Tuesday 24 May 2016

Importing custom built (CTO) Mac systems - are they worth it?

In countries where Apple does not have an official online store, like in India, Apple sells Mac computers of certain fixed configurations. These can be seen on their country specific web site. So, if you wish to buy a Mac - MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, or MacPro - in India - you will need to choose from these configurations. 
But, in places where Apple has an online store, you can buy higher configurations called CTO (configured to order) systems.

First let's look at the highest configuration Mac you can get in India (with comments on upgradeability by the user)

MacBook Pro 15”
2.5GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD
 - Rs 1,99,900
(You can’t upgrade RAM or GPU but you can upgrade the SSD yourself)

iMac 21.5
3.1GHz quad-core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB 5400rpm drive, IrisPro 6200 GPU shared VRAM
 - Rs 1,23,900
(You can upgrade the drive but you can’t upgrade the RAM, CPU or GPU yourself)

iMac 27
3.3GHz quad-core i5, 8GB RAM, 2TB fusion drive, R9 M395 GPU 2GB VRAM
 - Rs 1,88,900
(You can upgrade RAM and drive but you can’t upgrade the CPU or GPU yourself)

MacPro
3.7GHz quad-core XeonE5, 12GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Dual AMD D300 2GB VRAM each
 - Rs 2,49,900
(You can upgrade RAM and SSD but you can’t upgrade the CPU or GPU yourself)
or
3.5GHz six-core XeonE5, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Dual AMD D500 3GB VRAM each
 - Rs 3,29,900
(You can upgrade RAM and SSD but you can’t upgrade the CPU or GPU yourself)

But, from an Apple online store (Dubai) you could get

MacBook Pro 15”
2.8GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD
 - AED 12,699 - Rs 2,33,045

iMac 21.5
3.3GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 2TB fusion drive, IrisPro 6200 GPU shared VRAM
 - AED 8,799 - Rs 1,61,480

iMac 27
4GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB fusion drive, R9 M395 GPU 4GB VRAM
 - AED 12,799 - Rs 2,34,880

MacPro
3GHz 8-core XeonE5, 32GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Dual AMD D700 6GB VRAM each
 - AED 27,199 - Rs 4,99,120
or
MacPro
2.7GHz 12-core XeonE5, 64GB RAM, 1TB SSD, Dual AMD D700 6GB VRAM each
 - AED 38,399 - Rs 7,04,640

There is no dealer who sells these CTO Mac in Rupees here in India. The only way to get one of these is to either import them from a dealer in, say, Dubai, Singapore, or Hong Kong - the nearest online Apple store to India. Or to fly out to one of these countries and bring them back with you. You will, however have to pay customs duties on return and even possibly excess baggage on the flight (in the case of the iMac). The MacPro could be carried as hand baggage, since its small and not too heavy. (5 kg)

Customs duty is between 17%-28% as far as I can ascertain from websites like cybex.in or duty calculator. Depending on what the machine gets classified as. That is, 17%-28% of the value as fixed by the customs person on arrival. If you have an invoice they may consider that as the value, or else they will do a lookup and fix a value to it. So, for instance if they fix a value of Rs 2 lakhs, then you’re looking at Rs 34,000 - Rs 56,000 customs duty. 

So the price of the above CTO configs with 28% Customs duty will be…

MacBook Pro 15”
2.8GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD
 - AED 12,699 - Rs 2,98,298

iMac 21.5
3.3GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 2TB fusion drive, IrisPro 6200 GPU shared VRAM
 - AED 8,799 - Rs 2,06,694

iMac 27
4GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB fusion drive, R9 M395 GPU 4GB VRAM
 - AED 12,799 - Rs 3,00,646

MacPro
3GHz 8-core XeonE5, 32GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Dual AMD D700 6GB VRAM each
 - AED 27,199 - Rs 6,38,874
or
MacPro
2.7GHz 12-core XeonE5, 64GB RAM, 1TB SSD, Dual AMD D700 6GB VRAM each
 - AED 38,399 - Rs 9,01,939

So, is getting a CTO iMac really worth it?

In my opinion, for a MacBook Pro and iMac 21.5” the extra cost is not worth the performance boost you will see even in the most demanding applications. However, in the case of the MacBook Pro 15” you’re most likely to get out of Customs without paying duty as one laptop is duty waived. Even then, it’s not such a good deal.

In the case of the iMac 27” you’re going to have to pay Customs duty. But you may have to pay only 17%, or the Customs officer may assess it as the highest value iMac available in India since he cannot see the machine spec without turning the machine on which he’s unlikely to do. In which case it could cost as less as Rs 2,21,000 including duty. That is a good deal and the performance increase with an iMac i7 with a 4GB GPU is noticeable.

However, compared to carrying an upgraded (CTO) iMac 27” for 3,00,646 from Dubai to India, against getting a 4-core MacPro in India for Rs 2,49,900 and adding even a 4k display, I would go with a MacPro 4-core against a CTO iMac 27”

By the way, there are resellers who sell the iMac i7 in India on eBay. I saw two
Apple iMac 27” Retina 5k Display 4.0ghz i7 3tb Fusion 32gb, M395X 4gb - Rs 3,31,398 all incl
27" APPLE iMAC 4.0Ghz i7 RETINA 5K 512GB PCIe+6TB HD (6512GB) 32GB RAM M395X 4GB - Rs 4,20,353 all incl
Straight to your home by courier.

Here too, for these prices, a 4-core MacPro bought in India against Rupees is a better deal.

One more thing. Buying a CTO iMac in foreign currency and carrying it in, or even buying it online, may not let you claim depreciation or income tax benefits in India. This could be a big consideration. Besides, maybe there are warranty issues to consider for self-imported Mac systems.

So, bottom line. Most CTO Mac configs aren’t worth the trouble and expense of importing into India. 

What about a hackintosh - meaning, an assembled PC hacked to run the MacOS. Is that a good deal? Many say they are, and some say they aren’t. I have very little direct experience and the few occasions I saw a hackintosh running an editing software like FCP or Avid, it was not stable enough. This was a few years ago, and maybe things have changed now. One of these days I might find time and build one myself. If and when I do that, I’ll share the experience. 


Till then, my vote is for getting a ‘real’ Mac made by Apple. In India and in Rupees.

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