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Is There Any Growth Left In PCs?

Face-Off: Does HP's PC Business Affect Us Enthusiasts?
By , Alan Dang

Alan: Yeah, but here's the thing. If HP thinks that PCs themselves are unsustainable, it means that the profits that can be made on hardware are pretty small. If HP was using Asus motherboards, don't you think that the sales of HP motherboards helped Asus subsidize development of other high-risk, enthusiast-grade products?

Chris: Ah, but did it think that PCs were unsustainable, or that PCs are simply no longer a growth market with large enough margins to warrant fighting over? I think that's an important distinction, because PCs are still sustainable business.

Interesting question about HP/Asus. Don't believe they go hand-in-hand, though. Foxconn does tremendous tier-one business. That doesn't mean it has seen much success turning its competency into a strong enthusiast solution.

Alan: Well making tier-one business doesn't make you a good enthusiast platform. But the other way around is true. If you can make a system that handles crazy overclocking, striped SATA 6Gb/s SSDs, and the thermal management to stay stable even though you've got a ton of dual-slot GPUs, it's a walk in the park to do a basic platform. Remember DFI? One of the best enthusiast product lines for a long time. No surprise that its business stuff was pretty good. Heck, the reason Nvidia and AMD walked all over 3DLabs, Evans and Sutherland, and SGI was that the requirements for an awesome enthusiast GPU ended up exceeding the requirements for an awesome professional GPU.

Chris: Sure, but how many companies start by making the crazy enthusiast hardware and then wander into high-volume mainstream world? The original point was subsidizing high-end hardware with mainstream components. Clearly it'd be a blow to the ODMs if they lost HP's motherboard business. But that business won't disappear. It'll simply be satisfied by another company.

Alan: Getting back to my argument, HPQ is not IBM.

At the time that IBM sold its PC business to Lenovo, IBM was the third-largest computer manufacturer in the world. HP is not number three. It's number one. In theory, it should be at the top of its game. It has been able to identify the variables required to edge out Dell, Acer, Apple, and Lenovo and pull ahead. But the problem is that even though HP sells the most PCs and therefore has the best economies of scale, its profit margin isn't enough to sustain the business long-term.

HP's rationale for selling is clear. But if it can't do it, how is a buyer going to do something better than what HP is already doing?

Chris: Really, they're not. The desktop PC business isn't a growth opportunity.

Alan: So if that's true, is the PC enthusiast market a growth opportunity anymore?

Chris: I don’t really think it surprises anyone that revenues are growing slower than unit sales. That’s what happens when prices go down. As a subset of the PC market, the enthusiast sector is subject to the same influences. If power users know they can get “good enough” performance from a $1000 configuration, the number of folks willing to spend $2000 is naturally going to be far less. Unless we see the sort of innovation that compelled us to buy $1000 CPUs and $500 graphics cards almost a decade ago, then no, I don’t see how the enthusiast market can be grown far beyond where it is today.

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  • 13 Hide
    AlanDang , September 3, 2011 5:47 AM
    Who is Alan Dang? He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power.
  • 10 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , September 4, 2011 2:45 PM
    To sum it up: HP is drunk with silly ideas and therefore wants to jump ship. They said that iPad was successful... you know WHY? Because Apple spend a lot of money CONVINCING people that iPad is great! It's called advertisement! So do yourself a favor and advertise your product, otherwise of course no one will buy it!

    And you don't need to target an "enthusiast" market to make a good product. Simply stop using these crappy PSUs, ugly-looking chassis and faulty boards with locked BIOS. Is it really that hard? They keep mentioning how great and innovative their workstations are, but what about mainstream?

    HP mainstream computers represent everything that Mac users love to accuse PCs of: loads of bloatware (in case of pre-installed OS), unreliability and ugliness. YOU give PCs a bad name.

    And to address the subject of enthusiast PC becoming a "niche market"... I really don't care what they call them. Sure, the prices will go up, as they did with above-mentioned example of musical setups. But when the world will be tired of playing with toys, desktops will be there.

