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Why PC Sales Are Declining 564

Posted by timothy
from the people-pretty-satisfied-mostly-for-the-price dept.
First time accepted submitter Benedick writes "I have a four year old desktop and a three year old notebook. Why haven't I upgraded to a new machine? Because they still work great. PC sales aren't declining because of Windows 8. They are declining because our PCs are so good, they last a lot longer. Will Oremus of Slate explains it better than I can."
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Why PC Sales Are Declining

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  • by sandytaru (1158959) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:31PM (#43436937) Journal
    It used to be that the average user would replace their desktops every few years for something newer. The aforementioned "longer lasting system" trend - my husband's laptop is well over five years old and shows little signs of age - combines with the fact that PC enthusiasts build their systems, lovingly hand picking components or starting with a kit and slapping whatever OS they have lying around on it. (I have at least two OEM Windows 7 licenses kicking around from various systems.

    There are still people who will pay oodles of money for a pre-built machine, but most of those folks have migrated over to the Mac platform by now.
  • by macbeth66 (204889) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:34PM (#43436955)

    The last laptop I bought, was for my mother for Christmas. I bought an additional 500GB drive for it, swapped the drives and installed Ubuntu. Machine fine. Mother fine. Windows 8 ... ummm... I guess I can use the drive it came on as a backup someday.

  • What about gamers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Spy Handler (822350) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:35PM (#43436965) Homepage Journal

    back in the day, not everybody had a PC. Gamers and engineers and other hardcore users comprised a larger % of the PC market. These users tend to upgrade often to run the latest Doom at max 640x480 resolution with all options on.

    Nowadays everybody, i mean EVERYBODY has a pc, even the village idiot and 98 year old grandmas. All they do is check facebook, google maps, and send some email. These users do fine with 5 year old pcs. The hardcore users are a tiny percentage of the market now.

    btw TFS is not quite right, the old machines weren't of lesser quality... my old 486 ran great for 10 years and it was still working when I threw it out.

  • by geekd (14774) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:36PM (#43436969) Homepage

    from the article:

      "Meanwhile, the rise of the cloud has reduced the need for extra memory."

    Really? "The Cloud" acts as RAM?

  • by 00Monkey (264977) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:37PM (#43436973) Homepage

    I don't know if it's just me but my computers pretty much never die. I've been building them myself since the mid 90's. I stopped upgrading when Core 2 Duo came out because the PC I built still runs everything great today. I wouldn't use the Athlon XP 2000+ system I have that still runs because it doesn't run everything great but it does still work. I really don't see it being a problem with computers lasting so much longer but I could be an odd case since I don't buy stuff from Dell, HP, etc.

  • It's worse than that (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:39PM (#43436981) Journal
    I went to a few computer shops in the last month, and not only did my old computer seem good as the demo models, it seemed better. When I looked at them, I felt the pain of having to learn something new. They gave the impression of unnecessary and non-useful crapware. Touching the screen is kind of lame, and Windows 8 is confusing until you get the hang of it.

    So yeah, not only is the current computer good enough, but there are actual disincentives to upgrade. They could at least put a racing stripe on it, make it prettier.
  • by david.emery (127135) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:42PM (#43436989)

    Mod parent up Insightful. I think he nailed it. (But what do I know? I'm a Mac guy...)

  • by Junta (36770) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:45PM (#43437033)

    If you want to see how an industry keeps people on an upgrade treadmill, look no further than the cell phone market.

    Once upon a time, the subsidy scheme was required to get people to play in the market given the genuinely high cost of the devices. Nowadays, 'unlocked' prices are hyper-inflated to lend a sense of legitimacy to carrier subsidies. Every two years, the average consumer might as well buy a new phone because it's 'just such a deal that would go to waste' even if their last device still works fine for their needs.

    It's the same way so many people buy cars so frequently that they always have car payments. They get accustomed to the payment and suddenly *not* having a car payment is 'weird' and means they better get a new car.

