The cheap PC changes everything
by Alan Zisman (c)
published in Computer Player, February 1998
In predicting the trends for 1998, it?s easy for
commentators to focus
on the new and high end?the hardware and software coming up.
Sure, we?ll see plenty of that in 1998? at least,
we?ll see lots of
things that were already visible in 1997 become more noticeable in this
For example, it doesn?t take much of a prophet to
predict that we?ll
see more products out on DVD, and more players to play them (but most
and most products will continue to use good old CD-ROM).
And we?ll see some Universal Serial Bus peripherals?
scanners, and more. But again, most people will keep up using old-style
add-ons to their computers.
High-end CPUs will be faster and more powerful. Hard
drives will be
larger. Customers will want (and need) more and more RAM.
I even expect we?ll see Windows 96. I mean Windows 97.
I mean Windows
98. And whether or not the US Justice Department manages to separate
Explorer from Windows 9x, it will be a useful upgrade. But as with the
other useful enhancements, more people than not will resist the
to line up to be the first to upgrade.
In fact, the most noticeable and in many ways most
won?t be on the high end, with the new and ever-more-powerful. Instead,
for a change, it?s happening as we speak, at the low-end.
PC Magazine?s Bill Machrone once suggested that ?the
computer you want
always costs $5,000?. Machrone?s Law has remained true, over the past
and more, even though the computer most of us have actually purchased
tended to cost between $2000-$3000. Over the years, there have been
at marketing a cheaper computer, but most of these efforts have been
by most consumers?for example, customers didn?t want to buy a $1200 486
a couple of years ago, opting in large numbers for a $2000 Pentium
Suddenly, though, people have started buying cheap
PCs? 40% of last
Fall?s home computers cost less than $1000(US)? call it $1400 Canadian.
At that price, buyers are able to get a name-brand MMX-powered Pentium
166 or 200, with 16 megs of RAM, a gig or so of hard-drive, a 33.6kb
and a 14? monitor.
Not my dream machine, but still, a $2,000+ computer of
a year or so
ago, and one that is plenty able to run the current generation of
and game software, and that should have a year or two of life before it
starts to feel seriously outdated.
And that?s a name-brand machine?an Acer or an IBM or a
or an AST. A no-name clone, from one of the hundreds of little local
will offer equivalent (or better) features, at several hundred dollars
less. Before Christmas, one local vendor was advertising a clone with
feature-set for $900 (Cdn). Yes, including monitor.
A market buying cheap, reasonably capable PCs changes
a lot of things.
It had seemed like the home PC market was saturated?and that was true,
at least for $2,500 PCs. A lot more people may be interested when the
drops below $1,000.
And the people who already have a computer are going
to be more interested
in a second (or third one). Let the kids have their own. One for home,
another for the cottage.
It puts more pressure on schools to integrate PCs into
when they can buy three for what they?re used to paying for one.
Strategic News Services analyst Mark Anderson (quoted
in PC Week) expects
that Cheap PCs could in short-order, increase the number of PCs
from today?s 300 million to 800 million. With a potential market
of that size, we could start seeing changes in product development,
new releases aiming at the many millions of existing users, rather than
at the minority with new, high-end hardware.
Slowing down the frenetic change might not be such a
bad thing, you
know? more of us might actually learn how to use one generation of
before we feel pressured to upgrade to the next generation.
On the other hand, the emerging mass-market for Cheap
PCs may put still
more pressure on beleagured Apple. When PCs were $2,500 and Macs were
I might choose to pay a bit extra to get a Mac. But when PCs start at
will I pay $1,800 for a low-end Mac? And with Apple having killed off
Mac-clones, there will be fewer low-end Mac alternatives.
In fact, with all the talk about the presumed evils of
monopoly, it all seems a bit ironic? monopolies are supposed to lead to
artificially high prices for consumers. Instead, spurred by plummeting
prices for RAM and hard drives, we?re just seeing the beginning of the
Cheap PC. Will it lead to getting a computer as the prize in a
box? Sign on with an Internet Service Provider, get a free PC?
Tune in to this space next year? we?ll see!