The question most taxing the minds behind the personal computer industry right now is how to persuade punters to spend their money not merely on new notebooks and desktops, but specifically on more powerful - and thus more expensive - machines. All the evidence suggests they are currently not doing so. More problematically, they …
To paraphrase Bill Gates
"640k of RAM really ought to be enough for most people"
Anyway, the problem is not that people are being tight, nor holding onto old gear, its just that the hardware is back to being massively over specified for what's needed.
Default buying option for our Citrix terminals here is an Optiplex 790. We cant get anything crappier, so we are running with 3,3ghz CPU's and 4gm ram, for a thin client?
Programmers are also to blame (is blame the right word?)
Developers used to be shouted at for testing their products on high end machines and leaving users to experience their wares on stuff far less powerful. Mostly this was not that the developers were making heavy duty programs, just that they were lazy coders who used hardware to compensate for shit code.
With the programming packages today, most packages come from a library of well optimized code snippets, so stuff (generally) is tighter and better tested (don't laugh) People are making better use of what they have to play with.
Re: To paraphrase Bill Gates
Blame is the correct word. I looked it up to check!
At the amount of comments saying "X is to blame" for "working hard". I hope those comments are in jest. If programmers and developers can make efficient code, hats off to them.
The Pi's have it
Raspberry Pi gave a clear warning about the direction that the market wanted to go. Intel could make a Debian box twice the speed for twice the money and it would sell - but every sale would cost Intel the profit on something five times the price. PC World could distribute Debian boxes, but each one would cost them the profit on the sales of some antivirus software and Microsoft Office - not to mention crapware revenue.
The real shock to me was PC World distributing Chromebooks. I got the first one that my local PC World had seen (the only other source is Amazon). When the salesman read the sales script, the anger in his voice was clear: "We cannot sell you any software. It has to come from Google" (I got the impression he would have put less scorn into "Bailed out Bankers" than "Google"). I am sure the only reason PC World distribute Chromebooks is because Microsoft are doing their own App store.
In a couple of years, the masses will find computers between phones and cameras in the supermarket and you will find the traditional PC vendors rushing to follow Micro Anvika.
Re: The Pi's have it
You not been in a large supermarket for a few years? Even in my small town (<9K residents well off the beaten track in the UK), one of the three supermarkets will happily sell you an Acer laptop today, and a few years ago (when Vista was launched), you could buy a computer from Tesco as well. Larger branches of Tesco always have PCs on the shelves.
You don't get much choice, but how much do you need for a consumer PC?
I dont know about you but....
Thats a failrly depressing set of comments!, here we a re at the worlds premiere tech website (plus lewis page's personal soapbox) and all commentards so far are so proud of using archaic kit!
I like my 8(ish) cores, and you know sometimes 16gig is just not enough - and just how the hell do you expect me to get anything done with just the two monitors. of course if it's a big model i can always use the 16 core 40gig behemoth in the corner of the office
That said i do remember many many years ago as machine specs shot up year on year wondering if the limiting factor would turn out to be technological or if at some point the majority of users would say,'you know, this one does all i really want, so why get a new one'
so i guess now i know
Re: I dont know about you but....
"I like my 8(ish) cores, and you know sometimes 16gig is just not enough - and just how the hell do you expect me to get anything done with just the two monitors."
That's exactly what I used to say (subject to scaling). I had a dual Xeon machine back in the day, and I remember friends asking why I needed 2 CPUs. I was the first out of my group to buy a Voodoo 2 graphics card ("the software graphics are good enough"), the first to set up a file server ("there's enough space in your machine"), the first to set up a firewall/router ("why would more than one person need to access the internet at once?" and "nobody's going to try to hack your home network") and the first to run Cat5 all over my (parents') house (that one had my parents asking why we needed 2 network sockets in ever room when we only had 2 PCs).
Now, however, I have gone past the peak. My current kit is way more capable than I need since I stopped playing games (although it's still about good enough to play when the mood takes me). Nothing will give me a decent improvement in what I normally use the home computers for, so why pay?
