 minute read
| Editorial

Author’s Note: I revised this article to incorporate a different monitor, after AppleInsider staffer Mike Wuerthele reminded me the LG UltraFine wouldn’t accelerate the graphics on a Windows build.

It hasn’t taken long for the haters to hate on the iMac Pro, but is their criticism valid? When the iMac Pro was announced at WWDC, many lashed out about the pricing of the all-in-one computer, especially the projected cost of a fully maxed iMac Pro. ZDNet was probably the first out of the gate, projecting that such a configuration would cost more than US$17,000. Is this due to an abnormal Apple tax, or is it just business as usual? Let’s find out, but I’ll give you a hint: I’m not a fanboy, but I don’t believe there’s any such thing as an iMac Pro Apple tax, or any other such nonsense.

There is no iMac Pro Apple tax

If a fully-upgraded iMac Pro would cost $17K, is that proof of the Apple tax? I don’t think so.

Examining the Argument for the iMac Pro Apple Tax

ZDNet’s David Gewirtz assumed what he called an “Apple tax of more than 80 percent on upgrades,” making comments like “And we wonder why Apple’s the world’s most profitable company.” Gewirtz cited things like a RAM upgrade costing $2,691, a CPU with 18 cores coming in at a $3,987 up-charge, and other upgrade charges.

I immediately wondered whether Gewirtz had ever purchased a custom-configured PC before, or if he just bought off-the-shelf. Without any solid evidence to prove my theory (which is that all of the PC manufacturers charge such a tax), I had to gather some proof. I priced both Dell and HP workstations, but chose to only include the results from my HP investigation. The pricing was remarkably similar, beginning to confirm my thoughts that there is no iMac Pro Apple tax.

An Important Note About These Configurations

One thing that’s important to remember when we’re making comparisons right now. Few, if any, computer manufacturers produce an all-in-one solution that’s as customizable and potentially powerful as the new iMac Pro. This is new territory. With that in mind, I’m configuring workstation-class computers that aren’t standalone, and then I’ll factor in the 27-inch 5K display as a final component to arrive at price estimates

The HP Z840 Workstation

The closest configuration to the iMac Pro from HP’s mid-range workstation category is set up as follows:

  • Intel Xeon E5-2620 eight-core processor
  • 8GB DDR4-2133 CPU-Registered RAM
  • 1TB HP Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro PCIe SSD
  • AMD FirePro W7100 8GB 4xDP Graphics Card
  • HP X520 10GbE Dual Port Adapter
  • HP Z27q 27-inch 5K Ultra HD Display ($1,684.99)

That configuration, including the display, comes to a grand total of $5,969.39, not far off from the iMac Pro’s starting price of $4,999. Now let’s see what happens with the HP when we try to match the maxed out specs of the iMac Pro’s potential.

  • Intel Xeon E5-2697 18-core processor ($3,660)
  • 128GB DDR4-2400 CPU-Registered RAM ($2,900)
  • Three more 1TB HP Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro PCIe SSD Drives ($499 each, for a total of $1,497)
  • Nvidia Quadro P5000 16GB Graphics Card with four DisplayPorts ($1,259)
  • HP X520 10GbE Dual Port Adapter ($499)
  • HP Z27q 27-inch 5K Ultra HD Display ($1,684.99)

In this configuration, the price is $15,473.89, less than two grand lower than ZDNet’s estimate of a maxed out iMac Pro. This might not even be a truly accurate comparison, though, since we don’t know the precise capabilities and specifications of the upcoming AMD Radeon Pro Vega 64 graphics processor.

The price increase for the 18-core processor is quite close to Gewirtz’s estimates for Apple, and HP’s price for upgrading the system memory (RAM) is actually a bit higher.

The Verdict Is In

Yes, some of the projected upgrade costs for the iMac Pro are higher than HP’s pricing. That’s to be expected, because Apple will likely be using components that haven’t been released yet. HP’s have been around a while, so the prices have gone down … a bit.

David Gewirtz, if you’re reading this, there’s no such thing as an iMac Pro Apple tax. For that matter, there’s not any other Apple tax. What you’re seeing is simply business as usual when it comes to purchasing computers, of any class, that don’t fall within the standard configurations. Call it an upgrade fee, or a “let’s pull this off the line and custom-install the components” fee. But it’s not an Apple tax. Just about every computer manufacturer in the world uses the same approximate pricing formulas for their upgrades.

