PC Sales Drop to New Lows As Device Makers Regret Building Them to Last

9364487908_0ecce4cf17_hI still have serious doubts that we live in the post-PC era (I'm not the only one), but I wouldn't blame you for reaching that conclusion based on the latest production estimates.

TechCrunch and Ars Technica have the story on new PC sales estimates:

A combination of holiday sales and the launch of Windows 10 weren't enough to slow the decline of PC sales, which have fallen to their lowest levels since 2007. Shipments declined by as much as 10.6 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to analyst firm IDC. Fellow analyst Gartner had similarly dire numbers to share: 75.7 million PCs shipped for the quarter, down 8.3 percent on 2014.

Overall sales for the year were just as bad, with IDC estimating shipments fell 10.4 percent to 276.2 million units, and Gartner pushing the slightly less terrifying number of 299.6 million units for an 8 percent fall.

The only manufacturer to show any growth for the year was—you guessed it—Apple, which managed to grow 2.8 percent according to IDC and 5.8 percent according to Gartner. Everyone else's sales shrunk, although Lenovo—the number one PC vendor worldwide—at least managed a mere 3.6 percent fall compared to the 6 percent-or-larger drops seen by HP, Dell, Asus, and Acer.

Shipments fell in all regions, and global shipments have dropped for the past five quarters. It was in fact so bad that shipments have dropped to levels not seen since 2007.

And that makes sense, given that a lot of the PCs made in 2007 are still usable.


While analysts blame the decline on a combination of factors, including consumer interest turning to other consumer electronics devices (TV, wearables, and mobile devices), or the as yet unpaid "free" Windows 10 downloads, I have a different explanation.

PC sales are down because the existing hardware is built to last a decade or more, and since a PC is not a consumable or an impulse purchase, consumers tend to keep using the one they have until it no longer works.

Remember, we live in the era where consumers keep using four-year-old tablets (hence why the tablet market stopped growing, and why tablets keep getting cheaper) even though they would benefit from replacing it, so it does not surprise me that ten year old computers are still in use.

So no, it wouldn't surprise me that PC sales are down.

Speaking of which, how old is your computer?

images by joannapoealc8

About Nate Hoffelder (11474 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

24 Comments on PC Sales Drop to New Lows As Device Makers Regret Building Them to Last

  1. Good point. My laptop is something like eight years old. Still useable, although the screen is a bit dim and it doesn’t run as fast (and forget gaming on it). My desktop is secondhand with a replaced graphics card. No idea how old that thing is, but it still turns on and plays WoW (sort of). I hope to replace the desktop soon, but I tend to use my laptops until cartoon ghosts come out of the fan. Which happens MUCH later than it does with my phone or a tablet.

  2. I build (or rebuild) on an average of every 2 years – PC gamer so gotta stay fairly current

  3. At home, I have a PC I purchased in January 2008. It has already had its HD replaced, needed a new DVD drive, and was upgraded from Win XP to Win 7 at some point. It is more or less on its last legs.

    At work, we have Win Vista PCs purchased in October 2007. They are still more or less working, although they tend to freeze for anything that has a video (especially flash) on the web page. The public computers use SteadyState to protect them from the average oblivious user, and I think that’s the only reason they still work as well as they do. The computer at my desk takes 30-40 minutes after booting up before I can do anything useful on it. Since I work at a public library, and budget cuts have decimated what we can do, I have no idea if these will be replaced within the next 2-3 years. When we ordered these machines, I told the IT guy that we needed something that would last us 7-10 years, and he didn’t believe we would keep them that long. Yeah, I know my library pretty well.

  4. Some years ago Intel hit a wall with its CPUs when the heat dissipated reached 130 watts. After this Intel concentrated on ‘power per watt’ and multicore, but the speeds only inched up and seem to have maxed out around 4GHz. Meanwhile nobody has licked the problem of multicore software so that the fabled 100-core count chips make up for the lack of raw GHz speed. And Intel decided it wanted a piece of the cellphone market since it had already wrapped up a functional monopoly on PC processors.

    The result is that software does not take advantage of massive parallel processing, and cannot take advantage of superspeeds that do not exist. So, not only will Win10 and OSX run on 7-year-old machines, they will do so just about as well. Look back at 1988-1995 and the hardware speeds were leaping ahead; Microsoft took advantage and released new versions of DOS, then Windows, that would not run (well or at all) on the 7-year-old hardware.

  5. Just some points/musings:

    * I think we have a broader issue of waste with mobile phone devices, mainly due to two year upgrade contracts. Google introduced the idea of modular design (Project Ara), which should be the way forward.

    * E-readers last long (I could be still using a Kindle 3 keyboard, if I wanted) and considering the stunted development of e-readers, something like the Nook Simple Touch isn’t that outdated, compared to the entry level Kobo and Kindle.

    * I don’t think we live in a post-PC era – the better description would be PC Plus (the words of Bill Gates); the development of operating systems, with extensive cloud sync, demonstrates this.