If I can convince the other half, the main PC will probably be replaced with a Raspberry Pi (she's never used Linux, so may not take too kindly), and that PC moved into the office. I am even considering getting rid of my main server and firewall boxes, moving the router to a Pi and the server's roles to hosted providers (maybe AWS), keeping only my fileserver local.
Re: I dont know about you but....
I am happy - not proud - to have a main machine for what I determine to be considered work, that exceeds the requirements of what I - as a user - need, as well as surpassing the system requirements of all of the software I utilize on the machine.
Yes, I had a Q6600 when they first came out, I considered gaming among other things - but the thing that I find to be the most troubling is that multi-core OSes that are mainstream and can be used on such hardware were hard to come by when I had that system. And even if I were to use it today, I know of someone who must shift affinity from Proc0 for certain programs, otherwise the machine lags and has trouble multi-tasking. I do, also, consider I am not there to see what is actually happening and am relying on his information to provide my argument.
In the meantime, I use a dual core, 3 GB RAM, 320 GB HDD and I am puttering along nicely with Office and Win7. And I do so quite happily. If I worked with spreadsheets all day, or some other task which required more power than I currently have, I would opt for a better machine. But my day to day does not entail those tasks, thus I am happy. Do I deserve the right to be proud? Maybe, but I am not. I am a satisfied customer.
We just dont need new machines to run web browsers, Im typing this on a 5 year old machine. Its the longest I have ever kept a machine, I really dont need anything quicker.
I am looking at getting a new machine next year, as this one can only take 4gb of RAM however I said the same last year....it just keeps running and runs everything I need it to!
In common with many of the other posters here, my need for faster and faster PCs has abated beacuse although faster more powerful processors are available I haven't yet topped out the ones I have I invested about 4 or 5 years ago in a couple of quad core machines with 4Gb of memory and TBH they are as powerful as I need. When I compare them with hardware available now the only real differences are in terms of power usage, disk speeds/access times. I put in SSD boot drives on both of them upgraded one of them to 16 GB and 64 bit W7 and really that's about it.
"Intel, for one, is looking to Windows 8 to revive the replacement cycle and raise demand for pricier PCs containing its more expensive chips."
Are you saying that Win8 is deliberately a CPU-hog, to sell more tin? :D
Lack of software
I think the 'problem' for the Industry in general is the lack of any stupendously good software to run on PC's. After all once you have Windows, Office 2010, Photoshop, a scanner DVD/Blueray burner and say Nero or similar, there is precious little else at the moment now that most of the games are on consoles. There is not even a decent personal accounting program since Quicken baled out and MS abandoned Money.
Re: Lack of software
Good point. If there was a killer app that required the latest processor or GPU technology then people would be upgrading. The current state of software is disappointing to say the least.
Re: Lack of software
"The current state of software is disappointing to say the least."
It's disappointing because there are few current pieces of software that are so processor-intensive that they require a brand new machine to run? Customers are literally falling over themselves demanding that their existing software isn't fast enough?
Or is it great that our hardware can adequately run 99% of what we need it to? Is it great that users are not continually frustrated by hardware limitations and the need to waste £500 every two years just so they can run the stuff they want to run.
Re: Lack of software
Of course its great that the current hardware can run anything that is thrown at it. Its just that there is nothing new or interesting on the market that could justify 'wasting' a further £500 to run it.
Wow, a lot of you are using really old kit.
I'm a nerd, and buy my computers like a rappers buys blingy cars. I have 3 beatiful, ridiculously spec'ed machines I'm really pleased with, and even better, I made 2 of them myself.
I honestly thought other el reg readers would be rather more enthusiastic about their tech than a five year old frankenDell...
Older and wiser
The truth is that many of us are grizzled old timers. Building your own PC is fun the first time. That 386 with the 20Mb disk......... but after the fifth version (and the old ones all in a cupboard), the fun's gone out of it.
I'd rather play with my RasPi, hacked HP touchpad , android phone..........
