Why Are Sales Of Desktop PC’s Slowing?

Desktop PC sales fell by nearly 14% in the first quarter, continuing an ongoing trend. There are many reasons this is happening.

Desktop PC

A big topic of conversation last week as the news that sales of desktop PC’s are slowing, and that even the release of a new version of Windows isn’t doing much to help what was once the dominant sector of personal computing:

SAN FRANCISCO, April 10 (UPI) – Global personal computer shipments plummeted 13.9 percent in the latest quarter, further evidence of a quickly decaying market, a U.S. research firm reported.

The decline — the single largest drop ever tracked by market research firm IDC in a single quarter — comes as consumers increasingly show a preference for tablets and smartphones.

The decline corresponds to the first full quarter in which Microsoft’s latest version of its Windows operating system — Windows 8 — was available, suggesting it was getting a cold shoulder from consumers, experts said

Indeed, one industry research firm is blaming the drop in sales squarely on Windows 8, which has received less than stellar reviews from reviewers:

All signs so far point to Windows 8 being a flop.

“Unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only didn’t provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market,” IDC Vice President Bob O’Donnell said.

The newest version of Windows is designed to work well with touch-sensitive screens, but the displays add to the cost of a PC. Together, the changes and higher prices “have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices,” O’Donnell said.

Representatives of Microsoft Corp. were not immediately available for comment.

In its tally, IDC excludes tablets, even if they run PC-style software. It also excludes any device that has a detachable keyboard. With the release of Windows 8, PC makers have been reviving their experiments with tablet-laptop hybrids, some of which have detachable keyboards. Consumers are likely to have shifted some of their buying away from traditional laptops and toward these new devices, which means that the total sales decline of Windows-based devices may not be quite as drastic as IDC’s numbers suggest.

Microsoft shares fell 63 cents, or 2 percent, to $29.65 in extended trading, after the release of the report. They had gained 67 cents in regular trading.

There’s no question that the market for PCs has changed from where it was 20, or even 10, years ago, and Windows is part of the reason. When Windows 3.1 was replaced by Windows 95, it became necessary for most computer users to upgrade both their hardware and their software if they wanted to take advantage of the real advantages of the upgraded operating system. As many people learned, trying to run Windows 95 on a system that was designed for Windows 3.1 was often an exercising in keyboard pounding futility.This was also an era in which the PC game industry was just beginning to take off and, if you wanted to play the latest and greatest games, you needed to have hardware that could handle the graphics and the computational speed necessary to do so. In some sense, then, you could say that the advances in software, along with the growth of the World Wide Web, drove the sales in hardware. In recent years, major upgrades have become less frequent. Windows XP was released in 2001, Windows Vista didn’t come out until six years later  in 2007,  Windows 7 was leased in 2009 (in many ways in response to complaints about Windows Vista), and Windows 8 came out in late 2012. Less frequent OS updates means less of a need to worry about equipment becoming obsolete. Additionally, the problem of older machines not being workable on the new OS became less frequent (I upgraded a Windows Vista machine to Windows 7 when it came out and the upgrade was seamless). All of this means that consumers have less of an incentive to buy a new machine. Indeed, just from personal experience, it seems as though people are tending to hold onto machines until the inevitable failure that is too costly to repair occurs.

In other words, even if people want to upgrade to Windows 8 they don’t necessarily need to buy a new machine to do so.

As Dave Schuler notes, there was also a time when businesses would upgrade their computer equipment every two or three years, both because they could and because they took needed to be able to have machines that were keeping up with the advances in software packages with Microsoft Office. That 2-3 year replacement cycle hasn’t been the rule for some time now, both because there’s less of a need to upgrade and because the state of the economy means that businesses have an incentive to hold on to equipment longer in order to preserve cash flow.

Another argument that’s being made to account for the decline in sales is that we’ve entered into the world of  ”good enough” computing:

It’s certainly true that people are increasingly spending money on new tablets and smartphones rather than new computers. But reports of the PC’s demise are grossly exaggerated. If the PC is dead, what am I typing this on? If the PC is dead, what are office-workers all over the world sitting in front of all day while they work? The reason people aren’t buying new PCs isn’t that they don’t need a PC. It’s that, for the most part, they’re getting along just fine with the one they already have.

In the past, you had to replace your computer every few years or else it would become hopelessly bogged down trying to deal with the latest desktop applications, operating systems, and Internet technologies. But thanks to Moore’s Law, your average PC’s processing power now exceeds most people’s daily needs by a healthy margin. Meanwhile, the rise of the cloud has reduced the need for extra memory.

