Why Moore's Law, not mobility, is killing the PC
Mar 5, 2013 3:00 AM
While rumors of the PC's demise are greatly exaggerated—an industry that moved more than 350 million units in 2012 is not "dead"—computers undoubtedly aren't selling as quickly as they once did. Analysts forecast PC sales to far exceed tablet sales for the foreseeable future, but the growth rate for PC sales has utterly and completely flatlined.
The big question, of course, is why?
A couple of theories inform conventional wisdom. Most pundits blame stagnant PC sales on the likewise stagnant economy, or point toward the ascension of smartphones and tablets. Others argue (fairly persuasively) that the flattening of growth is attributable to the idiosyncrasies of PC sales in developing countries, where computers are a rarely replaced luxury item. A second wave, analysts say, has yet to come after an initial surge in sales in those nations.
Like most economic sectors, the PC market is influenced by myriad factors, and some truth lies in all three of those explanations. After watching my mother-in-law happily troll Facebook and sling emails on her nearly ten-year-old Pentium 4 computer, however, an even more insidious possibility slipped into my head.
Did CPU performance reach a "good enough" level for mainstream users some years back? Are older computers still potent enough to complete an average Joe's everyday tasks, reducing the incentive to upgrade?
"It used to be you had to replace your PC every few years or you were way behind. If you didn't, you couldn't even run the latest software," says Linley Gwennap, the principal analyst at the Linley Group, a research firm that focuses on semiconductors and processors. "Now you can hold onto your PC five, six, seven years with no problem. Yeah, it might be a little
slow, but not enough to really show up [in everyday use]."
Old processors are still OK for everyday use
This may come as a shock to performance-pushing PC enthusiasts but the average Joe almost never encodes videos, nor will you catch him fragging fools in Crysis 3
. Instead, Average Joe spends most of his time on mundane, often Web-centric tasks: Buying stuff online, sending emails, engaging friends and family on social media, maybe watching the occasional YouTube video—on default resolutions, natch, not high-definition—or playing a few hands of Solitaire.
In other words, hardly the kind of activity that begs for an overclocked, water-cooled, hyper-threaded Core i7 processor. Or even a modern-day Ivy Bridge Core i3 processor, if we're being honest.