computers, smarter computers and smaller computers, but not cheaper
by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published
in Business in
Vancouver , Issue #298 July 11, 1995 High Tech
and all things
computer-related just get cheaper and cheaper and more and more
right? Well, maybe half right.
came with 16 kb of ram, and cost about $2,000. A single floppy drive
was extra. Eventually, you could add a 10-meg hard drive, but that
cost almost as much as the original machine.
the IBM-AT, arrived in 1984 and its price led the then-editor of PC
Magazine: to coin Machrone's Law: "The computer you want always
costs $5,000." (And that was U.S. dollars.)
any cheaper: the popular home and office model still costs around
$2,000, and the latest and (briefly) greatest still tends to cost
around $5,000. Of course, you're getting a lot more for those prices
now: another computer cliché--Moore's Law, coined by one of Intel's
founders--claims that computers double in power every 18 months.
look at notebooks.
I recently spent some time with a high-end Pentium-90-powered model,
and concluded that much as I liked it, I couldn't really justify the
price, or even the power for the sort of computing I was doing. Still,
I'm enamored of the idea of portable computers, and pretty much decided
I should buy one. So I gave myself a budget, and set out to see if
I could meet my needs (if not my wants) within it. I figured I could
spend $2,000, and I knew that the last time I looked, there were a
few models within that price range.
a few things
I definitely wanted: a 486 processor; at least four megs of ram (with
the possibility of expanding to eight later); a hard drive large enough
to store some realistic quantity of programs; and, most of all, a
usable keyboard, and a pointing device that I could live with--some
notebooks come with no pointing device at all or a tiny trackball
in some unreachable corner. And on top of that, I wanted a couple
of PC-Card slots. I was willing to give up colour.
time I toyed
with the idea of a laptop, there were at least a couple of name-brand
models being sold in Vancouver with most of those features: the Compaq
Aero for around $1,400 and an AST for a few hundred dollars
more. An IBM with a colour screen was going for around
$2,000, and since the computer industry progresses, I figured I should
be able to find the same models at a lesser price, or more powerful
models at the same price.
checked at several
prominent local dealers. A&B Sound stocked a colour Compaq
Contura 401C for $2,899, a Toshiba T1960CT for $2,999 and an
AST Ascentia 810N for $3,299. Fine products all, I'm sure, but not
within the budget. Future Shop offered a similar range for
similar prices, adding an NEC VersaV to the product mix, but
at the same price point. Ditto for London Drugs, though it did
stock a Toshiba 2100 monochrome for about $2,200. (A&B
a monochrome AST model in the warehouse for $2,300, while Doppler
also had the Toshiba in stock). But add in the assorted taxes, and
the price was up around $2,600--still too far over budget.
I had been dithering, an entire price point--the under-$2,000
There are several reasons for this. Colour screens are more
attractive and, it seems, more popular: the manufacturers are sure
that customers are prepared to pay an extra thousand dollars or so
for colour. As well, virtually all portable screens are made in Japan,
and the high Japanese yen has boosted prices. The Osaka earthquake
has affected supply as well.
a single notebook
model available within my budget--an Apple Powerbook 150,
for $1,899 at one of the major retailers, but the problems of mixing
PCs and Macs kept me away from this purchase.
a year or two ago, you could get a low-end 486 desktop system from
IBM or AST, with 4 meg of ram, monitor, and so forth for about $1,700.
Today's minimum standard is a more realistic 486-66 with 8 megs, and
a larger hard drive. And this has pushed the bottom-line price above
that magic $2,000 line to about $2,300. By the fall, the minimum
machine will be a Pentium, probably pushing up the low end once again.
long run, I'd
expect prices to drop again, but not any time soon. Ram prices
are expected to slowly rise, partly because of the Osaka earthquake,
but also due to increased consumer demand--far too many machines are
being advertised and sold with four megs of ram, which consumers are
going to find inadequate as they switch to systems running Windows
95 or Warp.
Law is still
in force--the machine I want would probably cost me $5,000 after adding
ram, a big enough hard drive, a PC-Card modem and all. So for now,
I'll just wait and see if that under-$2,000 price point ever comes