back to article Congrats, PC slingers. That's now FIVE straight years of shrinking sales

Santa's sack was bulging over Chrimbo, but it wasn't due to PC-shaped presents – computer sales slipped again in the final quarter of 2016, capping off five consecutive years of market shrinkage. According to data from Gartner, shipments to distributors and retailers fell 3.7 per cent year-on-year to 72.6 million units. The …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The only way to fix this is to...

    Lower your prices! x64 laptops and desktops are overhyped and overvalued. In late 2015 I got a core i7 Lenovo x220 for free from the guys who were upgrading them in the desktop support group at a recent job. I can buy a super powerful embedded system for less than $50. I expect the intro systems in the mainstream laptop and desktop market to be much, MUCH cheaper than they are at now. Dig deeper!

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: The only way to fix this is to...

      " core i7 Lenovo x220 for free"

      To be honest is *is* going to be tough for them to compete with those prices.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Are you nuts?

      Overpriced in what universe? Looking at Best Buy pricing on the web, for a new laptop or desktop, running Windows 10, with a Core i3, they start at just over $300. You can pay well under $300 if you will take an AMD CPU or one of Intel's 'lesser' CPUs like a Celeron/Pentium/Atom. The parts have a cost, so just because you assign a value of $100 to a $300 PC doesn't mean they should lower their price and take a $200 loss on every one they sell!

      They also offer refurbished laptops and desktops starting at little over $100! Price is absolutely NOT the reason sales are falling. It is because a brand new Kaby Lake PC or laptop you buy today is a fairly minor advancement over Sandy Bridge PC that came out six years ago. And even more importantly, because people who just browse the web, send emails, visit Facebook and so forth and can do that on a more portable tablet or large smartphone that they already carry with them, and have no need of a PC at all.

      It wouldn't matter if they sold PCs for $1, people who don't need them aren't going to buy them.

  2. ITS Retired

    The "Free" Windows 10 wasn;t the problem.

    Windows 10 itself is the problem. Maybe if more people could buy computers with Windows 7, or some flavor of Linux, things would not be so bad.

    Slurp is not very popular with most people.

    1. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: The "Free" Windows 10 wasn;t the problem.

      I'm not sure that's the whole story.

      I own a desktop PC at home with a quad core (i5?) processor and 16 GB of RAM. Since I swapped the HDD for an SSD it is extremely fast (for what I want).

      I might buy a newer graphics card some time, but apart from that there is no need for me to replace what I have as it works really well.

      Meanwhile at work, we keep our hardware for 5 years unless it fails. What we have works fine, so why would we spend money on new?

      I suspect that's the PC manufacturers main problem right there.

      This weekend I'm going to dust off 2009 model Dell desktop I have and don't need, reinstall Windows 7 and give it to a friend who has no money and she will be thrilled.

      It will surf the net just fine.

    2. TReko

      Re: The "Free" Windows 10 wasn;t the problem.

      Windows 10 is a huge problem. I'd guess 80% of our small-business customers don't want it and prefer Windows 7.

      Another problem is Intel - they no longer have any real competition, so computers really haven't got that much faster in the last 7 years. Buying and old PC and putting in an SSD makes way more difference to most users than an new Intel CPU.

      1. MR J

        Re: The "Free" Windows 10 wasn;t the problem.

        I know a major bank that still uses XP in house. It is not that they don't want W10 and prefer what they have, Its that they don't want to "skill" their users to use new things. The same major bank suggest using IE 9 or IE 10 with Java for their external VPN connections.

        And yea, I agree that computer speed has stagnated over the past 7 or so years, I own an i7-860 (2009) build that wouldn't get all that much better by upgrading.

        If I was a business or a new user then I wouldn't buy my pc to stick in SSD's, I would go with the newest tech just because it should save a few hundred £/$/€ a year on running cost.

        Does intel need to get fast, I don't think so. So many users are happy now that I cant see AMD/Intel looking to do much more than aim for efficiency gains. The time of Transmeta is now, they were just 15 years too early ;P.

    3. Updraft102 Silver badge

      Re: The "Free" Windows 10 wasn;t the problem.