The new challenge for me is how much of my technolife can I run in < 8Watts of power, rather than the surge across the grid my aging i7 PC costs me.
Must of us here do tech in our day jobs. Unlike the stereotype, many of us have families that keep us busy when we are not working, and provide higher priorities for use of money than the Shiny.
Find me a home system that is cheap and I can keep running with minimal effort for a few years, and I, along with I think many of the other people here would bite your hand off to get such a system.
I have been running old kit for a long time. I have been using my current main laptop for about 5 years, and it was second hand when I bought it. I think that the end of the road for that system is neigh, as it will struggle running Unity on Precise (but may run Mint!), but if I stuck to Lucid, it would probably remain usable for most things until that runs out of support, or the memory slots finally fail.
If you can't trick ordinary people into thinking your 10 year old machine (through clever use of efficient software) is as fast as their malware infested i5 laptop then you're not a proper techy in my eyes.
Re: @AC 15:52
True. I found you really need more than 512MB for Unity / Ubuntu 10.10. That means I am steadily depleting my local PC repair shop's meagre stock of second hand DDR1 SODIMMs as I churn out reconditioned laptops mostly for the kids of friends and acquaintances (free but borked XP laptop + 20 minutes with an Ubuntu CD). New 1Gig DDR1 DIMMs are apparently a very rare beast and are priced accordingly.
Re: Older and wiser
"but after the fifth version (and the old ones all in a cupboard), the fun's gone out of it."
This, a million times. I don't want to come home and play with hardware. I just want to turn shit on, and play old games... because let's face it: They were better than these-newfangled-things-you-kids-don't-know-you've-been-born-with-your-fancy-3D-games-in-my-day-we-hit-'J""Enter'-started-the-tape-and-got-on-with-it...*ramblertamble*
"I honestly thought other el reg readers would be rather more enthusiastic about their tech than a five year old frankenDell..."
It works. It leaves me more money to spend on beer and curry.
Lack of worthwhile upgrades
There are two factors here.
1) PCs being plenty powerful enough even at the top of the gaming requirements. Even a GeForce 2xx is perfectly capable of running the latest games (including the demaing ones) at 1920x1200, which is as high a res as most of the newest monitors go do.
2) In some ways, some of the new kit isn't as good as what was available 4-7 years ago. A leading example of this is high res screens. While at the top end 2560x1600 30" monitors are still available, there's not that many that will do more than 1920x1200, and those that do are expensive enough that people don't bother. In 2005-2007 IBM made T221 monitors that do 3840x2400 - they still go for £800+ on eBay when you can find them, but they are worth every penny. More relevantly, perhaps, my two year old GTX580 is perfectly capable of running latest FPS-es in that res. So why would I want to upgrade? Similarly, what about high res laptops? IBM T60 is upgradable to 2048x1536, but this machine dates back to 2007 - 5 years ago. It is only in the last few months that a laptop with a higher res screen has actually become available, and it's the MacBook Pro Retina models.
The point is that the manufacturers are whining that they cannot charge the same or more money over and over for upgrades that in a lot of cases don't even meet the standards of what was available 5-7 years ago, specifically in that top end of the market that they are concerned about the erosion of. They really only have themselves to blame. If they want to tempt people to upgrade, they have to come up with something worth upgrading to.
Mobile and dry season.
Personally feel mobile has been stealing the mojo over the last decade. Also, like everyone is mentioning and everyone knows, there just isn't enough cowbell in the latest hardware to buy. A paradigm shift in engineering desktop hardware is needed now more than ever. It's 2012, did you think you would still be shoving circuit boards into a bigger circuit board to make your "expansion" upgrades? I didn't, but I still am.
The big shift
Moore's Law has brought the market to a serious inflection point. How do traditional PC makers get the general public and small businesses to buy more stuff? Think totally outside the PC box. Add MicroServers to the mix, include cloud computing, and throw in revenue generating potential from owning the hardware and you won't be able to stop people from buying stuff.
That was easy ...
If we do see a significant move (as some predict, rightly or wrongly...) towards web applications, wherein the desktop becomes a glorified browser and all the computation is done on a distant server, then that would reduce the market for overpowered computers even more.