    There's a whole bunch of arguments for desktops dying for an average user. Let me address a few...

    1) Cloud computing. However, when you think of it a little, average user doesn't need it, because we have external storage that can be used with all your electronics. I've seen people saying that cloud storage will be perfect so that they can access their data from all their iCrap - sorry, you're a minority; the rest of us have USB on our tablets and whatnot.

    2) Tablets and smartphones. When you get tired of typing on the touchscreen and throwing birds at pigs, calling yourself a gamer, come back. Before you say "we're gonna hook up a keyboard and a screen to our tablet, and THEN!..", let me just tell you that you're coming back to desktop already.

    3) Technology gets better, and soon our tablets will be just as powerful as desktop PCs, blah blah blah. A foolish argument, because I don't see what prevents PCs using the same improvement and getting even better, still leaving mobile devices far behind.

    These "experts" keep complaining that the people don't buy new PCs every month, thus depriving them of profit... that's right, you greedy bastards. We won't buy new PCs just for the hell of it. Phones and tablets are made for that (though, if you get a really good one, it will serve you for years, unless you're into getting the most hyped device all the time), PCs are meant to be bought and used until you NEED an upgrade, not just WANT. For some, want = need, but not everyone can afford it. Just like they said, if a person already has a 2-year-old PC and it can do everything s/he needs, there will be no upgrade, and it makes sense.

    Tablets and phones are made to be changed all the time - just look at the OS support... old Android phones would often not support the newest Android, and I don't see a reason for it other than trying to force the consumer to upgrade. After all, even my 10-year old PC supports newest Linux and would support Win7 if it would have enough RAM.

    So, please quit acting like there's something terribly wrong with PCs. We know that you're simply unhappy with comsumers buying a device once and then walking away and not paying you regularly for some reason. So you want to force cloud computing, subscription-based games and streaming services... convert this one-time purchase into a money-sucking session, by all means. I understand that intention. It's perfectly healthy for business. It's not very healthy for a customer, though, but when did it ever stop you?

    All that trouble arises from general computer illiteracy of a common user. You don't need to be able to come up with a perfect desktop build out of your head or remember the list of all CPUs ever made. You just need a little bit of common sense to see what you are paying for. So, what do you want, a device that you buy once and that can do all your work for you (hell, it can be even portable, get a leptop, lol) or a much hyped shiny toy that will play Angry Birds but cost as much as small APU-powered laptop and that becomes obsolete within a few months? I know what I want and why I want it, what about you?

    P.S. Don't tell me "you're an enthusiast, hence you don't understand what non-enthusiasts want" - I know enough non-enthusiast PC users to assure you that tablets and smartphones won't cut it.
  • 10 Hide
    christop , September 3, 2011 3:47 PM
    Enthusiasts and H.P don't go together..
Other Comments
  • -2 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , September 3, 2011 4:55 AM
    who is alan dang?
  • 13 Hide
    AlanDang , September 3, 2011 5:47 AM
    Who is Alan Dang? He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power.
  • -5 Hide
    tacoslave , September 3, 2011 6:39 AM
    AlanDangWho is Alan Dang? He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power.

    calm down kevin spacey
  • 1 Hide
    cmcghee358 , September 3, 2011 6:46 AM
    Good analysis. The last bit really made me like HP, even though their consumer PCs are cheap enough to justify custom builds to my customers.
  • 6 Hide
    nevertell , September 3, 2011 8:49 AM
    Quote:
    Does HP's PC Business Affect Us Enthusiasts?