ZDNet’s Simon Bisson essentially makes the same argument I did above:

The truth is quite simple: PCs are lasting longer, they’re not getting measurably faster, and software is getting better. Why do you need to buy a new PC when you can get better performance with a software upgrade on your old hardware?

If I was to put a finger on the point where everything changed, where Windows stopped being the driver for PC sales, I’d have to point at Windows Vista.

That was the point where Microsoft and the PC OEMs stopped trusting each other. Microsoft made a bet on PC hardware and capabilities, and the PC industry pulled the rug out from under it, forcing the mess that was Vista Basic on users as they tried to sell cheap PCs with old graphics hardware.

That meant Microsoft had to change. It couldn’t make that same bet on hardware anymore. It didn’t trust OEMs to deliver on the promises the silicon vendors were making (and if we look at the initial Windows 8 hardware, it’s pretty clear it was right to make that decision). So it made the software better instead.

New releases of Windows would need fewer resources, offer better performance, and (particularly important to mobile users) use less power.

So we shouldn’t have been surprised when Windows 7 came along, bringing all that better performance on the same hardware. There wasn’t a reason to buy a new PC for a new Windows any more.

These arguments remind me of the discussions you would read in computing magazines in the 90s talking about an era where the computer would essentially become ore an appliance in the house rather than the, essentially,novelties they still were in the 90s. One characteristic of a household appliance — be it a refrigerator or a television — is that they tend to have a long usability life. You don’t see people going out and upgrading their refrigerator or microwave oven every couple years. Indeed, these items haven’t changed much in many years. The television industry continues to evolve, but even there most people don’t change out their TV’s every couple years. In some sense, that may be what’s happened with computers, especially since they have now clearly spread far beyond the “techie” community where upgrading to the latest and greatest was, and still is,often seen as some kind of competition with ones peers. If the family computer continues to work just fine, most people aren’t going to replace it with something new just for the sake of doing so. The most they’d do, I’d guess, is get a second machine if the need arises and, in that case, it’s becoming common that the second machine is a laptop, notebook, or tablet.

Dave Schuler, meanwhile, pushes back against the  argument that there’s anything unusual about what’s happening in the desktop market:

PC sales aren’t in free fall. They’re just seeking their natural level without the planned obsolescence that affected the market for so long. The PC market is a mature one. There will continue to be millions even billions of people huddled behind display devices at the keyboards of their desktops and notebook computers and that will be the case for the foreseeable future. For reading their email or surfing the web more and more people will use tablets or their phones.

This, I think, is the most important point. There was no rational reason to believe that desktop PC sales were going to stay at the levels they were 10-20 years ago, there are simply too many things about the market that have changed since then. Apple, whose hardware business nearly collapsed in the 90s came roaring back with the return of Steve Jobs and the introduction of desktop and laptop computers that were fast, easy to use, and far more sleek looking than the boxy desktop towers that most PC users bought from HP, Dell, and Gateway. The rise of the smartphone meant a diversion of consumer electronic dollars into an entirely new area. This was followed by the introduction of the iPad and the still development world of the tablet. Add into that the existence of laptops and notebooks that take up less space and, increasingly, have as much power as some desktops (unless you want to play games), and there are a lot of items out there competing for the world’s technology dollars. In this context, it’s really not any surprise that desktop sales have declined.

I doubt that we’re looking at the beginning of the end of the desktop PC era. There are still tasks for which it is far better suited than other devices, and there is still a business market that, at some point, will be replacing all those units they purchased before the economy crashed. At some point, perhaps, software advances will be made that will give people a greater incentive to look at upgrading their machines. Finally, at some point, we may end up seeing a merging of sorts of the technology behind tables and desktops. Remember, they weren’t exactly using physical keyboards for their “desktop” units on the Enterprise-D.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Science & Technology
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. al-Ameda says:

    People can now do so many internet-based functions from their cellphones and tablets that they previously did on their home PCs – it had to have an effect on PC sales. Now the sales evidence is in, it is happening.

  2. Dyre42 says:

    Plus PCs last longer than they used to. My parents 10 year old PC is still chugging away and has never needed a repair.

  3. @al-Ameda:

    I do a lot of web surfing on my phone, at least when I’ve got it connected to WiFi. If I owned a tablet, which I don’t at the moment, I’d probably do that too.

    At the same time, reading long form articles on a smartphone screen isn’t exactly convenient, and probably isn’t good for my eyes. Additionally, you can’t efficiently blog from a cell phone.

    I think there will always be a place for consumer market desktops, but I think they’ll end up being more as the computer “appliance” of the house. Indeed, thanks to the Wifi network in my house, I’m able to access files on my desktop while working on my laptop. Sort of a personal cloud, you might say.

