back to article Industry in 'denial' as demand for pricey PCs plunges

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, …


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  1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Any old iron?

    I use three desktop computers. All of them are old IBM ones, bought from eBay for somewhere around £70 each. I've stuck thirty quids' worth of Crucial memory in them and the most important got a new HDD for £50. They are between 7 and 10 years old, I think, and they work just fine. Why would I want to upgrade?

    I think PCs reached a performance plateau of "perfectly good for most people" some years back; there really is no incentive for most users to update. Different for hardcore gamers, maybe, but what proportion of the PC market are hardcore gamers? Anyone, the ones I know own FrankenPCs which have been steadily upgraded, but they haven't bought a whole new one in years.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: Any old iron?

      As far as I can tell, the sort of "hardcore gamer" that buys a whole PC in one go is treating it more like a games console with a short upgrade cycle and none of the hardware lock-down that prevents them playing old games.

      1. Silverburn

        Re: Hardcore gamers

        You're onto something with the gamers...they are the target of these big machines.

        Snag is, the gamers also know that upgrades are incremental, especially with Video cards which is where most of the immediate benefits and requirements lie. Buying a brand new machine from scratch is rare

        What these guys should be doing it getting into the components business. Box shifting is dead.

        1. Fibbles

          Re: Hardcore gamers

          You have a point, most gamers I know upgrade incrementally. The few I know that have done a complete rebuild recently (I say complete, I mean CPU, RAM, motherboard, graphics card and harddrive) have all gone for sub £600 machines, some as low as £350-£400. The days of spending the better part of a grand on a processor are over. Sure it'll give benchmark results that will make your friends green with envy but in the real world you're not going to notice much difference between Intel's latest £700 monster and a £60, four core, Phenom II Black Edition (especially since the limitations of the PS3 and Xbox360 have caused a fair bit of stagnation in the hardware requirements of PC games).

          1. CmdrX3

            Re: Hardcore gamers

            As a gamer myself I can say, I have only ever bought one box shift PC (a Compaq Presario). When I went to upgrade I found out the motherboard and case could not be upgraded. I have built them myself with hand picked components ever since, and every gamer friend I have does exactly the same. Some build a full new system each time, for myself, I have had the same PSU and case now for a number of years. I very rarely do a full upgrade now but an "alternate" upgrade so to speak. Motherboard, CPU, Memory, then next upgrade cycle will be Graphics Card. As I currently have an i7 2600K and my last upgrade was a GTX 560Ti, I will be skipping the CPU/Motherboard/Memory and doing another Graphics card upgrade as there is no real upgrade worth ditching the 2600K for at this point. This is the beauty of controlling your own box build, you can nearly always stay with a mid to high range PC without having to also buy the extra tat you don't need and concentrate the expense on what you really need and it's a lot easier to follow the hardware performance trends.

            1. Darryl

              Re: Hardcore gamers

              I'm the same - Was using an old P4 HT homebuilt up til a few months ago, when my brother-in-law, who's one of those 'gotta have the latest toys' types upgraded his 4 core AMD Phenom to a 6 core. I got the hand-me-down. Otherwise, I'd still be running the P4

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Any old iron?

      >Why would I want to upgrade?

      Other than power efficiency, I can't think of any reason.

      Throughout the nineties, the median cost of PCs always seemed to be around the £1000 mark...

      To paraphrase Bill Gates "4GB of RAM really ought to be enough for most people".

      1. Anonymous Custard

        Re: Any old iron?

        Nor me, which might explain the 10+ year old desktop machine in my study that does just fine under WinXP with a couple of GB of memory and an old Opteron in it. It's a frankenPC with the guts of a few old ones added to its original Tiny set-up (there, that shows how old it is).

        Supplimented by a little Acer Aspire One for couch-surfing - it happily does what I and the family need it to (how much processing power does my kids playing Club Penguin need?!) and will probably continue to do so until the motherboard or PSU go pop.

        It ain't broke, so I don't fix it.

    3. Tank boy
      Thumb Up

      Re: Any old iron?

      Yup. Still keeping my refurbished Dell circa 2005 up and running. Not completely original, but obviously it still works. Known in these parts as Frankenstein. My people have a saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

      1. tony2heads

        it aint broke

        But the poor punter might well be broke

    4. Mike Flugennock

      Re: Any old iron?