    Meanwhile, consumer PCs never really embraced some scheme to get people to have some low, forgettable monthly payment (cloud computing being an exception). They see the expense in a straightforward manner and thus don't feel the same compulsion to upgrade. Therefore, the bulk of the market goes to buying a new one when it breaks.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday April 12, 2013 @08:07PM (#43437239) Journal
    Thank you, sir.
  • by Strudelkugel (594414) on Friday April 12, 2013 @08:22PM (#43437355)

    Windows 8.

    It may be fun and easy to bash Windows 8, but I don't think that is the reason. It's fine. When I see the metro desktop after logging in, it just looks like the menu was automatically opened on Win 7. That's not such a big deal. Once you have organized your app icons, though, it is really no different than clicking on one in the taskbar or the desktop. I find it inconsequential from that perspective, but you also get the live tiles and new apps, some of which are useful. Windows 8 is not the fiasco that Vista was, with its required hunt for drivers. On a multi-monitor setup, I can have the metro UI pop-up on any monitor, which is useful at times. Most of the time I am in the desktop. but I really don't notice switching between metro and the desktop. I run Windows 7 in a VM as an attempt to isolate the email, Flash, etc, and browsing risks. I am impressed with the performance if Hyper-V, but not happy that you can't mount USB drives or burn CDs from the VM. Hopefully that will be fixed in the future.

    If I think of my own hardware purchases, it's easy to understand why PC sales are declining - tablets and phones. I by a new PC or motherboard about once every 7 years. I just bought a new PC after upgrading my mb about 7 years ago. I put it in a case that is 10 years old now. Since buying that last mb, I bought:

    • iMac
    • MBP
    • 2 iPads, sold one
    • iPod
    • 2 smartphones
    • Windows laptop

    I am going to sell the iMac and Windows laptop soon. I'm interested in a Chromebook and some sort of Win 8 laptop. I am sure all of the above will be replaced by the time I upgrade my PC again, part of which is due to how its speed is now more than sufficient for almost everything I do. Eventually I expect my hardware mix to be a powerful desktop, a cloud-centric tablet/laptop, and a phone, with the latter two being replaced much more frequently than the desktop. Note also that it is easier to upgrade desktop hardware, so the replacement cycle is longer for PCs. Tablet and phone hardware improves much more noticeably with each new model at the moment. The same isn't true for PCs. That is what is slowing PC sales, not Windows 8, IMHO.

  • by eriks (31863) on Friday April 12, 2013 @08:35PM (#43437427) Homepage

    I've been saying this for years. Sometime shortly after the 1Ghz "barrier" got broken, almost all computers became "good enough" for almost everyone.

    I just recently put a built-from parts (and virtually silent) circa 2003 machine with a 1.8 Ghz AMD Barton, back into service with a modern 80+ power supply, 1.5 gigs or ram and a new(ish) drive. It may not be quite as snappy as my current main system (which is 5 years old) or my htpc (which is 7) but it's really a perfectly usable machine with a fresh install of pretty much any modern OS.

    The primary reason to run current-gen hardware these days is lower power consumption, and to a certain extent modern graphics hardware (capable of hardware HD x264 decoding). If all you need is a web browser and office suite, anything that uses reasonably fast RAM from 10+ years ago will more than fit the bill.

    Lots of people end up replacing perfectly good hardware just because "windows gets slow" which (sadly) few people seem to know that a reinstall will fix. That might take a few hours, and to hire a tech to do that might cost $75 or so... but that's still cheaper than a new machine.

  • Not entirely correct (Score:3, Interesting)

    by frovingslosh (582462) on Friday April 12, 2013 @08:35PM (#43437433)

    Sure, some machines might be lasting longer. And some people might be forcing their machines to last longer. But, even though there are people with mod points and Win 8 who will mod down anyone who suggests that they may have made a poor choice, I can assure you (at least until I'm silenced by being modded down as a "troll") that there are people like me who are not buying a machine because of Win 8. I'm definitely in the market for a new laptop. 0But you just can't get anything at a decent price new that doesn't include Win 8. And I don't want to pay new or higher prices for a refurb, when that system will likely have a compromised battery, a screen with stuck or dead pixels, or come pre-infested with malware and perhaps unable to make that "only-one-to-a-machine" set of backup disks that they used to send out with the machine but now require you to make for yourself. If I could find a comparable deal to some current Win 8 laptops on a similar New Win 7 system I would snap it up, but I didn't have the cash free before Win 8 came out and now it is too late. Can't even buy a Win 8 system and them pay again for Win 7 and install it, since Microsoft forced the manufacturers to make machines that you couldn't install other operating systems on!

