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Tuesday, 07/15/03

Apple's time in the CPU wilderness, compelled to compete on terms other than raw clock speed, may be responsible for inculcating a finer appreciation of computer displays. Except for cost-conscious educational markets, the company has shunned CRTs in favor of flat-panel monitors, and they've done more than any desktop boxmaker to push LCD adoption up and prices down.

I think we're close to the point where a lot of users would gladly trade a gigahertz off their clock speed for a giant, flicker-free canvas. Sure, it'd mean a little extra time spent sitting at the computer, but factor in the reduced need to swap back and forth between competing windows, and as an added bonus, at the end of the day there's less of a compulsion to claw one's eyes out.

A conversation with Mr. Gruber last week found me evaluating the pricing on the forthcoming $3,000 dual G5 in context of Apple's current round of displays. Off the render farm, I have a bit of a hard time envisioning the user who would necessarily be better served spending $1,000 on the additional 2.4 GHz offered over the low-end, single processor 1.6 GHz G5, compared to the perfectly lovely 17\" display at $700, or to the shockingly beautiful 20\" at $1300. And that conclusion leads to a curious pricing cul-de-sac.

The cost of building a big beautiful LCD screen rises faster than the size of the display, so it's no surprise that the 23\" high-end display costs considerably more than the 20\". However, every recent Apple desktop machine has shipped with a video card that can run two displays at once. The company also sells a $99 adaptor allowing their video cards to simultaneously drive a second Apple flat-panel display.

In light of this, I was startled to notice that the 23\" costs exactly as much as the 20\" and the 17\" put together, while the combined area of the two smaller displays offers as much of a bump over the 23\" as the 23\" offers over the 20\". Check out the chart:

Size Resolution Pixels % of prev Price % of prev
17\" 1280x1024 1310720 $699
20\" 1680x1050 1764000 134.58% $1,299 185.84%
23\" 1920x1200 2304000 130.61% $1,999 153.89%
17\"+20\" 3074720 133.45% $2,097 104.90%

The screen size jumps by about a third with each upgrade. The cost, meanwhile, jumps first by $600, then by $700 when upgrading from one Apple display to the next. But the cost of the final ~30% leap in screen space, using both the 17\" and the 20\", is just the $99 adaptor. Assuming most flat-panel buyers will use them with desktops and not laptops (which can't drive two at once), and excluding a few video geeks, who'd be fool enough to buy the 23\"?

The same process repeats itself on a slightly more budget-conscious scale with a pair of 17\" displays, which for an extra $200 clobber the value of a single 20\" (and arguably even the 23\", at least in price-per-pixel). Sorted by cost:

Size Resolution Pixels % of prev Price % of prev
17\" 1280x1024 1310720 $699
20\" 1680x1050 1764000 134.58% $1,299 185.84%
17\"+17\" 2x1280x1024 2621440 148.61% $1,497 115.24%
23\" 1920x1200 2304000 87.89% $1,999 133.53%
17\"+20\" 3074720 133.45% $2,097 104.90%

I've heard a rumor that Apple's shaking up its display line, possibly as soon as today's conference-formerly-known-as-Macworld-New-York, but barring a major upset, the increased costs of building the largest commercially available LCDs may keep this pricing phenomenon in business for a while yet. 12:00AM «


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