17 Comments Add a comment

  1. andrewj050790

    Bless you for putting data to what I’ve argued for years. I’ve done the same with macbook pros in the past and arrived at the same result.

  2. geoduck

    Thank you. I’ve already linked to this article in a couple of online discussions about this very subject.

  3. John C. Welch

    It’s Gewirtz. He’s basically replaying John Dvorak’s playbook. Say something stupid about Apple to get hit counts, then when some well-intentioned goof presents facts, handwave it all away under “opinion” or what have you.

    What you should be doing is invoicing him for the time you lost reading his drivel.

  4. Scott B in DC

    ZDNet’s David Gewirtz is a cranky olde phart and should be ignored. I have had the unfortunate experience of meeting the man and wish I did not. Aside from an outsized ego, his logic requires inventing facts and justifying them with an impressive sounding resume. The problem is that when you look into his resume, half of it is superficial and his real knowledge of building enterprise systems is more from academic exercises than Real Life.[TM]

    If you ignore him maybe he’ll just go away!

  5. geppo74

    @Scott I am afraid ignoring the elephant in room won’t make magically disappear the beast. There is a anti-Apple credo going on in many press publications which is based on biased arguments as the “Apple tax” and whatnots of this case.

    @Jeff Butts: actually there is a so called Pro product which also has the AIO form factor for a comparison and it’s the MicroSoft Surface Studio. I am afraid someone in media should review its judgement on it in spite of this beast iMac Pro.

  6. Jeff Butts

    @geppo74 I wouldn’t put the Surface Studio Pro in the same category as the iMac Pro. Not in a thousand lifetimes. Yes, it’s a “prosumer” AIO product priced similar to professional workstations, but it’s severely limited. The iMac Pro will have the upgradability (at least at purchase time) of a desktop-class professional workstation. The Surface Studio Pro doesn’t come close to approaching the capabilities of the iMac Pro. Even the fully maxed out Studio Pro doesn’t come close to the base configuration of the iMac Pro.

  7. CudaBoy

    Of COURSE there is an Apple tax. Apple’s margins are 2nd to Ferrari (or the other way around) with the mfg. of Toyota. Anybody want to answer that? That, and the fact your pricing for the HP and other components simply is wrong and inflated. There has NEVER since the late 80’s been a Mac system that couldn’t be beat in specs for 50-100% less cash outlay. If I can PROVE you are full of beans here specifically with your component comparison prices here, will you send me a free brand new iMac Pro???? Thought so.

  8. Jeff Butts

    @CudaBoy Yep, I’ll take that challenge, because it’s a no-brainer for me. I’ve done the research. Can you say the same thing?

    That pricing comes DIRECTLY from HP’s website. The results were similar from Dell’s website configuration pricing. “Wrong and inflated?” Look up the specs yourself instead of trying to spread more ignorance-based FUD. Facts are facts, my friend. The “Apple tax” is a myth promoted by Apple-haters. Don’t insult me by calling me a liar after I spent several hours checking and re-checking my facts. Look it up for yourself before you spread your own vat of lies.

  9. Lwio

    Left out of the equation is that one intangible the OS. For me OS X is worth quite a lot. It’s ease of use reliability add quite a bit to any system. There is also the possibility of running Windows and Linux if necessary making an Apple system even more valuable compared to others.

  10. geppo74

    @Jeff of course the Surface Studio is less powerful than the iMac Pro… but its cost is in line with the iMac Pro and is also an All-in-One form factor workstation which many in the press were stating it was the iMac killer and the only choice for Pro user being disappointed at Apple.
    I am no fan either, but at least we as Apple user must shed a light here and there on those marketing bull$hit sold as technical insights.

  11. geppo74

    PS: sorry about the double comment. Jeff you might as well have also a quick look at boxx.com for a price comparison of PC workstations with the iMac Pro. Your point will be even stronger after having created a few configurations with their line of products and their BTO options.

  12. Bartholomew J. Woodcocke

    “That pricing comes DIRECTLY from HP’s website. The results were similar from Dell’s website configuration pricing.”

