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Dell wields chart for Apple laptop comparison

This back-to-school chart compares Dell's Studio line to Apple's MacBooks. Is it really "apples to apples," as Dell puts it? Here's a reality check on what consumers may place value on.

Dell has published a back-to-school chart comparing its Studio laptops with Apple MacBooks--all very favorable to Dell, mind you. So, what's accurate, and what's missing?

First, the chart in all of its stark Dell-Apple price gap glory, which Dell shows as $1,249 per model:

Dell claims savings for similar MacBook configurations of up to $1,249.
Dell claims savings for similar MacBook configurations of up to $1,249. Dell

A couple of things need to be pointed out quickly: The 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros are made from metal, and the Dell Studio is mostly plastic. This can translate into a significant aesthetic and durability difference for some consumers.

Also, graphics chips are not specified. The MacBooks come with Nvidia GeForce GT 330M discrete graphics, switchable with Intel Core i series graphics. The Dell Studio is spec'd mostly with Intel graphics (both older Core 2 and new Core i series graphics). At the upper end of the Studio 15 lineup, Dell uses the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 graphics chip and an ATI chip for the high-end Studio 17. It may be the case that these higher-performance ATI chips are used in the Studio 15 and 17 shown in the chart, as they are both pricier configurations shown with 1GB of graphics memory. (Dell did not respond immediately for comment.)

Clarifications aside, the chart says more about Apple than Dell. "This is a classic Apple story," said Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at IDC. "A pretty stark comparison, but it's been true for a long time. A lot of the mainstream notebooks these days are being sold for $500 or $600. Yet the cheapest MacBook is $999. It's not uncommon to see 50 percent price deltas," he said.

All of this is very good for Apple, according to O'Donnell. "Their share of the PC market--about 5 percent--hasn't changed dramatically. On the other hand, you can show that Apple pretty much owns the consumer retail laptop market over $1,200. That's the reason their stock has done so well, and the reason that they're so profitable. They've carved out a very nice niche at the high end."

And Mac OS X versus Windows 7? "Apple can justify huge price premiums because people pay for the experience of the Mac OS," O'Donnell said.

Other distinctions between the MacBooks and Studios are the six color choices for the Dell Studios versus no choice (silver) for the MacBooks, and Windows Live Essentials versus iLife, respectively. Another notable difference: the Dell Studio 17 comes with a Core i7 processor versus the i5 for the 17-inch MacBook Pro.

Apple did not respond immediately for comment.