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Why PC Sales Are Declining 564

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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  • Reason number one. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kurt555gs ( 309278 ) <kurt555gs AT ovi DOT com> on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:26PM (#43436907) Homepage

    Windows 8.

  • by Hsien-Ko ( 1090623 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:27PM (#43436915)
    Why have computers not stopped after I built my AM5x86? It still functions today and can still surf the web. It's on its second AT PSU though.

    Still, crappy logic, especially when OEM computers are designed to have a short lifespan to spur sales of newer models.
  • by Tridus ( 79566 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:41PM (#43436985) Homepage

    You don't even need a new PC to play games. My going on 3 year old PC was bought to play games, and it plays everything coming out at max or near max settings. Clearly no need to upgrade there.

    My six year old *Vista* PC is now what my wife uses when she wants to play a game. Although it can't play at max settings anymore, we still haven't found a game that it can't actually play reasonably well. Again, no particular need to upgrade there.

    Games being cross platform has meant they need to deal with the pathetically low specs on the current consoles, which combined with games being stuck being compiled for x86 and DX9 to work in XP means you just don't need new hardware like you used to.

  • by iamwhoiamtoday ( 1177507 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:42PM (#43436993)

    I'm currently playing through Crysis 2 on my old gaming computer, and it is running perfectly. No lag, shiny graphics, everything. Why spend money to replace it? It does everything I want it to do!

    Q6600 @ 2.4Ghz
    8GB DDR2 800
    Two 9800GTX cards in SLI
    two 500GB Hard Drives RAID 0
    Windows 7 64-bit
    2560*1440 monitor

    "High" settings, Crysis 2. Runs fantastically. I don't see the point in replacing it (at least, until I move into a place where I have to pay the power bill...)

    I'm looking forward to seeing how well this computer handles Bioshock Infinite.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:45PM (#43437021)

    PC sales would go up if consoles didn't exist, since many triple A titles are made for both consoles and PC they often lack the high fidelity graphics our PC's are truly capable of, and thus we have no need to buy a new PC.

  • by ka9dgx ( 72702 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:48PM (#43437063) Homepage Journal

    It used to be you could buy a new computer, and use it. Now to do that, you have to find an operating system, figure out how to get it to work with the new (unsupported on older OSs) hardware. Why bother? I'm dreading the task when this laptop finally dies.

    I bought a Windows 8 machine on Black Friday, it lasted 4 hours before I gave up and returned it.

    Windows 8 sucks so much, it can lift matter back past the event horizon of a black hole.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:51PM (#43437095)

    Single cores in new equipment aren't getting significantly faster, and while the number of cores in CPUs is slowly increasing, most apps are still sequential in their processing. This makes new machinery not really worth buying because it wouldn't speed your apps up by much. It's a poor investment to buy a whole new PC for a small incremental upgrade in performance.

    Even in those cases where apps could potentially harness multiple cores because some of their internal tasks are naturally concurrent, they don't do so because they're written in sequential languages that cannot easily multiprocess. Developers have been really slow to embrace the new raft of concurrent languages like Erlang or Go which make multiprocessing so easy. I'm not sure why that is, but a good bet is familiarity with the old and aversion to the new.

    'Just another theory to add to TFA. Any others?

  • He's largely right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tridus ( 79566 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:52PM (#43437103) Homepage

    Windows 8 is a factor. It's not the largest one, but it is a factor. People don't like it, and people also feel that they don't *need* a PC like they used to. That means when faced with a Windows version you don't want vs the iPad (or whatever other tablet) that you do, the tablet is going to win an awful lot. That wasn't the case in the past, because the technology simply wasn't up to par. Today it is - a typical consumption only web user can get by just fine on a tablet and only occasionally needs a PC. Fundamentally, Metro on the desktop sucks. Microsoft could have avoided the whole problem if they'd just put a button in Control Panel labelled "make this OS work like Windows 7", in which case you'd have a faster version of Windows 7 that can also run Metro apps. That would be more popular. (You can do that yourself with start menu replacements and neat tools like ModernMix, but telling users they can download third party tools to fix it just points out that Microsoft botched the release.)

    That makes the implications obvious: households that used to have 2 or 3 PCs now only need one. Many households won't need a PC at all.

    For people who do still need or want one, existing PCs last a lot longer than they used to. XP machines are still kicking, and do what people want. 3 year old PCs aren't significantly worse than brand new ones if they're properly maintained. Fundamentally, the product used to improve by leaps and bounds. It now improves in tiny increments, and tiny increments aren't enough to promote replacement. It's now like a stereo: you replace it when it dies.