      People are not saying, "Why buy a new PC? Thanks to the free upgrade, I have Windows 10 already, and my old PC is still fast enough." They're saying, "Why buy a new PC? My old one is still fast enough, and keeping it means I can keep avoiding Windows 10."

      If Windows 10 was so good that people would replace an otherwise adequate PC (at considerable expense) just to get it, Microsoft would not have had to resort to malware techniques and trickery to fool people into taking it for FREE.

      1. badger31

        Re: The "Free" Windows 10 wasn;t the problem.

        I'm not claiming causation here, but 5 years does roughly correlate with the release of Windows 8.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Bank using XP?

          I sure hope you don't bank there, only a matter of time before that bites them in the ass!

  3. jason 7 Silver badge

    Yawn....

    ...here we go again for the 7th time or so in 18 months.

  4. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Mature market shake out

    Having any of these geniuses study the pattern of earlier rapid consumer growth industries? As the product matures many will not replace it as often because they do not need to. It still functions fine and does the intended job. There are no new features that will get most to salivate over the next release of whatever (OS, chip, software, peripheral, etc.). So the current gear soldiers on because it still works.

    1. chivo243 Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Mature market shake out

      +1 beat me to it, well said!

      1. M.Zaccone

        Re: Mature market shake out

        +1 from me too. If it ain't broke etc. I didn't buy a new dishwasher last year either- because my old one still works!

    2. Wibble

      Re: Mature market shake out

      > So the current gear soldiers on because it still works.

      Except MS Office. This gets worse with every iteration and never fixes bugs which have been there since the early nineties.

      Still, it could be worse. Adding new emojis accounts for innovation at Apple.

      1. DougS Silver badge
        Joke

        @Wibble

        First you say MS Office gets worse with every iteration and never fixes bugs, then you suggest Apple is even worse because all they do is add new emojis. Unless you think the addition of new emojis makes things 'more worse' (oh, my mom would kill me if she read that) than new Office releases, Apple isn't the "could be worse" example you were searching for.

    3. Chronos Silver badge

      Re: Mature market shake out

      a_yank_lurker wrote: So the current gear soldiers on because it still works.

      'zackly. There is simply no compelling reason to waste money, time and materials on "upgrading" to something with similar performance and worse compatibility with your preferred operating system.

      This expectation of linear growth in perpetuity is utter tosh.

    4. Avatar of They

      Re: Mature market shake out

      Exactly.

      Lack of new features in Windows 10 with the added negativity it, which may affect the kind of people that might be used to offer advice to family and friends. Nothing is a "must have" and there is a lot of "be wary"

      And the price of new systems when people perhaps don't have pay rises to match. I mean the market is going surface pro and ultra books like the xps from Dell, but at 800+ with basics like a keyboard for another 100.

      And any I5 or I7 is more than enough for people at the moment.

      The only ground breaking new feature of anything is VR, but that is too expensive and you need to add 400 for a GFX card. Little too much for most peoples wallet at the moment.

    5. PhilipN Silver badge

      Re: Mature market shake out

      Agreed. Well said.

      It would be interesting to know amongst people coming here, although it might be a skewed sample, how many have multiple working but unused computers mainly laptops going back years. I dread to think how many I have floating around home and (my own) office, some of which even those running W7 quite adequately have not been fired up for months and months, others of which have been sitting in cupboards and forgotten about.

      Reminds me I still have an IBM PC 110 Palmtop somewhere geared up to run W95. I think I'll dig it out this weekend just for fun. A different point but the best keyboard I ever used.

      1. M.Zaccone

        Re: Mature market shake out

        "how many have multiple working but unused computers mainly laptops going back years."

        Often there is a flavour of linux that will allow an old laptop to be useful again.

        1. Elsmarc

          Re: Mature market - I don't need "New Shiny"

          "how many have multiple working but unused computers mainly laptops going back years."

          "Often there is a flavour of linux that will allow an old laptop to be useful again."

          Well, yes but how many computers can a person use at once? I do have a closet with 3 old laptops. And I have 2 PC's there. And I have 4 Macs only one of which is in use typically, but one my GF uses and another is essentially an emergency backup (a MacMini from 2012) that is very rarely even turned on other than to make sure it still boots.