Yes, in this model there's still a market for powerful servers, but it's a lot easier to say to a member of the public, "This is what a computer is. Buy it". Those running servers as part of their business are far more likely to know how much power they need and decline to buy anything significantly more powerful at greater cost.
@AC Posted Tuesday 13th November 2012 16:50 GMT
They keep predicting that all the computation will be done on the web/server since 1998. At least that's when I heard it for the first time, it may be even sooner.
I had a single core Intel-something that had limped along for ages with ancient SATA support, that had only gotten an upgrade from 2GB to 4GB of memory and a better power supply. It was in a case from 1998. I finally got tired of having to juggle VMs.
I sent NewEgg a chunk 'o change and got a decent case, a nice ASUS motherboard, an SSD, an i7, 32GB memory, plus a water cooling kit to keep it nice and quiet. This is so over the top for me that I can't see upgrading ever -- only replacing things as they fail.
The one crap thing on new motherboards: the 90deg SATA connectors where you have to fumble blindly for 5 minutes to plug them in from the side, instead of just plugging them in from the top. WTF is up with that?
Re: I upgraded
Yeah, but I bet you'll still be using that thing, unchanged, in 5 or 6 years
Engineering and Scientific Software
Engineering and Scientific software still can make use of the fastest, largest desktop machines you can find.
It's a cliché, I know, but nowadays we run simulations on our desktops that would have required supercomputers a few years ago. And we are very happy for it. It really *does* make a big difference whether you're running on a dual core atom (or equivalent) laptop, or on a 8 or 12 core desktop beast.
It's a bit worrisome to me that if "normal" people stop buying fast desktop computers, we'll return to the time when to run engineering software you had to buy dedicated workstations that cost 25.000 dollars.
Perhaps we'll have to run this stuff "in the cloud"...
Re: Engineering and Scientific Software
don't fret! there's always alien-ware :-D (or it's alleged more sober cousin dell precision) - still has the perennial laptop shortcomings - piddly little screen, crap keyboard and touchpad, but the guts have a fair degree of grunt, plus you can take it to site and get lots off oohs and ahhs from the client as you do hard stuff in real time
Re: Engineering and Scientific Software
Agree, but how many people run such software away from work?
I have one friend who does such a thing, but he is a computational scientist with few family commitments, and takes much of his work home with him!
Manufacturers just have to face facts that computing devices are going to (have?) become commodity items like entertainment equipment, and adjust their businesses accordingly, rather than trying to keep stuffing unnecessarily powerful systems into the consumer channel. And if this means that 'bleeding edge' systems for people like you become more expensive, that's just tough.
Re: Engineering and Scientific Software
Well I number crunch a lot in spite of being retired but in fact my main need for power is editing 1080p/50 video which eats enormous amounts of processor time and memory. In addition processing a few RAW DSLR images eats lots of processor and memory and although nothing like video it needs to much more responsive as it's more interactive - rendering video can run in the background or overnight. So I'm looking for ~10X increase in performance over my rather aging dual-core AMD and maybe 8G of memory.
Well, my desktop is a P4EE 3.4 reliably overclocked to 3.73 with 4GB PC3200 RAM, a Leadtek GT6800 128MB graphics card feeding a quite recent 23 inch HD screen from Acer. Some SATA-I and IDE-133 Raided disks. PCI WifFi and USB-BT. I would like USB-3 (even a degraded version) but there are very few solutions for mobos without PCI-E.
This kit does everything does everything I need to do. Win7 upgrade slowed things down a bit. I am thinking of downgrading to XP.
Using PaleMoon as the browser of choice has made browsing a lot better and I don't think about performance too often. Flash is a slug of course and the sooner it is relegated to history the better.
OK. I have a MacAir 11" for on the run, and a 3GS (no need for more).
So, I don't really see the need for more. I am not a graphics designer or gamer so the high tech components and software needed for those occupations/pastimes don't apply.