    Multicore is part of the problem here, as well. Intel and AMD can cram as many cores in as they want, most of the stuff I run only uses one of them. It's hugely frustrating to have a CPU sitting at 25% usage while I'm waiting on calculations because most of the software out there still doesn't use multiple cores very well. Unless they're trying to sell me something with significant single thread performance boosts, why would I care how many more cores they can shove in?

    The PC market had a great run, but it's over. The market is going to contract to a new normal: systems being used years longer than in the past, and fewer people needing them. It won't go away for a very long time, simply because phones and tablets aren't nearly as good a replacement for many tasks that we're doing... yet. But stagnation and decline are the new norm.

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:53PM (#43437111) Homepage Journal

    Windows 8.

    I don't get every version. I tend to sit on the fence and see how newer versions sort out. Perhaps I get to see them at work. I avoided Vista as there were so many things wrong with it. Windows 7 looked like what Vista should have been. Windows 8 has raised too many questions and we're not getting it at work, staying with Windows 7 machines.

    Also, as I've said for the past coulple years, the PC is overkill for many people who just want email, social stuff, simple games, they get a phone or tablet for that now.

  • by SampleFish ( 2769857 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:54PM (#43437125)

    I have always built my own desktop PCs. They always last longer than 5 years. I build a new one after 5 years because I want to not because I have to. In fact I often hand down my old PC and it stays in service for many more years. You might lose a PSU or a HDD but the computer itself should last long after obsolescence.

    PC sales are down for the same reason all sales are down. The middle class has been robbed of buying power. Poor wages, lay-offs, outsourcing, tax burden, or whatever other reason you can come up with. There are more people than we have work to do. When people struggle they often won't buy nice things like computers. They may not be happy with the old one but they can't afford to replace it. I'm sure new car sales are down as people keep the old ones longer.

    The middle class = the American economy. When the people suffer there is a "trickle up suffering" *

    *("Trickle up suffering" is a registered trademark of SampleFish)

  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @07:55PM (#43437139)
    It's not that existing PCs are too good but that they haven't improved much in the past few years, in particular processing speed. The days of huge computing jumps with a new processor generation appear to be behind us, at least for x86.
  • by Tridus ( 79566 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @08:00PM (#43437175) Homepage

    Phones also are advancing quite a lot. There's a lot more difference between an iPhone 3G and a high end phone today than there is between a 4 year old PC and a new PC.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 12, 2013 @08:09PM (#43437247)

    just like apple did in the late 90's

    oh your 2 year old mac is doing fine? OK heres os 9.22, everyone will be using it, except for you cause we told our installer to specificly ignore anything less than our brand new shiny G3, pay up or fuck off

    or in the mid 2000's

    oh you just bought a G5 OK we switched to intel, pay up or fuck off

  • by tftp ( 111690 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @08:10PM (#43437267) Homepage

    Windows 8 ... ummm... I guess I can use the drive it came on as a backup someday.

    Microsoft loves you as a customer. You bought their product and trashed it, thus making it not necessary for them to support you. (Not that they would ever do such a thing.) Microsoft only cares about the number of units sold, and you contributed to that.

    I used to buy prebuilt boxes (HP, Dell, Acer) with Win7, and I used them as they are, with Win7 OS. But if I am required to buy Win8 when I need another box I will instead buy parts and build a PC this way - something I haven't done for a long, long time. TigerDirect still sells Win7 OEM packages [tigerdirect.com], but for many of my needs Linux will do just fine. Or I will raise an odd, old P4 box from the dead - as matter of fact, one is on my bench right now, loud and hot as they used to build them in 2007 or so. But it's free. Will install some Linux on it for a simple server duty.

  • by tftp ( 111690 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @08:41PM (#43437455) Homepage

    If you have a decent PC all you need to play almost any game at a really good level is a graphics card upgrade.

    A good graphics card will cost as much as a complete console - and you are still stuck with incompatibilities between this game and that video card, or a DLL, or just something else that only happens on your setup, so it's entirely unsupported. Early releases of Thief crashed left and right; first PC releases of Far Cry didn't work with AMD (Diamond) video cards, IIRC.

    I gave up gaming on a PC long time ago. I have PS3, and it works just as fast as when I bought it (which means "as fast as the game needs it to work".) If PS4 is a good improvement, I will get it too. There is a lot of value in a console - it runs your games exactly as the developer released them, and all consoles of the same type run the same. Load the disk and the game runs. If it has bugs, everyone has the same bugs - and there is a huge pressure on the developer to fix those and push the patches out.

