Opinion: PC growth and evolution continues to impress

Bob O'Donnell

Posts: 22   +1
Staff member
In context: On a day when most tech industry watchers are likely focused on the latest smartphones, it’s worth taking a step back to consider arguably the most important, yet consistently underrated personal tech product category that exists: the personal computer.

Just yesterday, my former colleagues at IDC, as well as several other industry research firms announced calendar Q3 shipments for the worldwide PC market and they were up nearly 15% year-over-year—the strongest growth rate in over a decade. Obviously, the pandemic and the subsequent work-from-home and learn-from-home movements that it has inspired played a huge factor in these impressive numbers. Indeed, the new metrics for PC measurement have moved from one-per-household to one-per-person, offering the potential for continued growth in the market for several quarters to come.

On one hand, it’s easy to say that these developments were obvious, but for a category that many had written off for dead not that long ago, these results highlight and strongly affirm how the PC is (and will continue) providing real-world value to hundreds of millions of people around the world on a daily basis.

What’s particularly exciting about these figures from the perspective of a long-time PC industry follower is that they’re also coming at a time when we’re seeing some of most impressive new technological advances and product introductions that we’ve seen in a very long time. Think about it. In just the last six weeks on the component side alone we’ve seen the debut of Intel’s 11th generation Core (codenamed “Tiger Lake”) CPUs, their new Xe graphics architecture and the Evo platform, the launch of Nvidia’s Ampere architecture-based 3000 line of desktop gaming GPUs, the unveiling of AMD’s Ryzen 3-powered 5000 series desktop CPUs and a hint at their forthcoming next-generation GPUs (codenamed “Big Navi”), and even the entrance of Microsoft’s Arm-based SQ2 processor, a variant of the Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 chip.

Speaking of Arm, on the software side of the house, Microsoft also announced that they were adding support for running 64-bit x86 applications in emulation in a forthcoming version of Windows 10 designed for Arm CPU-based devices, such as their newly upgraded Surface Pro X. While that may sound modest, it should go a long way towards some of the key compatibility problems that have limited the appeal of Windows on Arm-based PCs to date.

We’ve also seen a tremendous number of exciting new PC systems, including the long-awaited Lenovo launch of the $2,499 X1 Fold foldable PC, which is now available for pre-ordering. Featuring a single 13.3” screen that can fold into two separate 9.6” screens, the X1 Fold pushes the limits on what we’ve seen on PC form factors and could tap into the excitement that’s begun to build around foldable smartphones, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G. Lenovo also just launched it’s first ever sub-2 pound laptop, the $1,399 X1 Nano—one of the first machines to meet the specs for Intel’s previously mentioned Evo platform spec.

Not to be outdone, both HP and Dell have also introduced a slew of impressive new PCs and peripherals. The latest HP Spectre x360, starting at $1,199, for example, features a 3:2 aspect ratio, which offers about 20% more vertical viewing space for working on documents or scrolling web pages than typical 16:9 ratio displays. For their part, Dell recently made several additions to their impressive display line, including a new 34” curved monitor, the $1,199 UltraSharp 34 Curved USB-C Hub Monitor.

In addition to the updated Surface Pro X mentioned earlier, Microsoft also recently brought their popular Surface Laptop down to a new price point with the debut of the $599 Surface Laptop Go.

In addition to updated CPUs and graphics capabilities, many of these new PCs offer either built-in or optional 5G modem support, giving them the opportunity for longer useful lifetimes. Admittedly, not too many people are worrying about mobile connectivity issues right now, but there will certainly come a time in the hopefully not-to-distant future where the ability to access a high-speed, always-on data connection no matter where you are is going to be incredibly important. Most of us have become very accustomed to reasonably (or even very) fast connectivity in our work-from-home environments and the connectivity demands and expectations for PCs are going to last well beyond the pandemic.

The bottom line is that we’re truly in a renaissance period for the PC, with tremendous competition and advancements from chipmakers and other component suppliers, innovative new designs, feature combinations and price points from system makers, and an overall renewed sense of vigor and, dare I say, swagger in the PC market. As with all technology trends, the focus on PC resurgence won’t last forever, but it’s clearly made a big enough impact already that any predictions for the death of the PC won’t be heard for a very long time to come.

Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter .

Masthead credit: Vinayak Sharma

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Posts: 5,319   +6,042
I am happiest about the prices of your average laptop or desktop workstation decreasing in price, but still being a decent purchase with few compromises. $300 - $500 buys a "good" computer for students or office workers.

Tablets and smartphones have also helped create an option for people who need basic content consumption with little productivity expected to avoid having to buy a full blown desktop/laptop.


Posts: 51   +68
I dont think the world could run if all office workers did with their laptop was little productivity.

Avro Arrow

Posts: 1,812   +2,158
TechSpot Elite
PC evolution and advancement was rather stagnant in the early to mid 2010s because of Intel's pseudo-monopoly. I'd say that greater PC advancement occurred between 2017 and 2020 than between 2010 and 2017 because of AMD's introduction of Zen. Those little incremental improvements upon Sandy Bridge weren't exactly what anyone would call "impressive".

Avro Arrow

Posts: 1,812   +2,158
TechSpot Elite
I am happiest about the prices of your average laptop or desktop workstation decreasing in price, but still being a decent purchase with few compromises. $300 - $500 buys a "good" computer for students or office workers.

Tablets and smartphones have also helped create an option for people who need basic content consumption with little productivity expected to avoid having to buy a full blown desktop/laptop.
Strangely though, laptop prices have gone up. I always own a laptop (strictly for mobility) and as such I tend to buy a mid-range model with an average budget of $500CAD. The first two laptops I bought were $500 each.

The first was an Acer Aspire 5515 with a single-core AMD Athlon 2650e, a 160GB HDD and 2GB of DDR2. I used if for university and it was fine for a PoliSci major. It had the old computer monitor aspect ratio of 16:10. It still technically works but I don't use it for anything. I did end up increasing the RAM to its max of 4GB.

The second was an Acer Aspire 5560 with an AMD A8-3500M (Llano, the first AMD APU), 4GB of DDR3 (upped it to 8GB) 500GB HDD and it also cost me $500CAD. That was the best laptop purchase I could have made because it lasted me from 2011 to 2020. I knew that Llano was going to be special but I never expected it to be THIS good.

This year I bought an ASUS VivoBook 15. It has an AMD R5-3500U, 8GB of DDR4-2666 (I've since upped it to 16GB), a 512GB SATA SSD and it cost me $750CAD, an increase of 50%. It has a couple of extra toys like a backlit keyboard and a GTX 1050 (which I only use for CUDA-based video transcoding) but it was the same price as other R5-3500U models that lacked those toys. It's a great value compared to other laptops available today but it's a terrible value compared to my previous laptops.