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Psystar Mac clone Apple 'publicity stunt'

Sue us Apple... please!

No one really gives a damn when a new PC manufacturer enters the market selling its own-branded Windows computer. The launches of Wizard Micro, Delta Desktops and Lasco laptops do not set the web’s blogs alight.

They’re just another bunch of plastic/metal boxes running standard components, initially put together by a small bunch of grunts under some railway arches. It will be cheap – probably so cheap that the company will go bust as soon as it tries to market itself.

But it’s a very different matter when there’s a new company making and selling Macs, and – after 11 years without anyone but Apple in the market – there’s a new player in town; although possibly not by the time you’re reading this…

Psystar - based in Miami - claims its new computer will run Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. It even calls its Open Computer “The Smart Alternative to an Apple”.

“Why spend $1,999 to get the least expensive Apple computer with a decent video card when you can pay less than a fourth of that for an equivalent sleek and small form-factor desktop with the same hardware,” boasts Psystar.

The basic configuration of the Open Computer costs just US$399 for 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM, 20x DVD writer and 250GB hard drive. That price doesn’t include Leopard itself, Wi-Fi, or even a mouse and keyboard. Add these and the price rises to $740. Oh, and no iLife – add that and the price goes up again to $820.

(Sorry for all the US$ prices but the Open Computer isn’t available in the UK, and I really doubt it ever will be.)

Apple’s cheapest desktop is the diminutive Mac mini, which comes with a 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 1GB memory, and a 80GB hard drive – at a price of $599, plus $98 for keyboard and mouse, so more like $700.

While the Mac mini is $120 cheaper than the Open Computer, its technical specs are lower. The processor is a little slower, but probably not enough to worry most low-end users. Having only half the memory will certainly make a difference, and Apple would charge you $100 more to reach the 2GB offered by Psystar, taking the configured mini to nearly $800 – very close to the price of the Open Computer. The hard drive is three times the size of the Mac mini’s, and in a world of 160GB iPods, an 80GB disk is rather lame.

(We tested the Open Computer and found the Psystar to be 28 percent faster than the high-end Mac mini and 8 per cent slower than the low end iMac.)

But the key to the real appeal of the Open Computer is its extensibility. Unlike the Mac mini it can be configured with an optional fully fledged 256MB nVidia GeForce 8600 video card for improved graphics performance and “drastically improved performance in gaming”. Oh, and you can get it in Black/Silver, Black or White.

Windows PCs have always been popular with gamers and geeks who like to be able to modify (or “mod” if you want the whole exercise to appear cool) their computers to gain that extra ounce of power they need to play the latest graphics-heavy entertainment titles, or just make their machines look bangin’, with flashing lights and go-faster stripes. With an Apple computer all you can do is whack on the white Apple logo sticker.

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