    I can understand why early gaming was on a PC - because the PC was there, and any PC could run any game (of Alley Cat type.) This is no longer true. Building a gaming PC will cost you more than buying a console. Gaming on PC is only practical if you are after games that will never be released on a console of your choice and you can't afford several. Cost of a console is small these days, however, and there is no good excuse why a gamer wouldn't be able to get an Xbox for his Halo and PS3 for his something else.

  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968@gm ... minus herbivore> on Friday April 12, 2013 @08:43PM (#43437479) Journal

    Actually? And as much as I HATE THAT STUPID DUMBED DOWN WIN 8 %$&%$^$...I gotta be honest and...TFA is pretty much right on the money. hell my AMD netbook is 3 years old, runs great, I was the guy that HAD to build a PC every year for gaming, but I'm up to a 6 core with 8GB of RAM and 3TB of HDD space, what more do I need here? Games are just now starting to really use duals and triples, most games won't even stress a triple so half my cores are sitting idle or doing other stuff, so why do i need more?

    This really hit me over the head about 2 years ago which is why I'm doing more HTPCs and security cams now, and that was when the Phenom II quads first got REALLY cheap. You see my dad is the perfect "test case" if you will for your "bog standard PC user" because he is as MOR as you can get, he surfs, watches movies, uses chat and webmail, runs his little office software, its about as bog standard of a use case as one can get. So I start seeing the new quads below $100 and I think "Hmmm, its been awhile since i built dad that Phenom I quad, maybe its time to build a new system" so I set up performance logging and came back 2 weeks later to see, what did I find?

    45%. No shit, we are talking a 2.2GHz first gen Phenom I quad and he ONLY was able to get to 45% usage and looking closer at what was going on it looks like a browser hang caused that spike, if I remove that? he's barely hitting 30% and that is when he is going full bore. I thought "Well yeah, its a quad, surely that older dual core i built for the shop has to be ready for the pasture"...nope, biggest spikes around 70% but only when he is loading something up and after that its nothing, 20s and 30s during background tasks.

    So it all comes down to one simple fact...The MHz war was a bubble. I would argue what we are seeing now is NOT "The death of the PC" anymore than the housing bubble popping meant the death of houses, its just a return to a more normal state. before laptops were getting replaced every other year and desktops around every 3 and now we are seeing laptops going 5-6 years and desktops that can easily go 8 or 9, I mean that Phenom I quad my dad has is circa 07 so its already at 6 years and its not being stressed.

    It all comes down to both AMD and Intel building chips that are just so insanely powerful that folks can't come up with enough useful work for them to do, certainly not enough to max 'em out. Of course Windows 8 being Satan spawn certainly isn't helping matters any but there are still plenty of places selling win 7 systems right now but if your system is already a multicore seriously what more do you need?

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @08:44PM (#43437483) Journal
    Of course, nothing wrong with learning something new, the problem comes when it is something new for no reason. If someone changed all the Berkeley networking API names to yiddish verbs I would be annoyed as well. Technically it would be new but not in a good way.
  • by Proudrooster ( 580120 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @08:47PM (#43437503) Homepage

    I know there is a lot of speculation into the PC Sales dip, but let's face it, it is the same old song and dance in PC land. If I buy a new PC it has Windows 8 it comes loaded with crapware and doesn't do very much of what most people want to do. Tonight I went to Staples to browse and most of the Windows 8 machines were stuck on "Your protection expired XX days ago. Would you like to purchase Norton." AND I STILL CAN'T CREATE AND EDIT A VIDEO OUT OF THE BOX. However MS-Paint, Calculator, and Notepad are still hanging in from 1987, but to be fair, MS-Paint did get a facelift.

    Flash forward to the iPad. I can give grandma an iPad with iMovie within 15 minutes she has first amazing video trailer of the grandkids on YouTube. Yes, I know the PC has robust suites like Adobe, Roxio, and Vegas but they aren't simple. Grandma has to figure out the Camera, take the SDHC card out, import the video, setup a project (hmm.... does grandma want DV-NTSC Standard-48Khz or DV-NTSC-Widescreen-48Khz, or maybe AVCHD-1080i(50i) Anamorphic) , import the video segments into timelines and on and on until she gives up. It is far too painful, just opening the door to the SDHC card can be a 15 minute project.

    The problem with the PC is it hasn't gotten simpler. It hasn't gotten less painful to use, and grandma still can't get her video onto YouTube. One a daily basis on I use Linux, Windows 7, iPad, and MacOS/X. To me they have just become tools to get different jobs done. The clear winner for ease of use, efficiency, and convenience is the iPad tablet where I can get my video onto YouTube without crapware popping up telling me I need to update or am unprotected.

