Cheap PCs are the present and future of Windows

Cheap PCs are the present and future of Windows

Summary: A new slice of data highlights the incredible diversity of the PC ecosystem. Thousands of unique PC models are running Windows 8 and RT. What does it mean that the top slots on the sales charts are dominated by cheap, generic Windows notebooks?

TOPICS: Hardware, Windows 8

If you want to know everything that’s right and wrong about the PC ecosystem in the Windows 8 era, just look at this chart.


Image credit: AdDuplex

That’s a snapshot of the data collected in one day earlier this month by AdDuplex, an ad network that specializes in apps for the Windows Phone and Windows 8/RT platforms.

The most interesting slice of that pie chart is the giant dark blue segment on the left. In the one-day sample from AdDuplex, more than three-quarters of the incoming data came from a hodgepodge of machines representing 7,400+ unique models.

That’s a microcosm of the Windows marketplace, with its incredible array of different form factors. You can get a PC in just about any shape, size, color, or design/build quality, at price points ranging from well under $400 to well over $2000. 

And most of them have no touchscreen, which means they’re not exactly showing off Windows 8 in its best light.

The most popular Windows 8 model on the list is HP’s Pavilion G6, a budget notebook that typically sells for around $500. Second on the list is the HP 2000, which starts at $350 direct from HP. The Pavilion G7, with a similar price point and a larger screen, is tied for a spot in the top 5. The HP Compaq CQ58, another sub-$400 business-focused PC, is also in the top 10. Collectively, those four HP models account for nearly 10 percent of the AdDuplex sample.

The Toshiba Satellite C855D, Samsung 300E, and Dell Inspiron 3520 are similar generic sub-$500 notebooks.

The largest slice of the pie goes to Microsoft’s Surface, an ARM-powered touch-enabled tablet running Windows RT. It’s a $500-600 device. The two entries from ASUS are also new, touch-enabled devices. One is the ASUS VivoTab RT, a Surface competitor. The other is the VivoBook (X202E) a $500 touch-enabled laptop designed for Windows 8.

And then there are those 7,400+ other devices, most of which are probably devices originally designed for and sold with Windows 7 and upgraded to Windows 8 by enthusiasts and early adopters taking advantage of Microsoft’s limited-time $40 upgrade deal.

The AdDuplex data is too skimpy to support any authoritative conclusions, of course. You can’t extrapolate from these percentages to the larger market, because this sample doesn’t represent an accurate cross-section of the PC market in early 2013. It’s biased toward early adopters, and it only counts device owners who have downloaded and used one of the 2000 apps that include ads from the AdDuplex network. That fact undoubtedly tends to artificially increase the relative percentage of Windows RT devices, because those machines can only run apps downloaded from the Windows Store.

But the unmistakable takeaway from this limited sample is that the PC market today is driven by price sensitivity. There’s room for high-priced devices, but the big sellers, the ones that dominate the market, are those that sell for $500 or less.

If you want to see what the PC ecosystem will look like next year at this time, zero in on the ASUS VivoBook. It’s the only touch-enabled Windows 8 device that broke out of the pack. It’s no coincidence that it sells for $500. If ASUS was able to make a profit on this machine at $500, its competitors can too, especially as prices come down for touchscreen components as the marketplace grows.

At Best Buy, where this $499 device is labeled the Q200E, it’s been a top seller, and the reviews have been excellent. The Amazon version, labeled the X202E and selling for $50 more, also has consistently excellent reviews and is in the top 12 on the list of best-selling notebooks.

The bad news for PC makers on that top 12 list is that half the entries aren’t running Windows at all. At the top of the list is Samsung’s Chromebook, which has the distinction of being cheaper than even the cheapest Windows PC. Another five devices are Apple MacBooks (Pro and Air), all of which are over $1000.

Apple’s advantage in the sales charts is its limited selection. At the moment, Apple sells exactly six MacBook models: two MacBook Airs (11- and 13-inch) and four MacBook Pros (13- and 15-inch, with or without Retina displays). By contrast, there are literally thousands of unique Windows PC models currently on sale from OEMs large and small.

