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Saturday, April 04, 2009, 08:00 pm PT (11:00 pm ET)

Microsoft's latest ad attacks Mac aesthetics, computing power

Continuing its advertising campaign which seeks to promote generic PCs running Windows as more attractive than Macs, Microsoft's latest spot plays up specifications over aesthetics as opposed to just suggesting that PCs are simply cheaper as the previous spot did. However, it ends up making the opposite point instead.

Following Lauren, the latest ad introduces Giampaolo, who says he's looking for portability, battery life, and power. "I'm technically savvy," he says, "I know what I want. I like a computer that allows me to customize." He's shown shopping at Fry's Electronics, where he picks up a unibody MacBook and says, "This is so sexy!"

Giampaolo then explains why he can't buy it, saying, "Macs to me are all about aesthetics more than they are the computing power. I don't want to pay for the brand, I want to pay for the computer."

Of course, it's really Microsoft that's paying for Giampaolo's computer, and Steve Ballmer is not going to pick up the tab for a MacBook. So instead, Giampaolo uses his $1500 budget to ultimately buy an HP Pavilion HDX 16t, which he says has everything he needs.



"That thing is gigantic"

On HP's website, that model starts at $1000. At Fry's, the salesman in the ad points out its typical configuration of $1,100, although HP's "recommended configuration" is $1400, still within Giampaolo's budget. However, it's an odd choice for somebody who wants portability, as the 16" widescreen model he lugs out of Fry's weighs over 7.3 pounds naked, almost twice as much as the "sexy" MacBook that's "all about aesthetics."

HP certainly isn't "all about aesthetics." The cheap plastic body of the HP Pavilion HDX 16t is 1.7 inches thick, nearly twice as bulky as the MacBook. All that size surrounds a large 16" screen with a miserably low density 1366x768 screen resolution. Giampaolo could upgrade to the 1920x1080 option, but that would have bumped him over his artificial $1500 ad budget, even when applying a $200 instant rebate HP offers.

Battery life not so good

"What would have the best battery life, that could still accommodate my needs?" Giampaolo asked while shopping. It sure wasn't what he picked out.

HP rates its built-in battery for less than 3 hours, but reviewers gave it less than two. That's not very good at all for its category. HP also offers a $150 expansion battery that hangs off the back of the already large system to give it twice the battery life. The "sexy" MacBook is rated for 5 hours with a single battery.

"It's a pretty strong contender"

In terms of power, Giampaolo's third primary need, the "recommended configuration" of the HP Pavilion HDX 16t that he apparently purchased ships with a 2.13 GHz Core 2 Duo P7450 paired with 4GB of PC2-5300 DDR2 RAM, which is a slower memory architecture than Apple was shipping in early 2006 MacBooks three years ago.

The latest MacBooks that Giampaolo feared were "all about aesthetics" pair a Core 2 Duo P7350 or P8600 with PC3-8500 DDR3 RAM, delivering a peak transfer rate that's twice as fast as the HP machine Giampaolo selected.

So much for Macs being about "aesthetics more than they are the computing power," or Giampaolo being "technically savvy."

Hopefully, Giampaolo is at least technologically savvy enough to upgrade to the 64-bit version of Windows Vista (or downgrade to the 64-bit version of Windows XP) in order to actually take advantage of that 4GB of RAM, as the standard version of Windows can only actually use about 3GB of it, a technical problem he wouldn't face on the MacBook.

Given that only a fraction of the PC installed base runs a 64-bit version of Windows (Microsoft reported that less than 6% of users hitting its software update servers were running 64-bit Vista last June), there's lots of "technically savvy" PC users with loads of installed RAM their computer can't even use.

And while Giampaolo can upgrade to even more RAM, he can't upgrade his new system to use the faster DDR3 RAM specification used in the MacBook. That would make his system faster overall and allow it to take full advantage of the installed CPU's 1066MHz front side bus, which HP chose to cripple by pairing it with a 533MHz memory architecture to save money and deliver a cheap system for people who don't know what they're really buying as they shop at Fry's for good-sounding GB and MHz numbers rather than focusing on finding a computer that does the things they want it to do.

Giampaolo was distracted by marketing

Of course, with the scant money that he's saving (he could have bought the high end MacBook by matching Microsoft's money with his own $100), Giampaolo will now get to go shopping for software, where he can easily spend several hundred dollars just trying to match the features and usability of the free iLife and Mac OS X tools Apple bundles with the MacBook.

Giampaolo will also have to spend hours of his time installing and running antivirus and adware tools, and stay on the lookout for that Conficker computer worm that Microsoft is warning Windows PC users about on the front page of its corporate website.

The strangest point of this ad is that Giampaolo didn't get the portability, battery life, and power he was looking for, he just ended up with a cheap-appearing machine that obscured its real technical limitations under a flashy layer of misleading, specification-oriented marketing, the very thing he thought he was avoiding with HP: buying a brand rather than a computer. And that's exactly what Microsoft wants people to do: buy its brand rather than a computer that does what they want it to do.