    Oh and one more reason. SSDs. I can put an SSD in an old box, and suddenly, it becomes a vibrant fast box, even with all the crapware.

    And MS, if you are listening. Put some useful WOW factor, polished software into your OS. Make the consumer feel like they really got something high value for their dollar or just keep doing what your doing. And if you keep on the same path, make sure you knee-cap the next XBOX with always on Internet required for play. Also, if you decided to launch a phone, make sure you abandon all your early adopters and ensure that the phone has no polished apps. Does anyone at MS still know how to code beyond rearranging the UI? Just asking.

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

    by real-modo ( 1460457 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @09:10PM (#43437633)

    But it is broke.

    Nearly all new computers sold today are laptops. and nearly all of them have shitty displays, shitty keyboards, and shitty mouse pads. The key caps start falling off fairly soon. After a while, other keys just stop responding, or lose their debouncing so you get 40 'w's in a row. The wifi adapters fail just after warranty expiry, and they have miserable range and throughput. The bluetooth never worked properly to start with. The USB ports get loose and stop working. And as for the battery...

    All bad. All really bad. But not the worst.

    New PCs come pre-loaded with endless amounts of bloatware that slow them to a crawl. As soon as you log in your shiny new "productivity tool" for the first time, it insists on downloading updates to all of its update downloaders (thanks Randall), and demands that you reboot it sixty-one times. Or, worse, reboots without warning.

    For non-technical users, using a consumer PC is like driving through a blizzard, even when it's new. You can do it, but it's no fun. Compare that to a tablet or a large (four or five inch) non-Windows smartphone, and there's no contest.

    Why are computer sales down? New computers are broken, and consumers have cottoned on to that.

  • Re:disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VanessaE ( 970834 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @09:33PM (#43437761) Homepage

    Or maybe, just *maybe* coders could start focusing on making fast software again instead of just waiting for faster processors? You know, like we did in the old days?

  • by MpVpRb ( 1423381 ) on Friday April 12, 2013 @09:44PM (#43437819)

    One reason people don't buy new computers as often as they used to is software activation

    I dread buying a new computer because moving all of my stuff to the new computer has become a multi-day ordeal of trying to convince Indian call center operators that I am not running the software on more than one computer

    If I could buy a new machine, clone my hard drive and go, I would upgrade about three times as often

  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968@gm ... minus herbivore> on Saturday April 13, 2013 @03:04AM (#43439033) Journal

    Dude do NOT save that P4, the amount of juice you waste feeding that beast makes it not worth the trouble. Since you like Tiger kits (which I do to, they are fricking fantastic) you should look at the $130 E350 Mini [tigerdirect.com] which just uses 16w under load while giving you a dual core APU that is great for everyday tasks. Since you already have the box you can get just the board at Amazon for like $70, slap in a $12 RAM stick and the system will pay for itself just on the amount of power you save and waste heat you don't have to deal with.

    I've been turning old P4 office boxes into E350 boxes and its quite popular with the SMBs, better performance than the P4 at not even a fifth the power. I like 'em so much if I ever get a few days "me time" so I can take my time and set my software up the way I like I'll be ripping the guts out my old Sempron nettop at the shop and replacing it for an E350, I'll get a nice performance boost while using even less power than the Sempron, its cheap, great for basic tasks, and low power, its really a sweet little unit.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Saturday April 13, 2013 @06:36AM (#43439521) Homepage

    There's truth to that but also that their old PCs are "good enough."

    The thing is, the output of PCs hasn't really improved much in the last few years. We used to see jumps in performance between 50% and 100% more. The best we've seen is the slow adoption of 64 bit-windows-ness where people hope to improve things by having more than 3.5GB RAM. (And for most it wasn't much benefit)

    There was nothing in terns of software that required an upgrade from XP to 7. That XP magically got slower than 7 with every update and patch remains "a mystery" but people got the idea. That WinME and Vista were such crap that people wouldn't buy it broke the public of its notion that "upgrade means it's better!" long ago. 7 had been more or less forced on people. They didn't care for it but before long when they wanted a new PC, they had no choice. And it least it wasn't too dissimilar from XP and so adjustments could be made.

    But now with 8 it's even worse. Microsoft had convinced the PC industry that they needed to lock the hardware to the software so that downgrades or running other OSes would be more difficult. Combined with the previous public experience, it means "holy hell no we don't want to change now!!"

    So yeah... PCs haven't improved much. It's basically true. But they break and stuff. But I almost always want to keep a laptop under some kind of warranty. I didn't this go around. If there was a contributing reason, it would have to be because I would rather wait to see how bad this hardware locking thing gets. So yeah... it's Microsoft's fault even though I don't run Microsoft.

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