          And closing in on 70 years old myself, many oldsters have abandoned PCs for tablets like iPads which do what they need - Email, look at pictures and surf the web. I have one here just sitting there doing nothing because I didn't want the person to simply throw the PC in the trash.

          I even have a laptop with XP (gasp!) on it which is my "trow away" machine. I can VPN to home and do anything I need to from anywhere. If customs wants to take it for some reason or anyone steals it, they have an old laptop that is essentially useless to them.

          I work on a late 2012 iMac and have no plans to upgrade unless this one dies. It will be quite a while before I buy a new computer, smart phone or other device. Even software. I pretty much have everything I need. Other than my yearly Turbo Tax buy, I don't foresee a software buy for quite a while. Same with smart phone apps.

          Mature market in respect to many devices and software as well.

    6. Loud Speaker

      Re: Mature market shake out

      It still functions fine and does the intended job.

      Nope. I have only just learned how to use the important features, and got it configured the way I want it after 2 years. Most of which were spent Googling how to work around stupid UI decisions.

      No I don't want to start over again. Its not a car - it wont rust away. Apart from replacing the noisy fans, and adding an SSD, it is unlikely to need much maintenance. I don't play games, and I sure as hell dont want kids playing games on it, so no need for better graphics or faster processor. And, most likely, the new machines will be missing useful features that the older ones have. (Serial and parallel ports, for example*).

      And the case is big enough for an internal LTO drive, so if the cloud goes TITSUP, I still have my data.

      For Christmas I upgraded the home server to a £60 Sun T2000! [Originally £10,000] and, though 6 years old, perfectly capable of another 10 years operation 24/7. As I write this, the family car is sitting outside in snow on salted roads, and is also going fine after 6 years.

      Why do you think I would replace a machine that is ONLY two years old and still working? Its not like the days of upgrading a PC to an XT!

      Serial port connects to UPS, parallel port controlled the Christmas tree lights!

  5. Mark 65

    The market is different...

    Several areas where the PC market is different and hence more prone to stagnation vs tablets and laptops...

    • It's harder to make an off the shelf PC with planned obsolescence as the user can replace parts themselves
    • If I cannot find an off the shelf model offering what I want I can easily build my own
    • For the vast majority, CPU, GPU and RAM are no longer under the upgrade pressure they once were so the upgrade cycle is way way longer

    As an anecdote, I am still running a 2010 machine doing photo and video processing and the only thing that has been changed in that time is the HDD -> SSD. I still feel under no pressure to upgrade it processing-wise but would only do so out of boredom and desire to have the latest high speed connectors etc. It still has ample power for running multiple VMs and processing media.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The market is different...

      I would say the planned obsolescence is primarily on the software side of things than the hardware. Of course, sometimes hardware evolves to a higher standard e.g. DDR3 to DDR4 memory, and people who feel the itch to upgrade would do so.

      But old hardware would have worked perfectly had it not been for the software peddlers enforcing forced obsolescence to please the bean counters and shareholders. For example, Windows Vista is fairly decent if fully patched up. Adobe does not allow Acrobat Reader XI to be installed on Vista. Google does not allow the latest version of Chrome (version 50 and later) to be installed on Vista. Microsoft too, wouldn't allow the later patches, Direct X etc to be installed on Vista.

      When hardware fails or has given up its ghost, users would almost certainly purchase replacements. But software planned obsolescence has artificially shortened the lifespan of hardware. This is a decision not based on technological merit, but on financial expediency.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: The market is different...

        Not often you see people extolling the virtues of Vista - no wonder you are posting as AC :p

        If I were you i'd spen £20 on a win7 licencse off of ebay and upgrade to 7.

        It will be like your pc has got over a long bout of the flu.

        Get a ssd while your at it , obvs

        The beauty of this upgrade in windows version , is that its probably the only one where the hardware spec is smaller on the newer one, making it no-brainer. The newer one IS better - not because all the shits been swapped around and coloured different , but because your computer WILL run better with no hardware changes.

        1. 404 Silver badge

          Re: The market is different...

          I wondered why Vista failed so hard at the time - was running Vista Pro with no issues whatsoever - what I found was it was the consumer editions of Vista that sucked ass. That, and putting Vista on XP-era-Microsoft-Vista-Certified-Compatible equipment.