    So some Microsoft fan boy might have written a counter argument to what most of the industry is saying, but the real truth is Win 8 is awful and few people want it. Microsoft ad blitzes and modding people down who disagree will not change that.

  • by epine (68316) on Friday April 12, 2013 @08:42PM (#43437465)

    Unplanned non-obsolescence is the dumbest thing I've heard since breakfast, which puts it in with some stiff competition.

    How about frantically, desperately deferred non-obsolescence? How about IE6, Exchange, and Office suite document non-portability as a modern-day Maginot Line, equally doomed?

    But in the end, what could they do? We were clearly entering the end-game on the desktop PC as a rain-maker a full ten years ago.

    Meanwhile we managed to gadgify consumption with pocket trinkets where the entire device costs about the same as any decent ISA expansion card back in the day. Because they are autonomous (and you can lose them under a sofa cushion) each gadget is separately counted. It's a bit like counting remote controls instead of televisions, but we'll ignore that.

    And best of all, according to the true nature of innovation, we now have the cyanide-green Apple business model of land-fill express non-replaceable batteries. Microsoft and their OEM cabal are green with envy they can't sell a PC whose golden age is so effectively knackered. That was not their father's green. The times they are a changing.

  • by Darinbob (1142669) on Friday April 12, 2013 @09:07PM (#43437617)

    Typically I think computers don't fall behind, instead the applications have become more demanding. The applications aren't necessarily better but they do want more RAM or more CPU, often deciding that they want to load into memory and stay there before you even use them, just so that you get the instant-start when you do click the icon. The application makers see everyone with faster computers and so they decide they should use more of those resources. So with newer apps your power horse computer suddenly feels bogged down. Even Windows itself is essentially bogging the system down before you even load your first application (win8 though seems a bit better in this regard than win7, though worse than xp).

    For example, I'm using Firefox on mac, and it is always sucking up CPU. It is NEVER idle! Even when it's not even visible it takes up CPU. I upgrade to latest version and it greatly improved for awhile, but if you let it run long enough you start to see it always being active again. Why does it do this, I'm not really sure. I've seen some devs explain that it's going through memory and trying to clean it up in the background. But at some point shouldn't it figure out that it has been idle for 2 days and decide to just stop? Maybe all these tabs that are not active have some background javascript running for no reason at all, but no way to see this and no way to shut it off. In version 19 I saw it take up to 90% of cpu even though I hadn't touched it in hours. Basically the devs in their desire to do what the user doesn't want have decided to take up those unused cycles and make them do stuff.

    Now add in full disk encryption, antivirus, corporate spyware, apps that need byte code interpreters, and your work machine that used to be a dream to work on starts to drive you insane by how slow it is.

  • Not only windows 8 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Friday April 12, 2013 @09:13PM (#43437643)
    I don't think that most people care about what OS they use as long as the OS they are presented with can run the critical programs that the individual needs. For most people the critical program probably boils down to a browser and the ability to view various document types such as PDFs. Other "critical" programs would include Netflix, an office suite (and many people do demand MS Office as that is what they are familiar with) some software to deal with pictures from their camera (or the camera on their phone) beyond that you are starting to get pretty specific with things like Photoshop. Gamers and programmers are oddities and while driving the high end of the market don't make up that much of a percentage.

    My mother uses Linux and probably could not tell the difference between it, Mac OS X, and any version of Windows. Nor does she care. She is also running it on an 8 year old machine. Now can anyone possibly tell me why she would need to either switch OS's or upgrade her machine? Keep in mind that the machine can run HD Youtube videos at full screen with no problems.

