Glancing at holiday computer prices this year, I'm kind of intrigued... the price difference between Mac and PC is narrowing dramatically.
Last year, if I recall correctly, Macs ran for about 2x the price of a high-end (read overpriced) PC. This year, the pricing isn't so different.
In my comparison, I deliberately chose a high-end PC manufacturer, Sony, and looked at a Windows 8 model with an i5 processor and 4 GB of RAM and a new Macbook Pro with the same specs -- i5 + 4 GB (and for you non-savvy buyers, because Apple's OS X is Unix-based, my rule is that you need get double the RAM for a Windows PC as you would need in a Mac, but I am ignoring that fact right now).
Both computers have a 128 GB solid state hard drive, 13.3-inch displays, similar ports, and similar graphics cards. The PC has a bonus of a touch-screen, and the Mac has a much, much higher display resolution, so I'll call it even. There are a few other unimportant gimmicks on both sides.
So they're pretty much equal.
Non-discounted, brand new prices:
Sony Vaio (Windows PC) - $1,249
Macbook Pro (Mac OS X) - $1,299
(for reference, the Sony model # I used is SVP13213CXB)
Now, in reality, I know that no one in their right mind would actually go for a Sony Vaio with Windows 8, so it's an unrealistic comparison. But that's kind of wild.
For people who are actually looking to buy a new Windows or Mac computer and don't know much, here are some tips:
1. Look at the processor; it's important. The rating in GHz doesn't really matter as much as the actual type of processor.
1a. Don't get a computer with an Intel i3 -- a Core 2 Duo (not to be confused with a Core Duo or Dual Core) is faster, better, and much cheaper.
1b. Don't get a computer with an Intel Celeron, an Intel Pentium, an Intel Atom, or any AMD-brand processor. Some of these lines have unpredictable or mixed quality; just say no.
1c. The best processor types are the Intel Core 2 Duo, Intel i5, and Intel i7, in that order (note that the Core 2 Duo has a limit of 4 GB of RAM, and they're on a fire sale right now)
2. Look at the amount of RAM. Type of RAM kind-of, sort-of matters, maybe, but not as much as the amount of it. Sometimes on computer specs, they'll just run the specs all together, so for RAM, you'll just see 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, or 16 GB. When you've had your computer for a year or 2, RAM is a big factor in whether you computer will get laggy and slow.
2a. If you are getting an i5, never get less than 4GB of RAM; that is a very serious sin. Especially for a Windows machine. I'm talking to you, HP. It's like getting a Ford F-350 Super Duty truck with a 1-gallon gas tank. Stop selling unusable junk, HP.
2b. If you are getting Windows 8, I strongly recommend 8 GB of RAM. If you are getting Windows 7, don't settle for less than 4 GB.
2c. In case you didn't read part 1, don't buy a computer with an i3 processor. No amount of RAM will make it run faster.
3. If you're not going to install Linux, you might want to look into buying an Apple computer to avoid having to install antivirus and anti-malware software and having to take it for repairs every year. My rules for buying a cheap Mac:
3a. If you are getting a refurbished Mac, your best deals probably have 2 GB of RAM, but as a general rule, Apple doesn't sell computers with insufficient RAM or crappy processors, so you don't need to be an expert to get a good computer.
3b. Look for the OS X version called "Snow Leopard" (not to be confused with "Leopard"). This is version 10.6 -- refurbs usually come installed with 10.6.3 or 10.6.8. Anything with that version or higher is OK. If you get Leopard (version 10.5) or lower, you won't be able to install anything because everyone has dropped support for that OS version.
3c. Some old Macbook models are starting to get cheap when refurbished. Even if you're looking at used models, try to find some refurbished ones for comparison -- they may not cost much more.
3d. Look closely at software pre-installed on refurbished Macs as you may be able to score a pre-installed Microsoft Office or something (if you're into that -- there are free office suites that are just as good IMO).
4. When you read reviews, look for "build quality" comments. That's the one important spec that doesn't have a number. This basically determines whether your computer will break easily.
4a. For example, Dell Latitude models with some good numbers will go way cheaper than Dell XPS models with the same specs. That's because the Latitude models have a way worse build quality than the XPS models.
4b. As a general rule (at least as of 2013), the brand Acer generally has low build quality... it's a cheap brand, but it's a trade-off. Don't confuse Acer with Asus. Asus has fine build quality and has a lot of great deals.
Anyway -- happy shopping, all. As always, watch out for scams and deals that are "too good to be true" from sellers with only a handful of ratings.