RUMOR: The sub $500 Mac laptop, and why we won’t see it - Macenstein

RUMOR: The sub $500 Mac laptop, and why we won’t see it

Posted by Lab Rat

From the LoopRumors website:

LoopRumors has information that Apple has been developing a stripped down iBook model geared for low-end users. Whether the new machine will have an Intel processor or remain PowerPC is unclear. The price of the laptop is aimed to compete with sub $500 notebooks such as Dell’s Inspiron B120.

While there’s no reason Apple couldn’t do this, we tend to think LoopRumors might have left off a “0� in that price. After all, Apple can barely put out a video iPod that cheap, and all that does is play MP3s and low-res movies. In order to release a sub $500 laptop and maintain even half of its customary margins, Apple would likely have to cut corners to the point where that laptop would only have about 14 keys on the keyboard, and no hard drive.

But seriously, while a sub $500 notebook wouldn’t be a huge technological challenge for Apple (as LoopRumors points out Dell and others produce such machines), the release of such a product would send pricing shockwaves up the entire Apple line and all but destroy its pricing model.

Right now there is not a huge performance difference between a 12-inch iBook and a 17-inch PowerBook (certainly not a $1500 performance difference). Apple doesn’t have a huge variety of processors to choose from when it comes to portables. The iBooks now run at 1.4 GHz, and the high-end PowerBook is only clocked at 1.6 GHz. Even if a sub $500 Apple portable was Intel based, how slow a processor could they put in it and still expect it to sell? It can’t be one of the new Intel Yonah processors, those are too fast and would compete too closely performance-wise with Apple’s higher-end machines (not to mention they are likely too pricey for such a system).

LoopRumors claims the laptop would be “geared for low-end users�. I guess the question is, how low-end are we talking about here? At the risk of sounding like the snob that I am, anyone who can only spend $500 on a laptop probably doesn’t need a laptop. They are not what you’d call a “go-getter�.

This proposed laptop is not a computer for the business world. So this means a sub $500 would be aimed at students, yet the question is, WHICH students?

Pre-K through 3rd grade students pretty much just want to play Reader Rabbit, and despite the specs published on their boxes, kids games are often more demanding on a processor than you’d think. A $500 notebook for a 1st grader is also likely to prove a bit flimsy in their hands.

High school kids will want to watch DVDs and maybe even edit movies on their laptops, and there’s no way a $500 laptop will do that.

So let’s look at the 4th through 8th graders. In theory all these kids need to do is write papers for school, and search the internet. A sub $500 laptop would serve them well. However, why do they need a laptop? Where are they going to write their papers? Most of the kids in this category would do better with a (more powerful) Mac mini tethered to their home.

There are probably some budget conscious college students who could use such a machine to write their papers and such, yet most likely would be able to find a way to cough up the extra $400 for an iBook with more speed, movie watching ability, and wi-fi.

While I can’t picture the person who would want one, there must be some sort of market for such a machine since Dell and other PC manufacturers make them. However, the problem Apple faces is not so much that a sub $500 Apple laptop can’t be made yet, it is that a sub $500 Apple laptop can’t be RELEASED yet. Unless at this January’s Macworld Apple switches ALL of its portables over to Intel, they cannot release a sub $500 laptop.


Think about it. If Apple releases a low end laptop, it would almost have to be powered by Intel processors. As I mentioned above, the G4’s just don’t have enough breathing room for another variation without Apple releasing a 2003 iBook and calling it a new product. So assuming it would have to be an Intel machine, there is no way Apple wants its first Intel-based laptop to perform like a dog. Yet it would have to if Apple is not ready to update its entire portable line to Intel. If Apple puts a decent processor in a sub $500 laptop, it will likely perform quite well compared to Apple’s current laptop offerings unless Apple cripples the front-side bus or something to slow it down. But if Apple were to do that, then the performance would be so below the $500 Dell laptops that Apple would look like idiots for switching to Intel. The “big fish eats little fish eats littler fish� hierarchy means PowerBooks must always outperform iBooks, and iBooks must always outperform any new budget laptop.

And don’t forget, OS X is a monster, and needs a good deal of RAM and horsepower just to run the desktop, not to mention an actual application. While some Intel processors are likely capable of doing this, and perhaps even at a price point to allow for a $500 Apple laptop, the fact remains that unless Apple has Intel based iBooks and PowerBooks lined up for Macworld, Apple can’t release a budget portable.

And there is one more thing to consider when it comes to Intel Apple laptops. For an Intel PowerBook to be released, all Apple’s pro applications, like final Cut Studio, need to be running and running WELL. While Apple has certainly had more time than any other company to ensure its applications are being ported to Intel, the next few months and January in particular seems a bit optimistic. Conventional logic would say a Mac Mini or iMac is a good choice for the first Intel computer. These are not really meant to run Final Cut, and should handle other, consumery, less hardware dependent programs well.

So while LoopRumors gave no actual timetable for the release of this budget laptop (as most of us rumor sites don’t), we think it will likely be more than a year before we see the Apple sub $500 notebook, if at all. Plus, we’d rather see a sub $250 iPod.

4 Responses to “RUMOR: The sub $500 Mac laptop, and why we won’t see it”
  1. IdontThinkso says:

    it’s more that loopyrumors just completely fabricates their information, instead of actually getting sources.

  2. MacJunkie82 says:

    Let’s assume for a moment that it’s true… could this be the Firewire-less-iBook that has also been rumored?


    “Jason O’Grady of claims that FireWire (IEEE 1394) will be completely missing from the rumored Intel iBooks.”

  3. Wolfman Mac says:

    I think Apple woul have to also drop support for the screen to hit that price point.

    Intels aren’t THAT much cheaper than PPC chips.

    If Apple put out a laptop that cheap, it would confirm to the world what we all already expect, Apple is charging 3 times as much for the same hadware as other companies.

  4. Wolfman Mac says:

    Out of curiosity, does anyone know what the price difference actually IS between intel and PPC processors?

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