  4. @Dyre42:

    That’s largely what I meant when I was referring to the “appliance” argument in the post above. The units last longer, and the average user doesn’t feel the need to upgrade to whatever the news cool and fast version is.

  5. tps says:

    Only reasons I got a new laptop was that I want some more RAM and a dying hard drive. Got a great deal that wasn’t anymore expensive then a repair.

  6. @tps:

    That’s the thing about laptops these days. You can get a fairly decent machine for a pretty decent price. The same goes for desktops, of course, but there’s something to be said for being able to get work down while you’re sitting on the couch instead of in an office desk chair.

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    I wanted to upgrade my system and did so in January while I could still get a Windows 7 machine. I don’t see Windows 8 every being practical in the business world.

  8. @Ron Beasley:

    Based on the reviews, I’m going to bet that we see a major Windows 8 Service Pack release in the not too distant future (as in, within a year).

  9. john personna says:

    I agree that desktops, and traditional notebooks, have entered a “good enough” plateau. This is wider than a Windows thing though. Everyone, all OSes, were chasing a high end user experience, until they delivered it. The last target to knock down was high quality video. From that point on, why upgrade?

    Well, if you want to tie it back to Windows, that OS degrades over time, and people upgrade not because their hardware is that poor, or even because a clean reinstall would not be good enough, but because buying a new computer satisfies the pattern they have for fixing a slow Windows box.

    And sure, if you are not in need of “degunking,” then you can use your money for a better phone or a tablet.

  10. john personna says:

    As an aside, I have been shopping phones a bit. I think that having a 4.5″ display on my current Android phone (a) makes it hard for me to step down, and (b) makes tablets less “necessary.”

  11. DC Loser says:

    My last PC lasted me 10 years. I built one last summer to my desired specs and I can honestly say I would not buy another pre-built desktop again. For me, having the large monitor and a full size keyboard is till important for doing work and surfing. I’m not a fan of the tablet for those purposes plus my eyesight isn’t getting any better to rely on a phone for computer surfing.

  12. @john personna:

    I currently have a Droid 4 but I’ve been looking at the Samsung Galaxy 4 as an upgrade if and when I find it necessary (presently I don’t). The size of the screen on that is great. The only problem is that if they make smartphone screens any larger, it’s going to become more cumbersome to carry them around to some degree.

  13. @DC Loser:

    I’ve considering going the build-it-yourself route for the a future PC purchase. I’m pretty sure I could do most of the work myself and, if I can’t, I know people who can assist with things like making sure I don’t fry the motherboard with hooking up the power supply.

  14. @john personna:

    I doubt Microsoft would ever do this, but they could likely find a pretty good market for a program that would “degunk” a Windows box that has been in operation for some time.

  15. DC Loser says:


    I was hesitant at first about building, but it was so damn easy. There are many online tutorials and youtube videos. I watched the video on Newegg and followed the instructions for my build. I ended up buying some of the parts from Newegg but wanted to buy the processor and motherboard at a local brick and mortar store in case I had to do a return. We’re lucky that there are Microcenter stores in the DC area for that. Their prices for the processor actually was cheaper than Newegg, especially their bundled discount deals with motherboards. As long as you’re not building anything tricky like a special gaming machine, this is the way to go. You’ll get a system that’s custom built to your needs and not loaded with bloatware to slow you down performance wise. It was also very satisfying to see your work come out all right when it powered up the first time.

  16. Eric says:

    I think what we are seeing here is the rise in software more so than hardware. Windows 8 was designed with touch screen in mind as well as the multi-platform capabilities as it it’s available for phones, tablets, and PCs and laptops. That’s a huge emphasis on software development more than hardware. And Apple each year has integrated OSX on macs with iphones’s iOS.
    We are seeing more stuff on the software side and I would say that is what is making some PC companies sweat about declining hardware sales versus software.

  17. john personna says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Yeah, it is a place where the non-profits (linux) shine. When most of their “market” is free downloads, there is not much incentive for a “gunk friendly” system.

    (I suggest if could be even worse than MS not wanting to “degunk,” they have incentive to make systems “gunk friendly.”)

    For what it’s worth, I run a straight Linux distro on my notebook, with no local private data. Everything I do here, if it is saved, is saved in the cloud. On my linux desktops I do have private data, archived as tgz.des3 (old school). But the notebook is free and easy for new installs and new distros … pretty future proof:

    top - 13:16:08 up 1:32, 2 users, load average: 0.26, 0.29, 0.23
    Tasks: 144 total, 3 running, 141 sleeping, 0 stopped, 0 zombie
    %Cpu(s): 6.3 us, 2.9 sy, 0.0 ni, 90.8 id, 0.0 wa, 0.0 hi, 0.0 si, 0.0 st
    KiB Mem: 2055680 total, 1458460 used, 597220 free, 92616 buffers
    KiB Swap: 2085884 total, 0 used, 2085884 free, 825720 cached

  18. Tsar Nicholas says:

    There’s also the somewhat giant screaming neon elephant in the room that the worldwide economy stinks. China is slowing down so precipitously even the fraudulent way in which they report their numbers can’t mask it all that much. Europe is circling the drain. We in the US get all excited if we post 2% GDP growth; on CNBC and in the rest of the liberal media it’s grounds for a keg party.