      Well... yes -- and no.

      Currently, in my studio, I have a couple of late-model G4 Macs -- a 1.25GHz minitower and a 1.25GHz iBook, both with as much memory and storage in them as I could afford when I bought them. Both of them can still handle pretty much everything I can throw at them -- illustration, photo work, page layout, video editing -- but the big problem is that since Apple went with Intel for the Macs about six years or so ago, it's become harder and harder to find free/shareware utilities and applications for the PowerPC Gx series and, of course, impossible to find any important commercial applications like the ones I use in my daily work -- Creative Suite, FinalCut Pro, and such -- for the G4. There's also the issue of Web browser/plug-in evolution to deal with; many Web sites based on Flash (spit) that I visit these days demand the absolute latest version of Flash or they just won't work. Even a lot of sites not based on Flash won't load properly -- or at all -- because the version of Firefox I'm stuck on due to my still having a G4 can't handle them. I'm getting more and more "come back when you have a new browser" messages these days.

      So, even inasmuch as the G4s here have been entirely dependable and capable machines, I'm rapidly approaching a point where I'm going to have to break down and get a new/last year's model Intel Mac, just so I can stay current on the software I use in my daily professional work (Ironically, the current series of iMacs deliver more power and capabilities than my G4 tower for the same price I paid for my iBook five years ago).

      This isn't to say that I won't still be able to find a use for the old G4 minitower and iBook when I move up, because they both still run like champs, and it'd be a waste to just toss them -- but then, I was also one of those guys who'd drive a car for five years after it was paid for, too.

      1. johnnymotel

        Re: Any old iron?

        my sister in law is a designer and has had her G5 iMac since they came out, only this month she decided she needed to upgrade...for the very same reasons as you, software demands. Still I persuaded her she didn't need the latest and greatest iMac, last years model would do fine. She's very happy with it, saved her some bucks that will go towards the huge ripoff that is the Adobe upgrades.

        For myself, I have had several Mac's over the years, but this year it really looks like my next will be the last. Sorry Apple.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Any old iron?

        Here, this might help a bit -

      3. Frederick Tennant

        Re: Any old iron?

        I thought I was alone, im currently in the same camp as yourself, however I have now gotten myself a Macbook Pro intel, to catch up with software, as for my old G4, yep it works a treat so im currently filling it with hard drives, both internal and external and redeploying it as a Media Server. Im currently converting my DVD & CD library to itunes, and I have gotten hold of some Airport Express and active speakers and Im now the proud owner of music & video in every room in my house controlled by portable iproducts.

      4. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Re: Any old iron?

        You could always stick Linux on them - try MintPPC:

      5. P. Lee

        Re: Any old iron?

        I put debian/ppc on my g5 and retired it to server duty.

        Not very power efficient, but every now and then my athlon64 single core was struggling.

        Apart from that, I have a 775 core2 driving a nice dell 27" display & 4Gigs of ram.

        Works fine.

    5. Shagbag

      Re: Any old iron?

      ..but nothing beats pr0n rendered on a desktop PC.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    6. Gordan

      Re: Any old iron?

      Re: Gamers - most of them wouldn't have bought a whole PC in the first place, but instead bought specifically selected components. So arguably, those power users would never have been part of the stats in the first place.

  2. Lunatik

    The writing has been on the wall for years now, how are the Intels and Acers of this world caught on the hop?

    My 3 year old Dell Core 2 Duo does just fine for home office duties, I can't see me replacing it unless it blows up. When it does I'll build my own with decent brand but low-end bits.

    I've realised I'll probably never buy my kids their own PC as they'll just use tablets or phones for most of their computing needs (they're getting Nexus 7 & LeapPad 2 from Santa this year), so as Jeff Attwood says, that might be the last PC I ever own.

    And as for Ultrabooks, pah! Surely no-one was going to fall for that?

    Sure, mad gamers will demand silly CPUs and GPUs like I did in the 1990s/early 2000s, but for the 99% it simply doesn't make any sense to spend more than about £350 on a PC/notebook.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      And if you have a REALLY large amount of data to crunch on an irregular basis - rendering CAD images, for example, it is maybe more cost effective to rent the time from Amazon or whoever, rather than invest in some under-utilised hardware.