    * Apple devices, with some caveats, are better long term investments. You can trust they are made of good components, with longevity. They also have good sell-on value, which offsets upgrades. The iPad 3 and 4, even by current standards, still hold up in terms of specs, so users may not see the need to upgrade (on a personal note, I never liked the screen used in those models, as they tend to glow into your eyes – the iPad Air 2, on the other hand, has one the best IPS displays out there). I could say the same about devices like the Nook HD+, which was the best tablet Barnes & Noble released. Further, many manufactures are tending to the lower end specs, with their current tablet releases e.g. many of the early generation of Fire tablets are better than the current batch.

  6. My current Alienware desktop was purchased in April 2015. Like Kurt, I’m a PC gamer, so I have to stay within three years current.

  7. The PC installed base is actually declining. People can do email on phones and tabs – those that still do email anyway.
    Hell, people do video editing on phones nowadays – crazy kids, who knew…
    For many the PC is kinda like a cable sub, you somewhat don’t need it anymore.
    Mobile devices were the first knock down for PCs , the second one will be foldable screens – phones become tabs and sure you can try foldable in PC but the keyboard messes it up and ends up as just bloat. The KO comes with glasses but that will take a while.
    Tabs are down because the products are sad. Cheap Android tabs, nothing above100$ worth buying and then 900$ convertible laptops that are not tablets , being too bulky, heavy and designed as PCs.
    This year could be a bit fun as wifi ad is starting to become relevant. Wifi ad being very high bandwidth and short range , enabling wireless connectivity to displays (more so than other tech). Too bad we lack options when it comes to mobile OSes that scale. Just a few laptops, a router and 1 phone (LeTv Le Max Pro) so far with wifi ad but we should see a lot more at MWC and beyond. Curious if Asus does a Padfone with the tablet part not having an actual dock since wifi ad enables that.

  8. We have one MacBook Air from 2011 and a MacBook Pro retina display from 2013. Both have been working great. My only disappointment with them is the difficulty (or impossibility) of upgrading the hard drive and ram. My neighbor has a macbook from 2006 that’s still going strong. In fact, that’s why I have a Mac, the build quality is better than PCs (even in the office our Macs tend to last two years longer than the Windows machines)

  9. Basem
    I don’t think we live in a post-PC era – the better description would be PC Plus(the words of Bill Gates)…

    Well put. Tablets, smart phones, and e-readers now do things that previously only a PC did. Not everyone needs a PC. An e-reader is definitely better than a PC for reading a document longer than 5-10 pages. I suppose there are some households which abandon PCs for tablets.

    I used my old Dell for 7 years full time and 2 years part time. The old Dell was working fine, but as XP updates were ending, I figured it was time to get a new computer. Never had a problem with the old Dell, though I did change and upgrade some components- and the newer Dell is a lot quieter.

    The PSU on my new Dell failed after two years. As the PSU I purchased was better than the Dell PSU, you might consider that an upgrade. The new Dell stopped again after only three weeks of the new PSU, but it turned out the problem was only a motherboard battery that needed replacement. I have now had the new Dell for over 3 years, and given the track record on my old Dell, I anticipate using it for 7-10 years.

    I use my home PC desktop for my work- databases. I cannot imagine using anything else. Yes, I could use a laptop, but I don’t like laptops for 2 reasons: the keyboard and it is easier to change out parts on a full size desktop. As I want ready cloudless access to my data,and do a lot of typing, a tablet is not useful for my work.

  10. My desktop is 6.5 years old and runs fine, except in the last four years the startup time is long so I usually put the PC to sleep rather than than use shutdown.
    My smartphone is half a year old and tablet is two years old. I have been replacing my phone every two years. I am not sure when the tablet will be replaced, I assume at least in another two years.

  11. I replaced my Paperwhite after 2.5 years, not because it was in poor shape but because the lighting was too bright at its lowest setting and to get the bookerly font. I assume the Paperwhite 3, which its light gets very dim, will be kept until there is something neat added to ereaders.
    I have no idea what that would be, but adding a faster processor or more ppi/contrast to the display is not cool anymore.

  12. I’m taking an overseas trip soon and am only taking my phone, not the usual laptop.

  13. One point that gets glossed over in these reports is the decline in PC prices. Ten years ago a $400 portable was most likely an underpowered netbook. Today its a multicore 4GB 15″ laptop with at least decent graphics. Even the corporate has shifted a lot of its purchases to cheaper hardware.
    So, not only do people keep their hardware longer, the replacement tends to be cheaper.

  14. I think a lot of people are living in a different universe than I am. I use my PC mostly for writing, research, and photo-editing. The writing is not all that demanding, but with going on 2 TB of research materials and enormous photo files, the fastest PCs are none too fast. I just got a new one built (I hired a very bright and eager 13-yo neighbor to put it together for me) with a pretty fast processor, 16 GB RAM, 6 TB HDD, and 500 GB SSD. The SSD houses all the s/w and makes a huge difference in startup (almost instantaneous) and responsiveness. It all cost close to $1k (exclusive of the 27″ and 24″ monitors I had already), but that’s not excessive for the productivity increment.

    I also have 3 TB of NAS and am contemplating expanding. My wife likes her ancient Toshiba laptop with Vista and doesn’t do anything very demanding with it, and I have a pretty recent Dell laptop that I use largely as a PDF reading device when not traveling.