For me, I expect 10 years life from my tech and if possible at least one technological upgrade cycle.
I may get a couple of SSDs now that they are cheap as chips.
In a way we are following the same trend as the automobile industry.
Its early days were full of "muscle machines" and a relatively high turn over as new technology made cars faster and faster. The people that owned cars new how they worked and often repaired and updated then themselves.
Time passed and cars became mainstream, And so we're in the same situation.
Most PC owners, like car owners have little knowledge of what happens under the hood. They don't need super fast cars or super fast computers.
Of course there are those that like fast cars or fast computer and will pay the premium for such items, but they are not the masses. The main difference most performance computer users still know how to and can build thier computers, while performance drivers may know the art of the infernal combustion engine mot will opt for a pre-built machine.
The masses will use their cars and computers until they are unusable, buying a new one when the old one no longer meats their requirements.
Me, i'm planning on buying the parts to make a new performance machine. But I'll be using painter XIII which will use the 8 cores and playing games that will use the AMD 7970.
Maybe the answer is to fit computers more to the person like cars do, though that will be more software than hardware.
Is this news?
Time used to be that building/buying a high end PC would make an amazing difference to games that demanded the latest hardware to work at their full potential.
These days most AAA titles are console ports and basically need to work on 2006 hardware, irrespective of what you have in your PC.
Being a contrary bugger...
I've just bought a brand new made to order high performance machine.
I like to think I'm a musician (others may disagree) and recently found I was hitting the sides of my 5 year old dual core athlon, however, being the cheapskate that I am, this will be re-purposed as my 'office' machine, and the current 7-8 year old one held in storage for a while till I'm sure everything is settled, then cleaned out and passed on to whoever may want it.
well I have been building home computers since 1977,started out with the 6800 SWTP 8 bit computer, now have a 1 year old I7-940 computer with a nvidia 480(which I built from parts), this plays my games very well. and for the first time I really have had no need to upgrade.I will say it is a bit frustrating . I play 2 MMOs right now City of Heroes and SWTOR. I get very acceptable frame rates and such .and almost no lag. yes a NVIDIA 5 or 6 series would be "Nice" but now the computer is faster than I need.So why make it 3 to 5 x faster than I need? Now with a standalone game like Skyrim I might see the need for a small upgrade, but as I am now a older gamer. the reflexes have gone.not until some great app or game comes out I can see the average person not needing a "Uber" computer. And with the prices of the pre-builts so low , even my days of buying parts and building is coming to a end.
I am getting on a bit, and have over the years bought or upgraded quite a few PCs.
Each time that I have upgraded the C drive, I have created a directory called "OldC" that contains the entirety of the previous C drive. I realise there is no logical reason to do this - I suspect it's an OCD thing.
Anyway, I now have "OldC" directories nested five deep, and it is sometimes interesting to wander down and look at my old Word Perfect files, Pascal programs and my short but at the time promising resume.
CPU holding me back
My CPU is bottle necking me. I have an E7600, 8GB DDR2 and a GTX560Ti for graphics. Skyrim on full settings causes a large frame drop but looking at the usage it's the CPU hitting the rails. I have it OC'd but it's not enough. Also I like to run movies and anime through MadVR and have high resolution subtitles (1080 real time karaoke with special effects fonts hammers the CPU).
So I am now looking to upgrade. The graphics should be fine for most tasks but to upgrade the CPU requires a change out of most of the components. Not decided on SSD though as the speed gains although great are exchanged for reliability issues and cost per gig.
I agree most games run just fine on this setup though. As another poster pointed out consoles are holding back PC game development pushing the boundaries as many are just ports from consoles.
Two sides to the coin - and for the 1000th time in 100 years... PCs are not dead
There are two major aspects at play here with the lower sales:
1) has already been touched on, that essentially a 2-3 year old machine is plenty good enough for the large majority of users to make documents, browse the web, watch HD video and maybe play occasional games.
2) The Global Economy (especially the US and Europe) is very depressed right now... when its not feeling so sad in few years I expect PC sales to pick up again.
