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Apple Strikes Back

Apple products run on the same parts as other computers do: Intel (INTC - Get Report) chips, the same displays made somewhere in the Pacific Rim, and similar video cards; they run the same software, such as Microsoft Office, use the same Internet and have the same versions of games like Quake.

The company's iPod/iTunes digital content products are the overwhelming market leader. Does anybody own anything other than a nano or shuffle or iPod? Hardly.

And Apple's desktop machines, matched with its iLife media tools and proprietary networking standard Firewire, offer the easiest way to build a home media server, other than having a pro installer step in and do it for you.

And let's not forget Steve Jobs' new ascendant role in Hollywood. (Can his company, Pixar, make a bad movie?) Jobs is soon to be confirmed as the reincarnation of Walt himself at Disney (DIS - Get Report). And that does nothing to negate his access to private capital and his undeniable genius.

The Modern Mac

Want to see how midmarket Apple has become? Do what I did late last Saturday night, and hit an Apple Store.

Inside, the uber-Apple vibe is in full effect: The place was jammed. It could have been a nightclub filled with local scenesters and tourists coming in from the burbs.

I descended the tubular crystal elevator that leads to the Apple Store and before me swept the full Apple line: MacBooks, MacPros, iMacs, monitors and iPods. All were sleek, efficient and cold, like lunch at Nobu in Las Vegas.

And make no mistake, Macs are good, even lovely machines. But is Apple the leader of design and performance? Let's see.

In my mind, there is simply no comparison in terms of fit, finish and features for an off-the-shelf Mac to a top-of-the-line custom-made PC like a Voodoo or Alienware -- Voodoos come plated in gold, if you want that.

For raw design, Macs are nice, but the style is getting weary.

Apple MacBook Pro

They're all the same: rectangles in white or silver or gray. Macs aren't ugly by any standard, but they're like a Toyota Avalon or a Lexus.

Nice design, gorgeous lines, but if you're looking for breakout style, a Lexus won't get you there -- and neither does a Mac.

So let's compare the offending Alienware m5550 to an Apple MacBook Pro 2.0 ghz with a 15.4-inch screen.

For case, finish and screen, both the Alienware and the Apple are on par. The MacPro is a bit lighter, the Alienware has a bit nicer casing and finish.

And I'd give the Apple the edge in performance. It's not a big edge, but the Apple chips are faster and Apple's all-in-one software tend to run a bit cleaner than similar Windows machines.
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