HOME Technology 2004
PC market stabilising
Bundling and upgrades fuel sales
New Zealand remains one of the most PC literate nations in the world with 67.9 per cent of households having a PC and an estimated 23 per cent having purchased a second or third machine.

The consumer PC market in both the desktop and notebook format has shown healthy growth over the past year. A strong New Zealand dollar through the summer of 2003/2004 pushed prices down creating robust consumer demand.

Only three short years ago 43 per cent of households had PCs but resistance has been worn down by a host of interesting and affordable new applications and ways to use computers. The growth of the internet and the lowering price of ownership are major factors.

Dell’s introduction of the $999 PC caused something of a stir forcing strong competition among rivals, opening the market to those who had not been able to afford a PC previously. Others saw the chance to purchase a second or third PC.

IDC however claims the price drop wasn’t sustainable as it reduced dealer margins to an profitable point, placing more pressure on adding value and bundling complimentary products such as digital cameras and printers.

To keep the momentum up as prices stabilise there will soon be a range of form factors that reframe the PC as a home electronics device with an endless array of soft and hard ‘fashion accessories’ to expand its capabilities.

Rather than a stand-alone device the PC has become the centre of convergence – it’s no longer a workstation where words are processed and numbers crunched. Today’s PC is rapidly morphing from a vanilla workhorse to an all singing and dancing entertainment station.

It’s already reasonably easy skew a machine to become an entertainment station hosting all manner of files for distribution over a home network.

Even if you stick with the basics you’ll still get surprising performance. You may care to build up your own machine by going to any number of on-line stores, ticking the options: CPU, memory, video and graphics cards, disk capacity, combo CD/DVD burner / reader and come away with a powerful multimedia machine for under $1500.

Alternatively you may buy off the shelf at major outlets such as Noel Leemings, Harvey Norman or Dick Smiths for between $1500 - $3000. At the low end you’ll still get a bulky CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor but the market is rapidly moving up to 17 inch flat panel LECD (liquid crystal display) monitors.

You should expect a 2.5-3.4GHz processor, with a minimum of 256Mb RAM and 40-80Gb hard drive. Dedicated sound and graphics cards will improve the overall image and sound experience. If you are serious about storing video or large images then max out the disk space to 120Gb or more and double your RAM to 1Gb, even though it might inch that price up past the $3000 mark.

Meanwhile chipmaker Intel has back off its plan to boost things up to a 4GHz Pentium. After years of promoting clock speed as the most important indicator of processor performance, Intel now believes ‘multicore products’ and new silicon features are the best way forward. Speeds are likely to be capped at 3.8GHz while it works on other ways to move data around the computer more efficiently.

Figures collated for New Zealand by IDC suggest the desktop market is in decline with 78,898 machines shipped in the quarter from July to September, 19.4 per cent less than for the same period in 2003. Hewlett Packard dominated with 29.4 per cent share following by Dell, IBM, Acer and then Apple. IDC expected a boost in sales for the Christmas quarter but said it would be nothing like the previous year.

Meanwhile laptops and portable computers were more than taking up the slack with 26,620 shipped in the third quarter of 2003 up 51.4 per cent on the previous year. The growth continue in Q3 2004 with 40,295 machines shipped, up 27 per cent on the previous quarter. Hewlett Packard had a 29.3 per cent market share followed by Toshiba, Acer, Dell and IBM. Large sales into the education sector helped boost those numbers.

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