Here is why:
For one, for browsing and documents, even a 10 year old computer could do all that was needed for 90% of the people out there. But then, as we will again in the future, we buy things we don't need. We buy them to have bragging rights, we buy them for future proofing and caution, we buy them to expand our computing capability. And when money was more expendable, we bought them more frequently than we needed to.
There is a lot more you can do with a real PC these days, and the Operating systems, and set up of services is easier that it ever was.
- Sure you can play Minecraft or similar games on a tablet or old PC, but on a new PC I can play and host my server
- On a PC I can rip by Blue-ray and DVD disks, and re-format the movies to fit smaller sized screens like my smartphone or tablet... a fast computer will do such actions with few clicks and only takes a few minutes. Its faster than say even downloading an illegal already formatted for Smartphone version of the movie from bit-torrent or similar file share.
- I can stream music and videos from my main new PC to the older weaker PC's, smart phones and tables in the house (or over the net even) A Modern PC can host 6-12TB of data easily, which will usually hold all your pictures, and your entire movie and music collections of the average person
-Security and Multitasking.... unlike the older PC my new PC can do all of the things listed above, but it can also run multiple Security programs AT THE SAME TIME.
Anti-virus, Firewall, Anti-spyware (3 versions), Anti-Trojan (two versions) and other programs like Windows defender, Linux Firewallls and root kit detectors etc.
Smartphones and tablets are neat, but the large majority of them don't have on access virus detection, firewalls or other typical security features that PC's do. Old PC's can run these security programs too, but only with a serious performance hit.
Gaming: This one for me is a no-brainer....I will be buying a new $1500 gaming machine at least every 2-3 years for the long forseeable future (and that's a bit of a compromise budge gaming rig, they can run $3,000-4,000) PC gaming always has been, and will continue to be a world apart from console gaming. There is usually a very brief period when a console first come out that it is maybe comparable... but still lacking, within 6 months they aren't even close. PS3 and Xbox are over 3 years old, and even 3 years ago a $1500 machine would beat the pants off of them. Just 2 years ago progress in the PC marketplace had put these kiddie boxes to shame. Games like Skyrim, COD, are getting photo-realistic and attracting larger audiences. As kids grow up from consoles, I expect a lot of them (the serious gamer ones anyways) will naturally progress to PC gaming and all the great worlds it opens up.
PC's aren't; going away any time soon, though manufacturer should be getting smart about how to keep their numbers up, as tablets, old and budget PCs and smart phones will continue to eat away at their market share.
If I were running a PC business today, I would be looking to load a dual/boot Windows 7 and Linux (Ubuntu or other) as a default image... and load up the Ubuntu side with plenty of tutorials and free software.
High End PC's - Custom Built? Who Would Have Thought It...
Personally I would build a performance pc myself over having someone else build it and cram it with oem crap so some of these numbers are probably somewhat skewed if a large portion of the high end market builds their own pc which I suspect is at least somewhat true.
It's not just that modern machines are powerful enough. I didn't realise just how noisy my old computer was until I upgraded about two years ago. I asked the local computer bloke to build me a machine that was adequate but quiet. What I got was a machine that was adequate, can play many games, and is totally silent in operation. In a domestic environment that matters.
The other aspect is that more computer power tended to demand more electric power (and generate more heat). It was important to me to break that cycle.
The biggest performance jump since the late 90s happened sometime over the past four years, and the low-cost and mainstream (prebuilt) PCs have missed out so far. No wonder non-gamer people are hanging on to their old PCs longer than before, there's not much difference between a Core 2 Duo and an Ivy Bridge when everything is slowed down by a spinning disk.
However, I don't really see the point in sticking with pre-Core 2 Duo hardware at this point, when you can pick up an old C2D system for not much money at all. That gives a noticeable jump in performance and power efficiency compared to anything before 2006, and most likely gives you SATA II ports to use for - yes, you guessed it - an SSD system drive.
Another reason not to buy a completely new machine...
... Is to avoid having that gimped bipolar OS called "Windows 8" shoved down your throat.