  15. Intel and Microsoft have been trying so hard to push into phones/tablets/2in1/etc markets, I feel the traditional PC buyer has been neglected. Intel has been slow to adopt new technology like HDMI 2.0, and Microsoft stopped caring about the PC years ago. Plus Win10 is the buggiest Windows version ever.

  16. The problem with assuming that it’s simply an issue of people using their old computers longer is that Apple is growing. (And Apple, generally, makes quality products that people could hold on to longer than cheaper PC’s.) So, at best, you have two markets where Apple users (who tend demographically to have more money) are replacing and upgrading where Windows users are holding back.

    Or… and there are indications this is happening, former Windows users are slowly switching to Apple, while Apple users continue to stick to Apple. If that is the case, it’s also possible this is just the beginning. The decline could rapidly pick up steam.

    Whatever one might think of Apple, they are at least clever at coming up with compelling reasons to upgrade, if only design tricks. But they also make steady, smooth improvements in their operating system that require more powerful computers, whereas new Windows releases are almost always followed by a loud debate over whether the upgrade is even an improvement.

    We’ll know more whether we are in a post-PC era when Apple releases it’s new figures, particularly if iPad sales rise thanks to the iPad Pro. Gartner and IDC also frequently try to low ball Apple sales, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple’s true gains are even higher.

  17. My “old” laptop is from April 2010, and it’s a Dell. It still works fine but is a little slow, so my husband bought me a new HP for Christmas. But I’m still hanging on to the Dell, just in case anything happens to the new PC. I’m sure a lot of people do the same.

  18. The rate of improvement in PCs has really slowed down in the last five years or so. My current notebook PC is about 3 years old now. It cost me $400 then. When I look at new $400 dollar PCs, I don’t see many changes. A new processor, 10 percent faster, still a quad-core. 50 percent more memory, 50 percent bigger hard drive. Same screen resolution, same DVD burner. I don’t see a reason to upgrade.

  19. I agree with Nate on this one. PC sales was still a rapid growing market 10 years ago. From 95 until 2007, I was on a 18 month to two year rebuild cycle. Had to back then as everything was obsolete months after buying it. I even remember a commercial where this guy was driving home with his new state of the art PC, only to stop at a light and notice a bill board with a newer model than the one he had just bought. Obsolete before he even made it home with it.

    Now, even as a gamer my PC lasts me 7 years. I upgraded last year from a PC built in 2007. I finally ran into a game it couldn’t handle at the settings I wanted to play at, otherwise I would probably still have it.

  20. Just have to add, Microsoft bought a lot of people PC’s in 99/2000. Anyone remember the 400 dollar instant rebate at best buy for signing up to Microsoft’s service? Many eMachines were purchased with that.

  21. I’ve read recently that the dropoff isn’t as quite as severe as IDC made in appear. IDC put notebooks with detachable keyboards into a seperate category from PCs. 2-in-1s running Windows are a quickly growing market. If they were factored in, the dropoff for the year would only be 7 percent.

  22. Proprietary PCs can be tossed into the fiery pits of hell!… as far as I’m concerned!… and, given all of the built-in Digital Rights Abuses that have been manifest over the last few years (both in terms of software, and hardware!), then maybe some the ICT CORPORATE ELITE can be– and should be!– tossed in along, with their scurrilous crap! It’s nigh to the point of having to retain a civil lawyer to go hand in hand with one’s PC purchase, in order to address the countless ICT abuses inhere within one’s PC– let alone, the countless abuses inhere on the Net, and on the Web! If it wasn’t for NONSENSE, many– if not, MOST!– of the ICT CORPORATE ELITE, would have no sense at all!… and… who’ve turned otherwise useful, and beneficial technomae, into utter trash!… and, have turned the ICT landscape… and consumer confidence!… into a desolate wasteland!

    My next PC purchase will be for a Purism Librem 15 (high end!)!… pending– of course– on Intel’s release of its BIOS!… as Free and Open Source! Failing that, I’d consider a Novena (high end!)! But!… I’d opt for a Gluglug, before considering any of todays proprietary PCs! Hell!… I’d use a pad and paper, over choosing any of today’s commercial junk!

    To close… my days of being abused by Closedware technomae, ARE OVER! These, can park their “innovations” where the sun doesn’t shine!… but!… where even escherichia coli, have said NO!

    I believe– as millions of netizens have now come to believe!– that the advent of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and Free and Open Source Hardware (FOSH), is, “THE DAWN”, of personal computing!… and not!… as certain would have us believe!… an aberrant– and irritating!– glitch, in the evolution global ICT!

    I’ve got to go now!… and pray for forgiveness!… for having soiled my soul, in the preparation of this Microsoft-based comment! Lord!… please forgive me!… and get me out of this PROPRIETARY DEN OF INIQUITY!

    Please!… no emails!

    • I can understand how you feel (this is kinda why I resist appliance computers like the iPad) but I don’t think you really have an option for avoiding proprietary PCs.

      I mean, the hardware is still proprietary, right?

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