    You omit the fact that in the PC case, you have the option of ordering upgradeable components from whichever supplier you choose (subject to compatibility). Unless they’ve dramatically changed something from the “glue it down, solder it in, make it thinner aesthetic-over-function” ethos prevailing at Apple these days, I don’t believe that’s the case with the iMac – you choose when you load the online shopping cart, and that’s it.

    Then there is the fact that with a PC, you may defer an upgrade, for example perhaps opting for less RAM until budget allows, and the price per stick reduces. This was my typical routine with Apple products for decades, until they switched to their proprietary, horrendously environmentally-unfriendly model of disposable products.

    Of course, this would be the cue for the argument that “allowing” Apple complete control over the supply chain will result in a “better, more seamless user experience” etc etc and yes, there may even be some validity to that line of thinking. Yet I’ve found my rate of failure for components bought directly from Apple versus aftermarket to be essentially the same.

    All of this to say, that for commodity components such as RAM and hard drives, Apple’s pricing has always been higher for BTO options than for the same configuration sourced from other suppliers. It’s difficult to conduct comparisons on other components such as graphics cards as they can’t even be swapped after the fact with Apple products. So you buy them at peak price upon their release, or not at all. This fact is crucial to the comparison. If you want the real definition of the “Apple Tax”, it’s the fact that consumers are limited to what is offered by Apple’s hardware configurations far more than on the PC side.

    I don’t know about “research”, but this has been my personal experience with hundreds of Apple upgrades over the years. I’m not convinced Googling a couple of websites is exactly a rigorous comparison.

    And I am no Apple hater. Love their products, have used them exclusively since 1985. But I’ve never found them to be anything but more expensive, “apples to apples”, than PC products. As it should be, given the higher quality of hardware and software.

    But let’s not try to dispel one false idea (“Apple Tax”) with another (Macs are just as cheap as PC’s).

  13. jsafire

    OMG, come on, people.
    Jeff never said this was a “rigorous comparison.” Instead of jumping all over him and calling his research bogus, go to the HP website and do it yourself. And yes, you can buy 3rd party RAM and SSDs at lower cost but, I find it worth it (at least for MBPs) to buy it new and configured the way I want it from Apple. If I have a problem (actually, only twice) I can go to Apple and they will be responsible for the whole thing. Both of those times, it was 3rd party RAM that was at fault btw; not that Apple RAM (or other peripherals never have a problem – I know they do – just my experience since 1983.

    And, although name calling is really unnecessary, I *have* had a problem with much of Gewirtz’s obviously biased reports and comments but, thought I was the only one. I am glad to see Jeff call him out on this Apple Tax. Pfft, so ridiculous. But, something tells me, we haven’t heard the last of this…

  14. Bartholomew J. Woodcocke

    jsafire,

    Not jumping all over anyone. My comment about the depth of the comparison was prompted by the “Yep, I’ll take that challenge, because it’s a no-brainer for me. I’ve done the research. Can you say the same thing?” statement. If the whole point of the article was to demonstrate there is no “Apple Tax”, how credible is a cursory web search?

    “And yes, you can buy 3rd party RAM and SSDs at lower cost…”

    Well, uh, no… in the newest Macs you can’t.

    Which is why I stated I think the whole article is a non sequitur, since a BTO PC isn’t comparable to a BTO Mac in that the former is far more user-upgradeable. A major factor in the lifetime cost of a computer, you can’t just ignore it.

    And if one wants to write an article about perceived anti-Apple bias in the press, that’s fine – but a separate issue.

  15. Jeff Butts

    Well, uh, no… in the newest Macs you can’t.

    First of all, it wasn’t a “cursory” web search. It was an hours-long session spent custom-configuring workstations from both HP and Dell, researching components to find the closest match based on the information we have at hand.

    Second, we don’t know for a fact that the RAM is soldered down and unable to be exchanged on the iMac Pro. Nobody has one, yet. Apple has only stated that the RAM will not be user-upgradable, and the company isn’t alone in making that the case, especially with All-In-One solutions.

    Your statement doesn’t even hold true for the newest 27-inch and 21.5-inch iMacs. The user can, in fact, upgrade the RAM for both of those. OWC provides the components and tools necessary to do so. While I expect the process will be much more difficult for the iMac Pro, probably involving removing the display glass and logic board in order to access the DIMM sockets, it may be a possibility. Nobody knows that until the machines begin shipping.

    Perhaps, Mr. Woodcocke, you should conduct some research of your own before you critique that of others.

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