    No, it doesn't.
  • -4 Hide
    demonhorde665 , September 3, 2011 12:51 PM
    nevertellNo, it doesn't.

    cheers TO THAT , dumbesta rticle ehader i've seen on tom's todate

    NO real enthusiast buys name brand , they build thier own period. pfft , alien ware, lenovo HP just pffft only a wanna be enthusiast would bther with any of these
  • 2 Hide
    nerrawg , September 3, 2011 1:27 PM
    Good article on a topic that I think a lot of enthusiasts have been dreading. I find it interesting that you guys often metaphorically relate hardware development back to the automotive industry. If PC hardware is the cars, then software is the road network that people driving have to put up with. At the moment I believe that in both cases it is the roadnetwork/software that is the limiting factor. This decade has given us the most thrilling performance cars with incredible bang-for-buck such as the GTR, Corvette, Camaro, M3, Focus RS etc etc. However most of these cars are so fast that most people could never really use them to their potential on a day to day basis. The same can be said about modern PC hardware - its overpowered for the average user. Only the relative handful of consumers who take their GTR to the track on weekends/spend their weekend playing FPS games, can actually take advantage of these products. This in turn is severely limiting the market potential of what on the surface looks like such an amazing product base. People know that even though 0-60 in 3.5 and top 180 is incredible, it makes no difference when your stuck starring at fenders and red lights all day.

    Really, the development in hardware tech is amazing, but what we need to keep it moving is a new class of ubiquitous productivity software that demands better hardware. My suggestion for this is to create more advanced interfaces between the user and the PC - we need to replace the mouse and keyboard with motion detection devices and speech recog that actually works. Once the software can do this I believe we will see a drastic increase in performance demand for office software.
  • 5 Hide
    ZakTheEvil , September 3, 2011 2:55 PM
    If you buy HP computers you're not an enthusiast. PC enthusiasts don't give rat's ass about HP.
  • 10 Hide
    christop , September 3, 2011 3:47 PM
    Enthusiasts and H.P don't go together..
  • -4 Hide
    legacy7955 , September 3, 2011 4:48 PM
    This so called article sounds like "marketing" to me

    Clearly an agenda going on here, excessive greed by Leo Apotheker and his clown posse.

    Notice that "they" keep trying to "INFER" that the PSG division is NOT profitable without saying so, but then have to admit that it IS profitable.
  • 5 Hide
    bugo30 , September 3, 2011 9:36 PM
    Quote:
    The big difference is that, "back in the day," building your own computer was cheaper than buying a computer. In 2011, that's not true. The reason to build a computer is that you can get the parts you want


    I think it's more about the upgrade cycle, different parts need to be upgraded at different rates, so buying a whole new computer every few years is terribly expensive compared to just upgrading the parts as the need arises. (off the top of my head...) My keyboard and speakers are older than 10 years, my case is about 9 years old, my monitors are about 7 years old, my PSU is 5 years old, my three hard-drives range in age from 6 to 2 years old. When I upgrade later this year, the only parts I will be replacing will be the motherboard, memory, cpu, and graphics card, and for around $400-$500 I'll have a computer beats the pants off any $400-$500 pre-built. (the one thing it won't have will be a blu-ray drive, but I can't remember the last time I even opened my DVD-drive, so whatever).

    So if you think of it as a cycle, I think you'll find it is much cheaper to maintain a high-end computer (or even a mid to low end one) by continuously upgrading a custom build.
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , September 3, 2011 10:19 PM
    demonhorde665cheers TO THAT , dumbesta rticle ehader i've seen on tom's todateNO real enthusiast buys name brand , they build thier own period. pfft , alien ware, lenovo HP just pffft only a wanna be enthusiast would bther with any of these


    I'm just going to assume you didn't read it through (rather than completely missing the point).

    legacy7955This so called article sounds like "marketing" to meClearly an agenda going on here, excessive greed by Leo Apotheker and his clown posse. Notice that "they" keep trying to "INFER" that the PSG division is NOT profitable without saying so, but then have to admit that it IS profitable.


    And same here. It's pretty clearly spelled out in the story that HP's PSG is profitable. Nowhere does it claim otherwise.
  • 2 Hide
    marraco , September 4, 2011 5:13 AM
    Consider the entire number of x86 processors made by Intel and AMD each year.

    Then take the number sold by HP, Apple, or Dell.
    It a small, tiny percentage. Nothing.

    IBM made the PC. IBM left the business years ago, and nobody cares. They don't matter.

