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PCs aren't dead, they're microwaves

Brad Chacos | April 18, 2013
Pundits shout that PCs are dead, but the truth is much more mundane: Computers have become commodity appliances.

Here's the problem: A mass migration to longer PC-replacement cycles means fewer people buying PCs on a yearly basis. In a worst-case scenario, that could lead to double-digit declines in yearly PC shipments until the market adjusts to the new reality. You know, kinda like the mammoth drop evidenced in the first quarter of this year.

Windows 8

Windows 8 waltzed into the middle of this maelstrom.

An overwhelming amount of words have been spilled about Windows 8, and a lot of those words have been negative. I don't have much to add, but I will say this: I think Windows 8's poor showing is a result of slowing overall PC sales, not the other way around. (Apple had a down quarter too, let's not forget.) If you need a new PC, then you need a new PC. That's a bottom-line reality of appliance purchasing.

That said, all the criticism focused on the modern UI could be pushing legions of would-be buyers into the "let's wait one more year" camp, which, as we've already discussed, could devastate yearly PC sales. Few people yearn to update their appliances as it is.

Redemption is in sight

As I said: PCs aren't dead, they're microwaves. But the sea changes rocking the computing landscape may once again elevate the PC beyond mundane appliance status before long.

Transitioning from an appliance to an alluring piece of cutting-edge technology will require a complete reimagining of the PC. Good news: That's already being covered, and amusingly, the revolution (in part, at least) is coming courtesy of Microsoft's oft-cursed operating system.

The finger-friendly possibilities of Windows 8 have sparked a wave of hardware design innovation the likes of which we've never seen. From basic hybrids to ultrathin tablets with PC-like power to dual-screen clamshells to all-in-ones that double as Android tablets, the first round of Windows 8 devices may be a bit clunky, but they're already changing the way we look at computing--and they're doing so by absorbing the basic design principles of the tablet usurpers.

Ditching appliance status requires making massive leaps in computer performance, too. Fortunately, chip makers are retooling the base design of CPUs and shifting workloads to graphics processors in order to push PCs to blistering new levels in the coming years.

That great power will come with great power efficiency, too--a key to kick-starting the allure of the PC in the days of long-lived tablets. Consider that Intel's upcoming Haswell processors and AMD's next-generation APUs are said to offer the PC performance we know and love, but with tablet-esque battery life. Intel's impending Bay Trail chips--the follow-up to the tablet-optimized Atom processors found in most of the first generation of Windows 8 tablets--will allow manufacturers to introduce long-lasting, sub-$600 hybrids and touchscreen Ultrabooks, growing the segment where all the real innovation is happening.


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