    And once you get outside the realm of the Case-Schiller S&P 500, the reality is that corporate America since 2007 largely has been struggling to make ends meet. Not everyone gets to sell advertising on Internet search engines or solar panels to (taxpayer-subsidized) green energy companies.

    That aside, what’s sort of funny about this topic is just how many people either are ignorant or forgetful even of recent history.

    We went through this whole song and dance back in 2000-2001, when the business commentariat was shocked — shocked! — that so many tech and telecom growth darlings of the 1990’s were tanking. Cisco? Sun Microsystems? AMD?

    The same thing happened in the early-1990’s. Remember when IBM stood for “I’ve been mugged!”? And of course there was the “Nifty Fifty” craze in the 1970’s and the ensuing crash and burn.

    Business and economic cycles are cycles. Whether you’re selling apparel, jet aircraft or, yes, technology products. Even cool stuff. People who bought Apple’s stock on high will learn that lesson, the hard way. Perhaps a lot sooner than later.

  19. john personna says:

    @DC Loser:

    For what it’s worth, here is how I got my current desktop … Microcenter (national?) sometimes sells “refurbs.” They had, preposterously enough, an Intel quad core, 4 gig ram, 650 gig disk, with Windows Vista on it! Lol, because no one wanted that software the thing was $275, and this was like 2 years ago. I erased it all, loaded Ubuntu, and did not look back. It even drives two 20″ lcds with adequate performance.

    I would prefer one bigger screen to the two 20’s but I bought when I bought, too soon to switch now.

  20. john personna says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Um, if computers, tablets, and phone sales where declining together you might have a point.

    We are looking at a shift in consumer preferences.

  21. @Tsar Nicholas:

    Considering that you can get a decent desktop PC for almost the same price as a high-end iPad, that argument makes no sense. If your thesis were accurate, then sales of iPads, and iPhones, would be crashing too. They aren’t.

    Like @john personna: said, this is an example of shifting consumer preferences and a changing technology market.

  22. David M says:

    Desktop PCs are a lot more powerful than most people need, although there is still one very good reason to upgrade even recent PCs. Current SATA3 solid state drives (SSD) offer a fairly impressive performance increase, given that most tasks are more likely to be I/O bound than anything else. It’s hard to describe exactly, bu going to a SSD from a rotational drive is like going to from a PC with a single core and 2GB of memory to a quad core with 4GB of memory.

    Other than that specific area, PCs from 4 years ago can easily meet the needs of most users. (Excluding things like HD video editing, gaming, etc)

  23. Tyrell says:

    Our pc is going on 8 years old and still runs well, a few glitches now & then. I have done one recovery. Rule # 1: have files and pictures backed up. Usually a 16 gb usb memory stick will work. The one thing I lost that really hurt: MS Office 2010. I could not find the product key, tried key recovery programs and they did not work. Microsoft help? Forget it – you have to have the product key, even though they probably could have looked back at the registration and probably matched the url, I don’t know.
    Yes, desktops are dropping in price. I saw a nice 8 gb with a 23″ monitor: $398 ! I’ll wait another year and see what I can get.

  24. john personna says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    BTW, re. your previous “if California were a stock” .. a tidbit

    Los Angeles County’s industrial vacancy is a mere 2.5%, the lowest in the country, said Kurt Strasmann of brokerage CBRE Group Inc., and some of the priciest industrial property in the U.S. is around Los Angeles International Airport. Orange County is the second-tightest market in the U.S., with 3.5% vacancy.

  25. michael reynolds says:

    My computer purchases are driven by a simple question: have I spilled coffee on the keyboard? If not then I’ll keep what I’m using. A coffee spill was responsible for my getting the MacBook Air which I love.

    I think the comparison to cars is apt. I’ll stick with a car until it’s either starting to have issues, or someone comes up with some cool and compelling new feature. GPS, for example.

    But as I’ve sometimes suggested over at Dave’s place, I think there is a change in the wind, and not just about computers. I think the crash changed the ethos when it comes to consumerism. I think in addition to “I can’t afford that,” we’re now going to see more of, “And it’s no longer important to me to show off my stuff.”