    But hypothetically lets go down to staples with a $900 budget and buy her an off the shelf machine(laptop desktop doesn't matter) and do the minimum required to hook her up. I might as well keep the phone handy for when Norton or whatever bloated bit of AV pops up and tells her that her machine is in peril. Then she will click on some pay music crap and maybe game center. Then I will tell her to google things but she won't find them because her default browser will have been set to something stupid, not to mention the crap toobar that was probably running.

    Then a few months later she will call me and ask why Office has stopped working. I will tell her that she never bought office and that she was running a trial version and that it will be a nice stack of cash to get it working again.

    Or she can spend nothing and keep her present machine, which in her opinion would be better than something brand new.

    Windows 8 barely enters the equation. Now switch to my brother. He has bought tiny laptops for years. Paid a fortune for each one. He travels and writes. He also wore them out fairly quickly (none lasted 2 years). But now his laptop is a bit bigger and only comes out when he is parked in his final destination. In between his large screen phone serves many of his portable device needs. He can email, review writing, and do research. I suspect his laptop will last him much longer this time around.

    Then take my other brother. He runs a large multinational business with a cellphone and an iPad. He has an awesome dataplan on his 3G iPad and I suspect he may never buy another PC-Type computer again in his life.

    Again little of this is about Windows 8. If anything I would say that the mistake of windows 8 was even making it. They should have just kept updating Windows 7. I never used it much but it seemed fine. I doubt that it would have been that much of a pain to add multi-touch and anything else that Windows 8 has.
  • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Friday April 12, 2013 @09:30PM (#43437741) Journal

    We used to replace our desktop PC once every 5 years or so, and our laptop once every 3 years or so, on average

    What I get from my friends (and the companies they work for) is that nowadays, companies are keeping their office desktop PC for a longer period --- many Pentium 4 machines running Win XP are still being used --- mainly because of budget constraint and that they are not that satisfied with the latest offerings from M$

    I can't say that Win 8 is the main culprit of people not upgrading their machine, but it *IS* a contributing factor

    On another comment that I've posted on another Slashdot thread I already told you guys that my company is not purchasing any laptop for our sales force this year --- while in the past we bought, on average, 1,500 to 2,500 laptops every year --- and the reason for my company's not buying this year is because we couldn't find any laptop vendor supplying 3rd generation i7 powered laptop that runs Windows 7

    We decide that it will be best none of our system run Windows 8

    Only the laptops of my company run Windows --- our office computers are all running Linux --- and the reason the laptops that we purchase for our sales force run Windows is because of the software they use

    Or else we would standardize everything in Linux

  • by Miamicanes (730264) on Friday April 12, 2013 @10:08PM (#43437949)

    Windows 8's desktop mode also happens to be butt-ugly compared to Aero Glass. It's like Microsoft took everything they learned about putting a 3D graphics card to good use for desktop window acceleration and eye candy, then flushed it all down the toilet right around the time they finally started to get it right.

    Fuck MetroModern. Unless Microsoft gives us back what we have now with Windows 7, Windows 7 will be the last Windows I ever run natively as my real operating system, and future versions will be in a VM under Linux. And if they ever take away my ability to reinstall Windows 7 and refuse to let me buy new copies, I'll be walking away from Windows entirely. When the day comes a few months from now that I'm ready to go buy a 3.8GHz+ i7 with 4-8 cores and pair it with 16 gigs and a 27" monitor flanked by a pair of ~20" monitors rotated into portrait mode, I'll be *damned* if I'm going to step backwards and settle for a new version of Windows that looks like someone ported Bob to Windows 3.1...

  • Re:But it IS broke. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Miamicanes (730264) on Friday April 12, 2013 @10:21PM (#43438013)

    Kind of like ~1998, when manufacturers started shipping PCs with one stick of ram instead of two, no secondary cache, and HSP winmodems that ended up being half the real speed of the nominally-slower PCs they were supposed to replace. Rarely in computer history has there been a similar era when the performance of new computers was so *devastatingly* compromised for the sake of saving so little money. Granted, most of those PCs could be rescued by adding more ram and a $10 COAST module, but still... Jesus H. Christ... it was absolutely *criminal* what PC manufacturers did that year just to save a few bucks.

  • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@NOsPAM.gmail.com> on Saturday April 13, 2013 @01:54AM (#43438877) Journal

    Actually, and you are gonna laugh your ass off as it'll probably sound like a sales pitch but YOU sir need to replace those boards with AMD E350s.

    You see 10 years old means Pentium 4 which was the POWER PIGGIE FROM HELL because Intel just quit giving a shit about anything but clock speed. the amount of power those suckers just blast through is just nuts, it truly is. You can get AMD E350 boards for $70, pair that with a $12 4GB RAM stick and a little $7 PCI to IDE board (since I bet most of your stuff is IDE) and frankly you will use LESS power when the system is at full load than the fans in the box use when the P4 is at idle. I am not shitting you, before some jackass stole my kill-a-watt out of the shop I measured and just the fans plugged into the PSU was something like 24 watts and the board maxed out was only between 18 and 19. Of course when I added the P4 holy crap, that thing was blowing through enough juice ( Prescott P4 with HT, 2.8GHz IIRC) that you could run FOUR of the E350s for the cost of ONE of the P4s.

    So you see you are in one of the few situations where I recommend an upgrade, you can keep your OS as the E350 supports XP-Win 8 no problem, as far as performance the E350 APU scores about the same as a 1.7GHz first gen Core2Duo which is of course a hell of a lot better than the long piped P4, and finally the electric bill will just drop like a stone. I have done this conversion for several businesses and they just love the hell out of it as you don't even need any fans, just the fan in the PSU is enough to keep it cool so they are just whisper quiet and like I said the next month's electric bill you WILL notice the difference.

    But I wouldn't say either is "resting" because even their previous gen chips are just so insanely bad ass that if you have a chip made after...ohhh lets say late 06/early 07? The differences will be minor unless you are just slamming the dogshit out of the chip. I mean take dad's quad, its 2.2GHz so plenty of speed, it can drop the speed on unused cores so the power usage is actually quite good, the systems has 4GB of RAM and can hold 8GB of DDR 2 if he needs it (which he don't, hell I game and have 8GB and most of mine is used for caching) and it has a TB of HDD space which is extreme overkill for my dad. hell even the IGP is something like a HD4300 which I actually played the original Bioshock just fine on an HD4300 while waiting for my GPU to come in so for movie watching or checking the video cameras I set up at his shop its just overkill.

    As I have said here before five years ago my low end machine I was selling was a Phenom I X3 or X4 with 4GB and a 500GB HDD and an HD3xxx or HD4xxx IGP...seriously how many users are gonna even stress that out? Hell I picked up my aging aunt an offlease PC the other day, she got a Core2Duo with 3GB of RAM,250GB HDD and Win 7 for IIRC it was $187 shipped, think she will slam that system anytime soon? She scans family photos with her little scanner and plays her little flash games so I seriously doubt that system will be hitting more than 40% anytime soon, its just total overkill.

  • Well then I'm sorry but your company is retarded. The Pentium 4 was a power blowing space heating piece of shit, its the one system where I tell folks "That has GOT to go" and honestly today you'd have to be an idiot to keep one. You can get a mini based on the AMD E350 ready to go and that gives you the performance of a first gen Core2Duo at 1.7GHz while using less power than the fans in one of those P4s, in fact you could probably replace 5 of the P4s with E350s and you'd be using less juice than 1 of the P4s did under load while having better performance.

    Now as far as the laptops and the abortion known as Windows 8 AKA "LOL appstores tablets touch"? On those 2 points I agree completely, I have several customers using 3 and 4 year old laptops and they are just fine, they do the job quite well. Hell I have a 3 year old E350 netbook and for the kinds of jobs I have when I'm on a service call, as well as my personal websurfing and video watching? Works wonderfully, hell it even still gets 4 hours on the original battery.

    So while I agree on the laptops and avoiding the Win 8 STD keeping P4s is just fucking retarded, if they were first gen core or even older Athlons? yeah I could see it, but there really is a reason why nothing Intel makes uses netburst and that is because it was simply a shitty power pig and the sooner those things are recycled the better.

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