    2. Mark 65

      There is also the SSD effect...

      "Q4 will set the template. Barclays Capital‘s hardware analyst, Ben Reitzes, meanwhile, believes the PC market could decline for “many years to come”. He reckons consumers are making PCs last longer, adding an extra year or two onto the machines’ working lives"

      By adding a SSD to an old system you can extend its useful lifespan many years. Even ATA machines can benefit from the 4k read speeds of SSDs compared with their original 5400rpm HDDs. Machines within the last 5 years will easily have the computational power for most uses.

  3. James 51

    Only reason why I need anything more powerful than my netbook is to rip and encode my dvd collection to watch on my tablet.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      You don't need power if you have time... you can get home servers that get on with transcoding media when they are not doing anything else. Even on a fairly modest CPU, I can't see you watching the movies faster than it can convert them, assuming you sleep, eat and work! : D

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Dave 126

        I'm still running a machine that's about 7 years old as my main desktop PC (2.2 GHz AMD 64) . Bit of a Frankenstein's monster, as some earlier posters put it, with new RAM, graphics card (third replacement, though I'm still stuck with using ever-rarer AGP cards), and a new SATA card (with power adapters to convert from my 4-pin Molex cables) and extra disk storage. The original chassis and power supply have been more than adequate to support all these upgrades. It's the fact that I can't use newer graphics cards that will probably (eventually) force me to upgrade. Well, that and the fact that the machine freezes when I try to build a cross-compiler on it, but it's completely stable otherwise.

        So, yeah, it's not like my rig can do real-time transcoding of video (which is the main reason for having a hefty CPU, IMO), but as you say, once you factor in time spent not watching video, I can more or less produce the transcoded video faster than I can watch it.

        Just one thing I really wanted to add here, and that is that even though my desktop is the most powerful machine I own, it's not the only one. I've also got a couple of Acer Aspire 1s, an older 1.6GHz AMD 64 laptop, a PS3 running Linux and a Raspberry Pi (soon to be joined by 4 other upgraded 512Mb versions*). My point is that when I want to run a transcode job, I can run DVD::Rip and set up a cluster of all the x86-based machines (and could add the PS3 or Pi if I wanted to). Since I've also built cross-compilers for x86/x86_64, I can also use distcc to spread a big compile job in the same way. So basically, by using a moderate number of less powerful machines, I can almost approach the power of a newer machine for certain tasks that are important to me. That being so, what's really the point of buying a new machine?

        * I'm looking forward to playing around with the new Pi's. They're probably not going to be that useful as processing nodes in a transcode/compile cluster, but at least it'll be easy to try them out thanks to them running linux, ffmpeg, gcc, distcc, etc...

        1. Marvin the Martian

          Re: @Dave 126

          Running old machines, it might be worth it to check the cost in £s of leccy... Has anyone bothered to calculate?

          Last Xmas I got stuck in the same PPC->Intel bottleneck, being given a new Wacom pad which only partially works (no pressure levels, thus it becomes an overcomplicated mouse) under PPC. Plus one after the other programs weren't upgradable just like described above (starting with FFox giving you dire security warnings, and Sketchup, and BBEdit, and... )

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I recently bought myself a new PC to rip DVDs and spent under £400 for 6 cores at 3.8GHz. My other PC has been around for about 5 years and it was slow and power hungry in comparison. I'll still canibalise it for parts like the drives though rather than buy new ones. I used to have a gaming PC which I used for this but the constant upgrades of components and lack of free time resulted in me purchasing a console.

  4. janimal

    Build Quality

    Another problem is the modern phenomenon of utter crap build quality. Most consumer items are not made to last more than a couple of years, so it certainly isn't worth buying a pre-built performance machine at a premium price if your the sort of person who replaces the whole thing when something goes wrong.

    My machines morph over the years gradually evolving by having various bits upgraded when necessary. Only once in the last 12 years have I constructed an almost totally new machine & obviously I bought all the bits separately. Even then I I never by the latest model of CPU or GPU as they are usually several hundred quid more than the model they replace adn I know I will eventually upgrade to something faster for less than the just released premium price.

    Although I do a fair bit of graphics processing, 3d modelling and software development as well as some gaming I'm not a slave to having the very latest, fastest components.