    And there’s the fact that there’s simply nothing all that exciting and new to buy. My car is a 2008. In the last 5 years no new thing has arisen to make me believe I need a new car. My car’s fine. My phone is fine. My computer is fine. My boring black t-shirts and jeans are fine. My TV is a TV, what can you say? The frying pan seems to work. The Scotch tastes the same. There’s nothing right now with the impact of the introduction of PCs or smart phones. I have the stuff, it’s all fine, why would I go buy new stuff?

    A lot of what people value now is free or nearly so. Facebook friends don’t cost you anything. Neither do Twitter followers. Look at YouTube and you see millions of people doing work for free, just for a chance at self-expression or maybe a few up-votes. I don’t know quite how to quantify it but I smell change in the air, and it smells unfortunately like a retrenchment in consumption.

  26. @michael reynolds:

    I think the comparison to cars is apt. I’ll stick with a car until it’s either starting to have issues, or someone comes up with some cool and compelling new feature. GPS, for example.

    That’s pretty much how my family was growing up, quite often out of necessity. Hell, there was one station wagon we didn’t get rid of until it literally caught on fire in the parking lot while my Dad was at work. (Okay, maybe that’s too long to hold on to a car). At some point after I became an adult, I met people who felt it necessary to upgrade their car every two or three years. Now,many of these people were leasing rather than buying so some kind of end-of-lease decision was inevitable in any case, but for someone who remembers taking trips in a family car that had more than 100,000 miles on the odometer before it was adopted replaced it was certainly something of a different world for me.

  27. I think there is a change in the wind, and not just about computers. I think the crash changed the ethos when it comes to consumerism. I think in addition to “I can’t afford that,” we’re now going to see more of, “And it’s no longer important to me to show off my stuff.”

    if you’re correct that will be a significant economic change from the world we’ve known since the end of World War II.

  28. Andre Kenji says:

    @michael reynolds: Maybe. But people are more economical when buying PCs. but not when buying phones.

  29. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I think you might be speaking for your cohort, rather than the broader population.

    (For the record, my t-shirt is gray today.)

  30. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    Actually no, it was my cohort, and the one immediately after, that was obsessed with materialism and display. We created the McMansion. We made BMW’s the default car. We’re the ones who branded everything from jeans to wine.

    In my dealings with kids I get the feeling they don’t share those values. Ask a 14 year-old to list 10 things they’d really like and I suspect Twitter followers are high on the list. Or to get a thousand hits on a video. I think you’ll hear less about cars and mansions. More use of the verb “to be” and less of “to have.” Of course I could be misreading that.

    Against that my daughter has 38 pairs of shoes. (No, not an exaggeration.)

  31. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    What I’m saying is, that cohort is passing into frugal old age. People live arcs, and sometimes what they think is a cognitive decision is just a manifestation of that arc.

    (At the other end, somehow Twitter did not kill the snowboard industry.)

  32. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    I live a weird life in that I know very few people my own age. The people I talk to and Facebook and Tweet are mostly teenagers. Occupational hazard.

  33. tyrell says:

    @michael reynolds: Keyboard: mine had so much gunk and spills it probably was a health hazard. I took all the keys off, blow cleaned it, used alcohol on qtips to clean it, but some keys went dead. Then I stopped at a local thrift shop and got a brand new keyboard that works great for 99 cents !!

  34. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Against that my daughter has 38 pairs of shoes. (No, not an exaggeration.)

    Ha! My sister stopped counting at 90 ( Its a woman’s thing. Men can’t understand).

    I bought my laptop in 2009. My plan was to upgrade this year, after Windows 8 Service Pack 1 (Never upgrade Windows until after SP1). I upgraded my iPad instead. The reason? My laptop can still do everything I want it to do.(More storage would be nice, but not strictly necessary).
    My ipad 1 , though, just can’t do everything I need for it to do anymore.
    The plan is to upgrade the PC next year… but then it will be time to upgrade the iPhone too. I might have to push the PC to 2015. Oh, well.

  35. Ron Beasley says:

    @David M: I do a lot of graphics and upgraded for the SATA3 drives and the multicore processors and it really makes a difference – no more of those the CPU is overtaxed messages in the lower right hand corner. PhotoShop and even Paintshop Pro work the CPU’s harder than they used to.

  36. Brett says:

    Cloud Services is likely diminishing the need to upgrade to newer, more powerful machines – particularly for businesses and organizations. I’m not just talking about the big stuff like Dropbox and Amazon Cloud Services, since organizations can run their own smaller “clouds” that centralize a lot of stuff in the home networks, like what Doug brought up (also beneficial for the IT guys). The company I work for does that, with a lot of the storage being done on a shared drive, and most major programs running at least partially out of the communal servers.

