Gone are the days when a gamer thought nothing of throwing down a cool $3,500 for a rig to play Quake OpenGL on in all its glory.
And gone are the days when the average PC user was more than ready to spend $1,000+ on a new machine to run the latest and greatest version of Windows and Office on.
Indeed, computer users continue to favor lower-end desktop PCs and notebook computers over high-performance models for this year and beyond, with the top-end systems accounting for only 6 percent of the market in 2012.
According to iHS iSuppli, lower-end computers classified in either the "mainstream" category or the "value" segment triumphed over higher-end PCs designated in the elite "performance" sector. To be sure, the mainstream desktop PC category tied with the value PC category in the share of the global desktop PC market, with each segment projected to claim an evenly matched 46.9 percent by year-end.
In comparison, performance PCs will be left far behind in third place, with a meager 6.2 percent. Meanwhile in the notebook computer space, the value notebook segment is expected to take 46.8 percent, compared to 44.0 for mainstream laptops and 9.2 percent for performance models.
"For the desktop as well as the notebook PC market, the continuing domination of lower-end computers is due to the rising performance overall of PCs and their greater affordability to the purchasing public," explained iHS analyst Peter Lin.
"While the highest and most potent specifications are still reserved for expensive PCs belonging to the performance sector, computers now in the mainstream or value segments are powerful in their own right, and cannot be deemed as throwaway models. Instead, these more affordable systems feature current-generation technologies that prove adequate for most uses, or boast increased microprocessor power that raises the performance bar even for seemingly rudimentary machines."
As Lin notes, price is a secondary concern given that the pursuit of ultimate performance is the primary consideration, while performance parameters are reflected in the machine’s processor, memory, hard disk and graphics capabilities. Premium prices in the range of $1,000 and up are usual in this category, and towers and minitowers are the most common form factors. Processors used here include Intel’s Core i7 or AMD’s FX and A10 chips.
"In comparison, the mainstream PC reflects the most common specs and functionalities available on the market. These models use the latest-generation technology, but not the fastest speeds, and are matched with competitive pricing," said Lin.
"Such a combination, in fact, meets the requirements of a vast majority of both the consumer and corporate markets, accounting for the tremendous appeal of mainstream PCs. The machines come in minitower, desktop or small-form factors, and are typically priced from $500 to $1,000. Processors used here include Intel’s Core i5 or AMD’s A6 and A8 chips."
In contrast, value PCs do not feature leading-edge hardware components, especially as price is the primary issue for this category. However, due to the increasing performance of microprocessors, value PCs are proving more than adequate for many consumer and corporate markets, which are more than satisfied to use the machines for web browsing, email and simple productivity tasks. Desktop and small-form factors are common in this category, with prices topping out at $500, and processors including Intel’s Celeron and Core i3, as well as AMD’s A4 and E2 chips.
"The positive projections for mainstream and value PCs do not hide the fact that the overall PC market continues to be bogged down by slow growth. Ultrabooks and other ultrathin computers have yet to make a dent on the market, and PCs as a whole have been sidelined by enormously popular devices such as tablets, like Apple’s iPad, and also by smartphones with near-PC-like functionalities," added Lin.