First, a note. I read on MacWindows that iEmulator will be running on Intel Macs in very short order. I hope it's true.
I decided to see just how much of a price premium (if any still exists) on Macs vs. PCs. This is a much easier task than in the past, because you can match components exactly. I'm starting off today with the MacBook Pro and I'll try to address the iMac soon.
I went to Dell.com and tried to quickly locate a product based on the Core Duo. I couldn't find one easily since Dell divides their product families across stores targeted at different groups of users. So, I used the search feature and found the Inspiron E1705.
I configured the two machines as closely as possible. The only change I made to the MacBook was going with two 512 MB DIMMS instead of one. I had to change several options on the Dell to match the Mac Book (add remote, bigger HD, add DVD burner, add Bluetooth).
MacBook Pro: $2,399
Inspiron E1705: $2,341
These are still not identical machines. The Dell has a dual layer DVD burner vs. the single layer in the MacBook. The Dell's battery is slightly stronger (60 vs. 53 WHr). The MacBook uses a Radeon X1600 Mobility while the Dell uses a GeForce Go 7800. I favor the 7800 slightly. Of course, the MacBook has a built-in camera and backlit keyboard--features unavailable on the Dell. Lastly, and most significantly, the Dell is based around a 17" screen. It has a similar resolution to the MacBook, but is 2" larger. This also makes the Dell much heavier than the MacBook.
In terms of OS choice, things get more complicated. Mac OS X and Windows XP Pro have always been equivalent in my mind. I obviously prefer OS X, but XP has solid SMP support, excellent networking features and features lacking in XP Home.
Now, Mac OS X has Front Row and offers a superior "10 foot" interface when compared to XP Pro. However, you can get Windows Media Center Addition pre-loaded on the Dell for a superior (feature-wise) 10-foot experience to the MacBook. Doing so will save you $149. It doesn't seem possible to gain parity on the OS front for now between the two machines.
When you look at other options, Apple's RAM prices are insane. Moving to 2 GB RAM will cost you $400. That was no surprise. What was shocking was that the Dell was almost as bad at $325. Just go to crucial.com when/if you buy either machine and want additional memory.
Apple's cost to move to a 100GB 7200 RPM drive is $100, while Dell is $324.
In terms of availability, Dell claims a ship date of 2/17. Apple just says "Feb."
I can't help but feel like the famed "Mac price premium" is a myth here. Dell currently offers cheaper Intel based computers than Apple, but feature-for-feature Apple's pricing is fair. I'm posting PDFs of both stores so you can double-check my work.
As always, the comments are open.
*Update 12:34pm EST* - The biggest problem with this comparison is trying to weigh the value of the Dell's 17" screen against the built-in iSight, backlit keyboard and other features on the MacBook. None of Dell's 15.4" notebooks are available with Core Duo. I've come across the Acer TravelMate 8200. Although the MacBook would have to be downgraded in some respects via a CTO order to match its specs, these look to me a much closer match feature wise. The only issue is, I can't find it for sale anywhere. If you can, please leave a comment so I can do another comparison.