    Even gaming, the last major driver of upgrading super-powered personal PCs, isn’t immune. OnLive was premature, but I’m certain that there will be more attempts to centralize most of the operation of high-end computer games on to cloud servers. The only downside is the latency issue, which becomes especially problematic at the global level (it’s why a lot of multi-player games are divided regionally).

  37. @Brett:

    Even in gaming you’re seeing a slowing of new computer sales. Modern games have pushed almost all of the processing onto the video board, which hash really become more of a mini-super computer than something limited purely to doing graphics. It’s pretty easy to replace just the video board without buying an entire new computer, so the rest of the system is lasting much longer than it once did.

  38. Gustopher says:

    My laptop is from 2008. I am shocked that I haven’t replaced it, but I just haven’t had a need. Since it was the briefly available “Aluminum MacBook” (Not Pro, just plain MacBook) it doesn’t even look dated.

    So, instead of a new computer, I am buying extra pairs of glasses, single cask scotches, and other pointless luxury crap.

    (Now, my car looks dated. 2004 Toyota, dents on one side, scratched paint on the bumpers… But I won’t replace it until there’s enough infrastructure to make an electric car practical)

  39. John Burgess says:

    My PC is four years old and replaced a two-year-old machine that got fried in a lightning strike (along with the UPS and surge protectors, TV, etc.). The most critical software I use is Word 2003 and it works just fine on my current Win7 box. I have replaced my keyboards and mice as I tend to gunk them up. My LCD monitor is eight years old. I’ll probably have to replace my video card soon as it’s starting to act up. That’s not a big deal as the current one really isn’t up to the newest video games.

    My laptop is seven years old.

    My car is 17 years old and still gets 29mpg on the highway.

    While I’ll admit to a certain amount of tightwad-ness, I’m generally happy to use things until they break down entirely.

  40. matt says:

    Sales are slowing for a number of reasons.

    Before I go into details I should inform you a bit of my past and perspective. I’ve been building computer systems since I was 12 (about 20 years ago) I have seen the computer evolve from the 8086 to the modern multicore processors. I currently build systems for people as a side business (mostly performance gaming rigs). My main job involves managing a mixed environment of OSX, win7 and XP. Between laptops and desktops I’m responsible for about 400 systems. I’m currently using this job to pay my way through college (electrical engineer major).

    Market saturation is probably the main reason. I have been gaming on basically the same system for the last five years. I built the system myself but the point is as a gamer the only thing I’ve upgraded on my system is the graphics card. If a gamer can last five years with minimal upgrades then imagine how it works for businesses? There’s litterly no real reason to upgrade systems right now because even the fancy new I7s won’t run office any faster. In the past you HAD to upgrade the hardware just to keep up with the OS requirements let alone the business productivity software or games. A good core duo system will still be more then enough for most business use for at least another 4 years. Upgrading right now would be throwing your money away from a business perspective.

    We just had a massive recession where a great number of people and companies were/are merely trying to survive. You’re not too interested in upgrading your systems for a minor performance boost when you don’t have any or much money.

    Systems are a lot more reliable these days. Unlike some electronic equipment (like old hifi stereo receivers) computers are built tougher today then ever. You’re not going to be cycling through parts like you used to.

    For school I was using an 2001 HP laptop that I had done major work too (was a broken freebie and the repair parts were minor in cost). It could do everything I needed for school and it wasn’t a huge tempting target for theft. I would still be using it but the charger died and I cannot justify the cost to replace (massive internal failure).

    @Stormy Dragon: Not entirely true because it depends on what kind of gaming you’re doing. FPS with heavy physics will hit your cpu hard and most MMOs are CPU hungry too. But overall the biggest limiter is the GPU.

    I run an OCed E7200 at 3.2ghz (fsb 1600) 4 GB ddr2 with a 5770 2TB of hard drive storage and a xonar DX sound card (output to a self built 700 RMS system with frequency output of sub 20-25000 hz). 650watt PSU Runs any game at medium settings at 1920×1200 (two monitors second is 1920×1080). The big monitor was a broken freebie that turned out to have a pretty well fried PSU.

    I also run an OCed e4400 at 2.660 ghz(1066 fsb) 4 GB ddr3 HD 6450 1.5 TB of hard drive storage (where my old hard drives go). 350 watt PSU. This system can run tera , SWTOR, several eve clients and more at medium to low settings at 1280×1024

    @Brett: Cloud services have no impact on the requirements of a machine. Storage is all that cloud services impact and with the threat of hacking the service itself is unreliable.

  41. matt says:

    @Ron Beasley: Multicore CPUs have been around since the early 2000s. No wonder paintshop was hosing your system. Your machine was at least 10 years old..