    It’s a lie to say that HP going out of business is “a change of paradigm”, “the end of PC”, or whatever. All those companies are meaningless.
  • 1 Hide
    eddieroolz , September 4, 2011 7:04 AM
    Though I believe HP's downfall probably won't affect the enthusiast market, the analysis stepped outside the box. If I understood it correctly, this article tried to explain the enthusiast market to the success of the consumer market, which was what I was not expecting.

    Oh, and it was a pleasant surprise seeing the NTT DoCoMo i-mode mentioned!
  • 2 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , September 4, 2011 1:53 PM
    Quote:
    The big difference is that, "back in the day," building your own computer was cheaper than buying a computer. In 2011, that's not true.


    BS. 'Nuff said.

    Quote:
    The reason to build a computer is that you can get the parts you want (which ultimately are cheaper than buying a pre-built computer and then upgrading it).


    THAT is the reason, and he contradicts his previous sentence with it.

    @all of you who thinks that enthusiasts don't care about HP, here's a good quote:

    Quote:
    If HP was using Asus motherboards, don't you think that the sales of HP motherboards helped Asus subsidize development of other high-risk, enthusiast-grade products?
  • 3 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , September 4, 2011 1:57 PM
    Quote:
    It even has reason to purchase webOS. That would be an excellent platform to run on its smart TVs, phones, and tablets. Samsung could do what HP couldn't by using Samsung memory, displays, and storage.


    Again, load of BS. Samsung already has Android and Bada. The hell would they do with another OS?!
  • 3 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , September 4, 2011 2:01 PM
    Quote:
    Intel still charges $1000 for its top-end enthusiast CPU…because it can. AMD would charge $1000 as well, if it had something competitive. The only reason we pay so much less for processors today is because AMD slots in between price point in Intel's lineup where it can offer competitive performance. Frankly, I think that if Intel wanted to charge more for its Sandy Bridge-based chips, it could (come on—$220 -2500Ks blow away even more expensive models in Intel's own LGA 1366-based lineup). But it's so afraid of getting burnt on anti-competitive practices that it pulls the bar down.


    This is another bunch of self-contradicting BS. First, he mentions i7-980/990X, then suddenly jumps to SB... And how is Intel keeping prices low just because they're afraid of "getting burnt on anti-competitive practices"?! They're doing it because otherwise nobody would buy Sandy Bridge, that's all!
  • 3 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , September 4, 2011 2:03 PM
    Quote:
    I disagree. You and I have desktops, laptops, and mobile devices. But we're techies. If you had Office on an ARM device, casual users aren't going to be buying PCs anymore.


    They think that people are gonna be better off typing on a tablet or something?!
  • 0 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , September 4, 2011 2:07 PM
    Quote:
    In 2011, I'd love to build a small system like the FireBird. Three hundred and fifty watts doesn't sound like a lot, but it's plenty for a Core i5-2500K or i7-2600K, a Radeon HD 6870 or GeForce GTX 560 Ti, and an SSD or two. I'm not sure where I can find a cheap, reliable external PSU with that kind of power.


    What. The. Hell. So he thinks 350W is enough for i7 plus GTX 560 Ti? This is final; I don't think that either of the two people in the interview know enough about PCs. Or am I missing something here? :D 
  • 1 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , September 4, 2011 2:13 PM
    Quote:
    But PC power supplies are almost always a box at the back of the chassis with a bunch of wires that travel everywhere.


    For hell's sake, stop trying to improve something that doesn't need improvement. The PSU is a box with a bunch of wires that travel everywhere because that's what a PSU IS!

    Quote:
    On the enthusiast level, we have awesome power supplies like the Seasonic X series, but the best we've been able to do is sleeve the cables to limit turbulence and to have modular PSUs so that we can take out unused cables.


    So far, I haven't seen a single mainstream HP desktop with a good PSU. They all crap out within a year or two. And it's always either a mess of unneeded cables (who the hell needs 10 4-pin power connectors in 2010?!) or so few cables that they're barely enough to connect everything that the PC had in it when it was bought.
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