          That's what I saw at the time, anyway.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The market is different...

            When Vista came out, there was a lot of hardware incompatibility because the drivers were not ready. The annoyances and grievances spread fast via word of mouth.

            There were also other miscellaneous annoyances which were not fix until after SP2 had landed. By that time, Microsoft was already fixated on developing Win7 and hyping it up.

            Many people were also perfectly happy on WinXP, including with the classic Minesweeper and Solitaire on WinXP, not the revamped versions in VIsta developed by Oberon Games.

  6. Ted's Toy

    The operating systems are the problem

    The over sold hype by the major retailers and trying to turn a business device into something of a toy or entertainment device is the main problem. The rise of the mobile devices smart phones etc which have a user friendly inter-phase. Where as the pc x86 devices were are modeled on a business accounting type of inter-phase. Th first users which computer devices replaced were the typing pool, accounting scribes and general office workers. Some bright marketer sold the idea that every one and his dog needed one for home. So the P.C. was born. P.C. says what it is a glorified adding/ typing unit.

    We all fell for this and now most people have one at home which is seldom used as there are better toy for the bulk of the users to keep themselves amused with.. The market for high end personal computing devices is a limited field. Game playing is now done on specialized consoles.. Music is another field which has is leaving the PC.

    The operating systems are now a mush up of conflicting uses and not user friendly for any. A specialist tool?Computing device which does one function well is what the public want.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: The operating systems are the problem

      " Game playing is now done on specialized consoles" . Only because people seem to be happy to play a FPS game without a mouse. Which is akin to a snooker player using a baguette instead of a cue.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: The operating systems are the problem

      No, hobby, home and business markets were developed simultaneously.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Windows 10 wasn't the messiah to reverse slumping PC sales?

    Wow, who would have seen this coming, eh?

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Windows 10 wasn't the messiah to reverse slumping PC sales?

      Whocouldaknowed?

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    I'd be interested to know how the split between laptop and 'desktop' has moved over the years. I dont know anyone who has bought a big box pc in years!

    Normal people im talking about, buying ready built.

  10. Christian Berger Silver badge

    The markets are moving

    In the last years we had several markets focusing on the PC.

    We had the "home user" who previously had a home computer, but moved to the PC when it was promising more "bang for the buck" than an Amiga. Those people are now moving to Android.

    We had the "office user", a traditional PC market which gained some traction when it was joined by the people who found out that you can use a PC as a terminal for some AS400 system. Those now experience longer product lifetimes, and Windows getting much less useful for them from version to version. This goes as far as there being serious legal doubts if Windows 10 could be used in a German workplace because of all its spying. So a new Windows PC is a tough sell there.

    Then there's the "workstation" market. Those people bought UNIX-workstations and moved to PCs when they were cheaper and offered memory management (protected mode). Those are running Linux or some BSD on a PC, or also work with Macs or Windows with cygwin installed. Their future is uncertain, but if everything fails they'll probably move to servers and Raspberry Pis. A PC would have to be much better than the one they are using now to warrant a change... and particularly with things like UEFI that's not likely to happen.

  11. N2 Silver badge

    Windows 10 slurpware can fuck off...

    Gamers solution is a console

    Business solution is Windows 7

    Macs if you must have them

    For almost everything else, theres a tablet with Linux or iOS

  12. Excellentsword

    People who need a personal computer for not much else than personal computing will probably opt for a Mac. People who want something more powerful and have the know-how are likely to build it themselves and upgrade it rather than buying another computer. I don't think PC sales are actually falling, clearly pre-made rigs from the old guard are, but it'd be interesting to know how retailers like overclockers.co.uk et al are performing against this backdrop with sales of components and peripherals.

    1. MrT

      Component sales

      That's a good point - I take it that these figures are for complete, new desktop-class PCs. Anyone building their own from scratch using a series of separately-purchased components wouldn't be included.

      Are there sales data for different classes of upgrades, such as might be applied to existing PCs that are doing well enough to keep? Things like RAM upgrades, graphics cards and fixed storage - the sort of thing that might be applied once or twice across a PC lifetime...

  13. cambsukguy

    People say 'It works, don't bother replacing it' but I don't see that in the car market at all.