  42. matt says:

    @john personna: Just a heads up but my E4400 system is running an install of pro-corp 32bit XP that has been through at least four migrations. Meaning I used the exact same install through four different machines worth of hardware. It last ran on a celeron system before that it was an athlon XP system and before that it was a p3-500 system. I get about one BSOD a year on that machine (mostly my fault cause of the heavy OCing tweaking and such I do to that poor machine). Windows is an amazing OS if you don’t get stupid with it. The CPU of that machine was purchased off ebay for 12 bucks.

    @DC Loser: Computers today are snap tight models in complexity. Gone are the days of SCSI terminators IRQs DMA Uppermemory blocks and shit to worry about. It took a while but the plug and play concept finally got go going good a while back. With the advent of youtube there’s really nothing any normal person can’t do today.

    It’s a good idea to have a backup plan in place with regular at least once a week backups. I backup about 2.5 terabytes of data on a weekly basis.

  43. john personna says:


    It got much harder to hate on MS with XP, and then with Win7. Both are decent OSes. I have no experience with Win8, I might grow into it.

    As more of a Unix guy, the file system seemed less “a place for things and things in their place.” It seems harder to understand how files accrete. Maybe if I was a Windows “native” I’d be better at that, and better able to help friends and relatives with “gunked” systems.

    Cloud services have no impact on the requirements of a machine. Storage is all that cloud services impact and with the threat of hacking the service itself is unreliable.

    I read recently that Adobe had bitten the bullet and invested in cloud-based photo editing. I’m sure that is for low-end, red-eye removal, users but it’s a marker along the road.

    You know I’m already a fan of Chromebooks for normal users. I expect their role to expand, and for software developers and the like to do work from fairly dumb nodes, with development environments in the cloud.

  44. rudderpedals says:

    @john personna: do work from fairly dumb nodes

    This is how I started, possibly you too, dialup with a 110 baud teletype to a big old piece of iron at a large university. It’s like everything old is new again.

  45. C. Clavin says:

    Tsar types:

    “…the reality is that corporate America since 2007 largely has been struggling to make ends meet…”

    And yet corporate profits are at record highs.
    At least Jan had the sense to leave when her idiocy was proven.

  46. john personna says:


    It’s interesting. The “thin-client” attempts in the 90’s were not quite there, possibly because both the clients and the cloud lacked power to make it work. The motivation, that users could just walk up to use nodes, and someone invisible could handle administration, was all great. It just didn’t quite work, then.

    Non-technical home users could really benefit from the invisible/automatic administration. No one should ever have to ask “how do I transfer my data?” or “will I lose my pictures?”

  47. John D'Geek says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Doug, you’re a bit behind on this one – those of us that read Bob Cringely saw this coming years ago.

    Short version: market saturation.

    Right now “mobile” is the growth area (cell phones and tablets), and far dominates our (“Computer Geeks”) field. This, too, will eventually saturate. BTW, this was predicted in the 90’s by Bob. You can read it on on his site (or the newest edition of his book, coming in e-form soon to an e-store near you).

  48. john personna says:

    @John D’Geek:

    A few people in the 1960’s knew that they wanted a tablet computer. Every reduction in from factor since then has been building towards it.

    The conversation you sometimes have with Apple fans starts with them thinking Apple invented not just the iPad, but the idea of the computer disappearing into the screen. No, Apple just has this fan base that will pay them more, and earlier, than their competitors. That allows them to enter markets “before their time,” a huge advantage.

    All that is slightly orthogonal to desktops “topping out.” I mean, even with Apple, fewer and fewer need a high end monster like the 12 core Mac Pro.

  49. john personna says:

    (That twin Xeon Mac Pro is much cheaper, adjusting for inflation, than my old 1986 Mac II. And yet I could justify upgrading to the Mac II. The Mac Pro …. not so much.)

  50. john personna says:

    The Mac II had color, damn it!


  51. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Yep. I’m running a five year old AMD Dual Core at the moment. It was starting to get sluggish in the fall. Upped the RAM from 4gig to 8gig and upgraded the video card, and it was like having a brand new box.

    (side note: I also switched from Avast! to Microsoft Security Essentials around the same time, which proved to be super helpful for improvoed online gaming.)

  52. grumpy realist says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Ummm…..no. The collapse in 2000-2001 was the inevitable popping of the dot-com craze. I remember looking at some of those companies and thinking to myself: “haven’t you guys ever head about Holland and tulip bulbs?”

    It was a typical bubble that inflated in a typical fashion and also popped in a typical fashion. End of story.

  53. john personna says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    Good lord, I remember when friends were tracking every telephone calling card in the country of Mexico, in real time, with 1G of memory (Sun/Solaris). How on earth does Windows need 8G?