  5. EvilGav 1

    What's missing?


    The huge elephant in the room as to why even gamers aren't updating their PCs regularly.

    Along with Windows demanding ever more from a PC, there were the games, demanding ever more performance - whether that be screen resolutions, physics or the plethora of other details.

    Unfortunately, 5 years ago, the consoles' latest incarnation came to town. At the time at least on a par with high-end PCs, however that has ceased to be true for several years now. Unfortunately, they are a huge cash generator for games makers.

    Add in to that that monitors have stalled at a resolution of 1080p for the same 5 years or so and you get to the bottom of why nothing has moved on.

    Games are designed and built for 5 year old hardware, to be displayed at 1080p resolutions.

    Nobody is pushing for a performance increase - even the CPUs Intel is producing aren't pushing the envelope. 5 years ago the Q6600 was released, quad core @ 2.4GHz; today's equivalent the 3570K is a quad core running @ 3.4GHz. I know there are other differences, but the big one is that clock cycles in 5 years haven't advanced particularly far and raw computing power today isn't a large enough leap to warrant the expense, so why bother?

    Add in to that mix that a lot of gamers have looked over the fence and gone "hang on, why am I paying out £x when I can just get a console for £x/2?" and a lot have jumped ship. Look at the games - 5 years ago games were released to support 64 players online (with Battlefield 2 unofficially supporting 128 with some, at the time, ridiculous hardware requirements), today we're lucky if they support 32 (there are exceptions).

    If the big requirements for faster processors have diappeared (e.g. Windows, Games), then why is anyone surprised that there is no market for new, faster processors?

    1. CJM
      Thumb Up

      Re: What's missing?

      I'm a keen gamer, and though I'm glad for a reprieve in a time when I have other things to spend money on, I do resent how PC gaming has been help back by the consoles.

      I don't want to go back to insane upgrade cycles of 5-10 years ago, but I'd like to see things edging forward a little faster. With that in mind, I'm surprise the h/w manufacturers are investing more in games development, so better, more demanding games = sales.

      Current game devs are happy with the h/w stagnation; working on exactly the same platform each time means they can keep rattling of 'new' games at a rate of knots. I'd do the same if I was them... which means it's up to someone else to provide the incentive to continue improving...

      1. Rob Dobs

        Re: What's missing?

        Good game designers are not resting on their laurels... Maybe WOW hasn't evolved much, but games like Crysis II (a bit on the old side), Half-Life 3 (coming soon), Skyrim, Dishonored, etc are pushing the boundaries.

        You really CAN'T play these games on a console... yes I know Skryim was dumbed down a little bit for consoles, but this is easily fixed with the High-Res texture package (all 2GB+ worth) and dozens and dozens of mods/improvements to the game that just AREN'T there for the console. And the very bottom of the barrel graphics version of the game pales in comparison to even the medium/high version of the PC game with a few good effects added on... Add all the effects, use high res and bump up to the ultra quality settings and its like a different game altogether.

        DirectX11, PhysX, there are all kinds of new affects and graphical detail that just were not around 4-5 years ago.

        I am really expecting EVEN MORE from titles to come out at the end of the year and into the next... Half Life III will hopefully be a game changer, I would not be shocked to see a lot of the old-timer gamers here saying "mmm time to upgrade and give this one try" real soon.

    2. Neil B

      Re: What's missing?

      It's more a case of there being no more innovation to be had.

      If you look at the very best looking games on the 360 or the PS3, there aren't a whole lot of places for a rasterizer to improve on that on the least, not in any way that gamers outside of the real enthusiasts would notice.

      I mean, yeah, you can pump more pixels to multiple monitors, maybe double the fill-rate requirements for 3D, and yes, I suppose, nurture the hardware to have hundreds of players simultaneously in the same world, but all the really big, important innovation happened years ago. There just isn't the slack there used to be for a PC to take up when it overtook the current console generation.

      A magnitude change is needed in our approach to computer graphics before PC's will once again drive that segment forward.

      1. CJM

        Re: What's missing?

        Graphics is one area where most gaming PCs leave consoles in the cold; they are behind in every other hardware aspect too.

        Not enough memory, so game maps tend to be small, lots of loading screens etc. CPU is far weaker than modern PCs, not that games are especially well coded to take advantage of the numerous cores we can all now call on.