    I treat my car just like my PC, tablet and phone (mostly), keep using it until it breaks (or a large lump of concrete in the road breaks it for me).

    But, I see people with new cars that had 'nearly new' cars all the time, and cars cost a lot more than PCs. New cars have some innovation but it isn't worth the price (to me at least). I think it is because they are mostly 'rented' and people just see the monthly cost; the lease expires and they get the next one. This may explain why companies replace PCs of course, they often lease them. But, the issue of retraining for a new OS means a lot of extra cost which may prevent changes.

    The main issue for PCs is the one everyone mentions, PCs are just not required as much any more. I use (this) laptop (second-hand, c £500 but quite nice) for the usual stuff but connect it to a telly and it does a lot more (no chromecast etc. required). I use it for some of the Linux work I do too when needed (courtesy Oracle VM). Most people do not do even that.

    Many people bought a tablet and immediately removed a large part of the need for a PC. Phones already were making PCs less needed.

    Most people's PC still does what they need, because even iPlayer and other video streaming etc. requires almost no CPU power and little GPU power.

    Few people edit their videos or need high power Photoshop type programs. Word (et al) runs easily on an ordinary machine.

    Since no-one else 'sees' their fancy new PC, people will not treat it like a car (a status symbol), hence way more iPhones in evidence than makes sense from an economic point of view. This also explains why 'cool' all-in-ones and super-slim laptops sales hold up well - you can show them off in coffee shops and University cafes.

    There is no chance of a new OS 'making' people upgrade. It is hard to show it off for starters.

    We would need a true AI, super-clever device that needed some new hardware and OS to work; then people might upgrade. Don't hold your breath.

    Meanwhile, people just buy a 'smart' speaker and get the same power, cheaply, cause 'the cloud' means someone else runs the powerful machine for you.

    At least PC makers have the opportunity to shrink without too much pain, diversify, make similar but different machines (Smart Speakers!) and supply the fixed, corporate use that (I think) will continue for the forseeable.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Cars are obvious and very public status symbols and also something that many people HAVE to spend a lot time using, so comfort, reliability and pride are very important.

      PCs? Not so much.

    2. MrT
      Thumb Up

      I'm with you on that - my current car is an early 2006 model, this laptop is a late 2006 model, both bought new with me as the only owner. Basically, do the research, buy the right model/spec in the first place, look after it properly and it'll carry on working for years.

  14. rtb61

    Inevitable

    For years only power users and business used PC and then typical consumers wanted access to the internet and schooling and gaming and started buying family PCs.

    Now for those families, smart TVs, phones, tablets, game consoles and cheap school notebooks serve all their needs, no space for a PC which they barely used, so they stopped buying them.

    Reality is PCs are going back to the market as it was in the prior millennium before the year 2000 (typical users and numbers sold). Which really makes you wonder why M$ is working so very, very hard at pissing off business and power users with the windows 10 probe. It looks for the world like Apple will take that market from M$, M$ has wandered off into the world of arrogant lotus eaters, believing in the power of it's dominance to force anything it wants on customers.

  15. ecofeco Silver badge

    Several problems

    First the market is saturated. Most customers are just average people who barely know how to use a computer. If it breaks, they often don't bother to replace it, why?

    Second, because the average computer is still too hard to use for the average customer. Period.

    Third, see above.

    Fourth, mobiles phones do what the average users wants: play games, send messages, takes pictures, browse websites.

    One of the smartest things ever done to the PC was to create a UI standard. The action bar at the top was a giant leap forward and helped people familiarize themselves to the actions needed to be productive in their daily work-a-day jobs.

    Then everyone started breaking the UI standard so unless forced by their jobs, serious need or overwhelming wants (games, pictures) they just gave up and don't care.

    The other was "plug and play". Sure, it isn't and never was perfect, but in the last 10 years, we've seen THAT broken as well. Install program or device? There is ALWAYS a damn software update that may or may not fix a problem or make it worse. The average person gives at that point as well.

    Summation: PCs are still too much of a pain in the ass for the average person to care. The industry has screwed itself.

  16. MT Field
    Stop

    Die you expensive bloatware-laden flimsy spyware-carrying slow and faulty many-times-patched-but-never-improved lousy beige vampire of time and enthusiasm.

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