  54. john personna says:

    @grumpy realist:


    You can see that even with the recent upturn in stocks, relative to gold, gold has crushed stocks since 2000.

    Arguably, 2000 represented a peak in belief in the capabilities of humans. The internet inspired all kinds of crazy optimism about how humans would re-shape the world for the better. The ebullience spread beyond the net. There was, for example, optimism about new ways of transporting humans: Fuel cells! Segway!

    Of course, the bubble crashed. Then we had 9/11. Then we had two wars. Then we had the housing implosion. Then we had the financial crisis. Then the horrible recession. Then the European crisis and the debt ceiling and everything else.

  55. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @john personna: Windows doesn’t. Games do.

  56. matt says:

    @john personna: I’m a native dos user so linux/unix was a natural transition for me. I actually used to have a triple boot setup on the e4400 system with a osx/xp/linux installs to choose from. Other then the gimmick factor the OSx install saw no use and I rarely did stuff with the linux install 🙁

    @john personna: I think the problem went from bandwidth and server capability to trouble with bored kids hacking the crap out of stuff. Anonymous is basically just a bunch of bored people who get off on various things and some include hacking for various reasons. I think security will continue to be a massive problem until something awesome/amazing occurs (probably something quantum based).

    @Gromitt Gunn: MSIE is kind of meh when it comes to protection. I’ve had quite a few systems with come in with viruses that the installed MSIE never saw. AVG is still a superior free product.

    @john personna: I have no idea how he’s using so much RAM. I run windows 7 pro 64bit and I only push it hard when I’m running two eve clients(high settings), a world of tanks client, firefox with enough tabs open to suck up 1.8gb itself and various other things like winamp playing flacs on two monitors. That all works under 4 GB of ram to boot.

  57. matt says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: Mind telling me what games?

  58. john personna says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    Wow, amazing. I mean, given any amount of memory, programmers can use it. Given that gamers will buy what you tell them, and 8G is less than $100, what the hell, right?

    At that point, why manage loading of a complex 3-d world, in and out of memory, on scene transition.

    Just tell people to buy the memory and pre-load.

  59. john personna says:


    I think the problem went from bandwidth and server capability to trouble with bored kids hacking the crap out of stuff.

    That’s why I think our cloud will not be single-password, or even single “key chain.” We need high security at Bank of America and lower (separate) security at Twitter.

  60. john personna says:

    (Ideally I’d be able to load a secure web browser in something like a VM for my connection to BofA, and then discard it when done. No traces as I go back to my lower security self.)

  61. Gromitt Gunn says:

    /shrug I have an older CPU and 4 wasn’t enough. 8 is the max my motherboard supports. why stop at 6 when the marginal cost to go to 8 is less than $50?

    Offline gaming was generally fine with 4 plus a good graphics card. I couldn’t play Skyrim or Dishonored on max settings, but pretty darn close. It is online gaming that gets problematic, especially with dual monitors running more than one client window. In terms of actual online games: The Secret World was especially problematic, but raiding/mass pvp in WoW, GW2, etc., could be laggy.

    I used to run AVG, until around 2006, I think, when I switched to Avast!, which found literally dozens of nasties that AVG had never caught.

  62. Matt says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: Avast is a decent product but no one virus solution will catch everything. I repair/build computers as a side business and one of the products I use first is AVG (malwarebytes kaspersky etc afterwards). I found Avast to not be worth running as it never caught anything the others didn’t catch.

    GW2 runs quite well for me with 4 GB of ram. Even with all my crazy multitasking 😛 I stopped playing WoW but I’d never consider it a system hog.

    @john personna: That’s only one part of the potential attack avenues.

  63. john personna says:


    I think that when I am advocating separate and distinct security systems I am recognizing that some fraction of them will be compromised.

    What should not happen, say, is that having a weak twitter password broken leaves you vulnerable to e-theft.

    When I mention “key chains” I was looking back at proposals from MS and Apple that “wouldn’t it be easier if keys were managed in one place?”

    Not for me, thanks.

  64. matt says:

    @john personna: Yeah I agree strongly. The dude from Wonkette had exactly that happen to him…

    @Matt: I meant to add that GW2 seems to hit systems harder then it should.

  65. Tony W says:

    This thread inspired me to replace my old PC. New one arrives today from Costco – can’t believe what an amazing machine $900 buys these days…. This will definitely expand what I use the machine for – and I think that’s how we get to a place that 16 GB of RAM and 2 TB of hard drive is a reasonable configuration for a home machine.

    It feels similar to stories I have heard about the vacuum cleaner being invented – folks were excited about how much free time they were going to free up for (mostly women) who clean the house. Instead cleanliness standards simply rose.