        "but all the really big, important innovation happened years ago"

        This is kind of my point.

        There is a story that a century ago, a Patent Office official resigned and recommended that the Patent Office be closed because he thought that everything that could possibly be invented had already been invented.

        Likewise, the fact that we haven't had much innovation recently is not a testament that we have reached the technological pinnacle, but that companies have eased off and are happy to just milk the punters of their cash.

        1. Neil B
          Thumb Down

          Re: What's missing?

          The industry's production pipelines, expertise, experience, and tools are all geared towards producing games and graphics a certain way. Of course they'll want to "milk" it -- the sunk investment is enormous. Real change will require many of those processes to be tossed out. You want to shoulder the risk for that?

    3. Steve Knox

      Re: What's missing?

      Games are designed and built for 5 year old hardware, to be displayed at 1080p resolutions.

      Not so. Many modern games are still designed to take advantage of faster PC hardware.

      Take Skyrim for example. It can render more triangles, higher resolution textures, and crash in much less time, on PCs than on consoles.

      1. ratfox

        "Crash in much less time"

        Perhaps you meant "Crash much less often"?

        1. Steve Knox

          Re: "Crash in much less time"

          Perhaps you meant "Crash much less often"?

          I says what I means, and I means what I says.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's missing?

      "Nobody is pushing for a performance increase - even the CPUs Intel is producing aren't pushing the envelope. 5 years ago the Q6600 was released, quad core @ 2.4GHz; today's equivalent the 3570K is a quad core running @ 3.4GHz. I know there are other differences, but the big one is that clock cycles in 5 years haven't advanced particularly far and raw computing power today isn't a large enough leap to warrant the expense, so why bother?"

      I replaced a Q6600 with an Ivy Bridge i5. As you point out, the clock speeds aren't significantly different and the number of cores is the same. However for heavy workloads (non-trivial FPGA synthesis, i.e. runs that takes hours to complete), my new rig is roughly 4 times faster that the old one. That's a pretty significant step up in 5 years. The new box is also lower power overall.

    5. Rob Dobs

      Re: What's missing?

      Most console games are not rendered at 1080p,

      maybe 720, or using other graphics tricks, but the Video cards in 5 year old consoles were not equipped to play games at that resolution...

      Only now over the last year have video cards come down to the prices of $100-150 that can support game play with effects on at those resolutions and maintain playable frame rates. And that is just the Video card price.

      If the are running at that resolution, then they are only pulling it off by having terribly low bit-depth on textures, and the like, no anti-aliasing, etc etc to manage it.

      Modern games PC's not only run at 1080, but do so with 8-16 Anti aliasing, 8x Anisotropic filtering, shadows and reflections of the entire world being rendered, view distances increased etc,etc

      There is a world of difference and it shows that you have not had a chance to see what modern games look like on a new system by your comments and opinion.... I really urge you to go to a buddies house, or view a high end system on display a game expo, high end PC retailer etc (or just buy a new machine for like $1500-1800 and you will see the REMARKABLE difference.

      1. EvilGav 1

        Re: What's missing?

        I'm well aware of console rendering. The 360 renders at 720p and upscales to 1080, the PS3 is a mixture of the same and natively rendered 1080p.

        On the contrary, i've seen the absolute best systems around playing the latest games - water cooled monsters running hex core Intel chips at 4.5GHz and triple SLi pushing out insane frame rates and textures. Yes, they are very pretty, but they aren't doing enough differently than 5 years ago.

        The only element of my machine that's been upgraded regularly is the graphics card, which makes teh difference - the article is about heavy iron, the CPU side of things, which *hasn't* advanced enough to warrant a mass upgrade.

  6. JohnG

    HD video? Good enough for me

    For me, if a notebook or PC can play HD video without stuttering, then that's enough for me. I can safely assume that it also cope with all the other routine tasks such as creating/editing spreadsheets and other documents, browsing the web, handling email, etc. A few years back, the HD video issue might have been a constraint in the choice of notebook or PC but one would be hard pressed to find a notebook or PC on the market now that can't manage this. Why pay for a higher spec that I don't need?

    1. Dr. Mouse

      Re: HD video? Good enough for me

      "For me, if a notebook or PC can play HD video without stuttering, then that's enough for me."

