HOME Technology Nov 2006
Notebooks overtake PCs
Portable computing the new cool

The affordability, performance, mobility and sheer fashion appeal of notebook computers saw them supercede their desktop cousins in consumer sales for the first time this year in a trend that is expected to continue.

While second time home computer buyers are now choosing notebooks, they have become the preferred first purchase in the youth market, often driven by school or university requirements.

Consumer sales of notebooks grew steadily from 18,868 units shipped in the first quarter of 2005 to 24,834 for the corresponding period this year. By the second quarter of 2006 notebooks comprised 57 percent of all consumer computer sales with 31,000 units sold, relegating desktop PCs to a 43 percent share.

While HP and Compaq lead the pack by miles, Toshiba is experienced strong sales and most of Acer’s growth has been through retail outlets. Sony’s Vaio, ASUS and Apple’s Macbook Pro, which now features an Intel processor, are also in a strong position.

"The performance difference over a desktop is minimal unless you are using it for games or digital media management; the main driver is the desire for mobility and the considerable drop in price," says IDC Research analyst Liam Gunson.

At the low end you can expect a slower processor, smaller screen, less memory and disk space and risk getting old clearance stock. When laptops hit the $1000 mark last year it got a lot of people into stores, but Gunson says the average selling price remained $1500 $2000.

Core Duo and Core 2 Duo chipsets have helped take notebooks and desktops to the next level this year, featuring two chips that share the load for greater stability when running multiple applications or engaging in processor heavy tasks such as streaming video or playing games. The new chipsets have also paved the way for lighter, slimmer, more robust and capable notebooks that are easier on the batteries.

Despite recent performance and capacity increases, prices have maintained a steady downward trend. For example a 1.7GHz Core Duo machine with a 15 inch screen, 512Mb RAM, 80 100Gb hard drive and a DVD multi-drive recorder sell around the $2000 mark.

This should include 128Mb of video memory, ideal for those who plan to watch a lot of DVDs or play games, and prepare for the new Microsoft Vista operating system, due for release in January.

For another $300 – $500 you might double your RAM to 1Gb, boost your disk capacity beyond 100Gb and opt for the latest Dual Core 2 processor. If you’re pushy you might get a bag, a multifunction printer or a wireless DSL router added to the bundle at no extra cost.

While most modern laptops come standard with wireless capability it hasn’t been a major factor in sales, although the growth of wireless hot spots and promotion of wireless routers for sharing home broadband connections, is likely to change that.

And as notebooks begin to rule the roost, expect new designs from Apple and others as they home homing in on the fashion appeal with new colours, shapes and styles. Hewlett Packard, for example says its latest releases have a new form factor and design.

Meanwhile the world’s first disposable laptop is on its way. Taiwan’s Quanta Computer, the world’s largest contract PC manufacturer, is producing 10 million laptops for around $150 as part of the One Laptop Per Child initiative. The 500MHz machines targeted at school children in developing countries will run a Linux operating system, have 500Mb of flash memory, 128Mb RAM, a basic software suite and be wireless ready. South Auckland schools are among those on the waiting list.

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