Opinion: Should you buy a PC now or wait?

Posted by Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

A few days ago, Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal advises his readers that they should wait on a new Windows PC until after Vista ships next year but to go ahead and buy an Apple box now. His argument is based on two assumptions the first is that you will be moving to Vista early next year and the second that Apple won't have anything interesting new to buy in the first part of 2007. Since I believe both assumptions are false, I'm going to suggest that, if you were already planning on buying a Windows system you should go ahead and buy it soon, but wait on buying an Apple PC until after MacWorld in January.

Now before I start, and to avoid flame mail, I'm not saying that Apple folks should buy Windows machines. Instead my advice is to hold off a few weeks because, I think the wait will be worth it.

Apple will be better in 2007

Things always get better with future releases but there are clearly times with any vendor where waiting a few weeks will result in a better choice.

Right now, the hot product category - regardless of whether you are buying Apple or not - are laptops and Apple has issues here. The company was admirably aggressive in the recent battery recalls but they haven't been particularly forthcoming as to why the laptops are shutting down. Apple issued a patch but apparently won't tell us officially what the patch does, which suggests we probably wouldn't like it.

Personally, I think any vendor patching a system to correct a problem should be forthcoming about what the problem is and what the patch does. But this is Apple and Apple does things different and while I really doubt we'd let any other vendor off the hook, Apple gets a pass. Still, random shutdowns can be painful. Looking at the forums on the web, the symptoms are kind of all over the map.

For instance, this looks like it could be bad memory or a bad memory controller. No apparent connection to overheating noted. This posting talks about Apple replacing heat sinks (and a related class action law suite) with no improvement suggests Apple either misdiagnosed the problem or there is more than one problem. This posting says it is a heat sink problem where the heat sink expands and shorts the board and the author calls for a recall. Here it talks about the logic board again.

In this posting, users ä href="http://techpaedia.com/apple/2006/09/01/10-of-macbooks-13-have-random-shutdown/" target="_blank">talk about a survey were it appears that a whopping 19% of 15" MacBook Pros, and 10% of 13" MacBooks are having this problem. Apparently, it is taking some folks up to 85 days to get this problem fixed.

Apple did issue a patch but the description of what the patch does isn't particularly clear. Apple desktop products are unaffected and it is too early to tell whether current products have fixes in place to prevent whatever this problem is but I would argue it would be wise holding off buying an Apple laptop until you can be sure the problem, what ever it is, has been corrected.

Now add to this that Apple rumored to be doing a major release at MacWorld in January. The buzz would indicate that the company is positioning its strongest lineup yet against Windows Vista and that Leopard, with a surprise early appearance, will be the cornerstone of that event. This may explain Apple hasn't been able to get its arms around the Random Shutdown Problem, because Steve has everyone working to get Leopard out for the Vista surprise party.

Most of the rumors surround the iPhone and the early release of Leopard along with iTV but there is increasing buzz that Apple will deliver Intel's UMPC baby and that would indicate some changes in the laptop lines as well.

So, I would suggest you take the money you would spend on a new Mac and put it in the bank. Then, after you have seen what Steve will have to show in January (and whether the shutdown thing is fixed with current products), make your choice. Personally, I think this is the only way to really avoid incredibly fast buyers remorse because, what ever Steve is going to announce, there is little doubt it will be big.

By the way, an alternative, depending on return policies, is to buy the box towards the end of the year, and then decide whether you want to keep - after MacWorld. Be aware, however, some stores have a 30 day return policy while others a 14 day return and you may end up with a store credit (which is probably not bad anyway).


Windows: Buy now. Don't wait.

Walt's founding premise for waiting on Windows has to do with the very real problems associated with upgrading an operating system and his apparent belief that most of you will want to update right at launch.

Let's look back at the biggest Microsoft Windows launch so far: If Vista were to double those numbers, only one out of ten of you would be on Vista by the end of April. And the majority of users installing the upgrade would have done it on an existing system and not through a new PC.

In fact, most folks probably won't be on Vista by this time next year, let alone by the end of January. But, eventually, most of you will in fact move and probably move on existing hardware.

Unlike Apple, there is no real desire for Windows OEMs to release new hardware early next year, they know that the fourth quarter is the hot quarter and will do everything they can to bring their new stuff out then. CES, which runs at the same time with MacWorld, is, with some exceptions, actually a show for Fall 2007 products - and not, as some might imagine for Winter 2006/2007 and not even Spring 2007 products.

So, if the hardware won't be changed, wouldn't a (in some cases) free upgrade now be better than a forced upgrade in January so that you could migrate when you wanted to migrate? Think about it, if you wait until late January and buy a Vista PC you'll have to migrate then and you probably won't be ready to move yet. For several months, application vendors and peripheral vendors will be cranking out new stuff to run on Vista but, at launch, a lot of that simply won't be done.

Assuming you were already planning on getting a new PC this quarter, why would you change your plans based on a new operating system you probably won't be using for some time yet? Getting a free upgrade is just icing on the cake and actually makes current machines more valuable rather less valuable as Walt's advice would seem to imply.

So, I actually think it is better to hold off on buying an Apple until after MacWorld 2007 but that buying a new PC in the Fall of 2006 isn't a bad idea at all.

Looking for the right Vista box

We are in the process of testing Vista branded PCs and would recommend that, if you plan to move to Vista early and are buying in the next few months, that you specifically look for those that are branded "Vista Premium Ready" to ensure you get a good initial experience. While all of the Vista branded PCs should be ready at Vista launch, only the "Vista Premium Ready" machines are testing well with Release Candidate 2 now and that means these represent the lowest risk of problems in the first few weeks after the launch.

Good Hunting!