      You can do even better than that. A £25 Raspberry Pi will play HD video without stuttering, and is good enough for bits of web browsing, word processing etc. Total cost about £50 inc wireless keyboard and mouse, plug it up to a TV via HDMI (or to a DVI monitor), no waiting to boot (because it draws so little power you may as well leave it on all the time)... What's the point of spending more?

      1. JEDIDIAH

        Re: HD video? Good enough for me

        A Raspberry PI may or may not be able to handle whatever HD video I have on hand.

        What it can handle, it will only be able to handle because it's got special purpose silicon for the task.

        If I need to do anything else computational, I will be just plain out of luck.

        It's just like cheap ION gear.

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: HD video? Good enough for me

          Except it makes cheap ION gear look seriously overpriced for the performance you get.

          1. JEDIDIAH

            Re: HD video? Good enough for me

            > Except it makes cheap ION gear look seriously overpriced for the performance you get.

            Both the CPU and GPU in an ION run circles around a PI.

            It has better video decoding support and enough CPU power to do a lot of decoding in software. If your GPU doesn't support something, you're not completely out of luck.

            Atoms only look pathetic next to real x86 CPUs.

            Wishful thinking any stinginess only gets you so far.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Shifting Markets...

    It would be interesting to do a full-market comparison rather than just looking at the traditional PC market, to get a true picture you'd have to account for Smart Devices (tablets, phones etc.) and Apple kit.

    The market has shifted and the market watchers haven't.

  8. Ellier


    In 1997 someone insisted I was such a "loser" because the computer I was using for basic web browsing, email, and typing up my college papers lacked MMX. I have made it a bit of a habit to get one of the lower end machines. I feel happier because of it, knowing that I was ahead of the curve.

    TY El Reg, for showing me that I lead, not follow.

  9. Jamie Kitson


    "Chip makers can no longer look to Microsoft to solve the problem by regularly updating its operating system with technology that demands the performance only the latest processors can deliver."

    Not only that, but Microsoft have also done chip makers the disservice of making their operating systems good enough that people don't *need* to upgrade to the latest versions, and for a lot of people upgrading the operating system is synonymous with upgrading the hardware.

  10. Anonymous Custard

    In other news

    Pope announces he is catholic and relieved looking bears seen leaving woods...

    Having spent a couple of years now differentiating machines by being able to hypothetically do things that most people have no need or interest in doing, the fact that people aren't doing them and so don't need capable machines is surprising?

    Web browsing, email and social media stuff hardly take much processor muscle, but are what most people want. Even streamling and media stuff like youTube are more limited by your connection than your processor in most cases...

  11. Gordon Pryra

    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.

    1. Philip Lewis

      Re: To paraphrase Bill Gates

      Blame is the correct word. I looked it up to check!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm amazed

    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.

  13. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    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.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      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?

  14. Naughtyhorse

    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

    1. Dr. Mouse

      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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      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.

  15. Richard Jukes

    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 just keeps running and runs everything I need it to!

  16. Efros


    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.

  17. Psyx

    "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

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    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.

    1. Luke McCarthy

      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.

      1. Psyx

        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.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          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.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    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...

    1. Tim 54

      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.

      1. Psyx

        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.

    2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      @AC 15:52

      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        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.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      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.

  20. Gordan

    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.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    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.

  22. PJ 3

    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 ...

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    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.

    1. Raz

      @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.

  24. Gene Cash Silver badge

    I upgraded

    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?

    1. Darryl

      Re: I upgraded

      Yeah, but I bet you'll still be using that thing, unchanged, in 5 or 6 years

  25. Ramiro

    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"...

    1. Naughtyhorse

      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

    2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      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.

      1. Chemist

        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.

  26. Philip Lewis

    Luddites Unite

    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.


    1. Vince Lewis 1

      Automobile industry

      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.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    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.

  28. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    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.

  29. Mad Hobbit

    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.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    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.

  31. Dick Emery

    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.

  32. Rob Dobs

    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.

  33. The_Regulator

    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.

  34. bep

    Other factors

    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.

  35. Mikko

    SSD! SSD!

    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.

  36. Paul 135

    Another reason not to buy a completely new machine...

    ... Is to avoid having that gimped bipolar OS called "Windows 8" shoved down your throat.

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