That diversity in the PC ecosystem means lots of price pressure. It also means support headaches for manufacturers and for Microsoft, which in turn translate into headaches for customers. Those hassles, along with early confusion as people struggle with the Windows 8 interface on non-touch-enabled devices, are part of the growing pains of the Windows 8/RT transition.

Topics: Hardware, Windows 8

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Huh?

    Trouble thinking outside your box?

    "The bad news for PC makers on that top 12 list is that half the entries aren’t running Windows at all."

    What on earth does the PC makers future need to have to do with HW running Windows? Didn't "PC makers" make those non Windows PCs? You are confusing the future of the PC makers with the future of Windows.

    All computers are hardware. The PC makers just have to make decent quality HW without the Intel and Windows taxes, such as the ARM based Chromebook, which incidentally is decent quality, cheap and apparently selling like hot cakes.

    Come on Ed, your mindset and bias is a little too obvious. MS and Intel have led us down the garden path for too long and the consumers have had enough.
    • give me a break...

      "ARM based Chromebook, which incidentally is decent quality, cheap and apparently selling like hot cakes."

      you forget add to this "and descent useless", especially compare to Windows PC. Chormebook's are designed to fail, mental healthy people don't waste their money for crap like this.
      • Could it be the other way around

        I would rather say that Windows PC is useless for me. A Chrome book and a 7 inches tablet are what I actually need and what i currently have. I use Chrome book for productivity and 7 inches tablet for other needs, and Google drive to sync their contents.
    • I think the OS will

      continue to be irrelevant in the PC market over the next few years. Chrome OS offers a maintained environment where users don't have to worry about keeping it updated, Linux has a huge selection of free software and if the Ubuntu phone gets traction we will see a lot more Ubuntu PCs offered. Then there's the evolution of Android into that PC slot, as well.

      I don't think that consumers (outside of the ZDnet garden) are concerned about whether they should help out Microsoft's numbers when they make a PC purchase.
      • Chromebooks aren't Linux

        They have a Linux kernel, sure, but they only run one piece Linux software: Chrome. They do not run a "Linux OS." They therefore do not run the thousands of programs available for Linux. Furthermore, Google could easily swap out the kernel for something else, if they ever chose to (not that they would), and user's wouldn't even notice the difference.

        The Chromebook really is the worst idea in computing I have ever heard of.
        x I'm tc
        • I did not say

          that Chromebooks runs any native Linux apps. I am fully aware of the difference in desktop Linux distros such as Ubuntu and Chromebooks. But, the chrome store also has thousands of apps. so, besides your opinion and obvoius error, what was your point.
        • I strongly disagree with you

          Please argue your point. First, Chomebook is designed for Cloud computing and modern applications. Modern applicatons ( v.s. legacy Windows applications) are browser based client( should you like it or not). The user interface rendered in a web server, applications spread across multiple application servers, and databases in clusters, all communicating over a network. I believe Google understood this web-based architectured and Miscrosoft is trying to catch up. Second, Chromebook is Linux (not only the kernel) based, and Google is not carzy to swap out Linux to replace by what? it is not that easy.
    • Um, no

      Five out of the six models on that list were from Apple. Apple is not a "PC maker" except in the most generous interpretation. For the PC market, which makes its profits from Windows/Intel PCs, Apple is the archrival that is sucking the profit out of their market.

      And no, the answer is not Chromebooks, which cost even less and have even less margin to work with.
      Ed Bott
      • Um, yes

        Apple is NOT the main threat to the PC makers. Perhaps you can elaborate on exactly HOW Apple, by selling high end premium priced HW, "is sucking the profit out of their (PC makers') market", unless you are referring to the iPad/iPhone (and low priced Android tablets) causing Windows PC volume/price declines, in other words "post PC" devices. If that is your argument you are just moving the goal posts.

        The PC makers have made very little money for a long time, forcing them to rely on crapware to fatten their margins (as you lament in your recent blog). Intel and MS made most of the profits. There is money to be made in HW, but the PC makers need to get off their lazy backsides and produce HW that people want to buy. I am sure there is a margin in Chromebooks for both Samsung and Acer. Hardware is a commodity however, and unless you can really somehow differentiate your products in a desirable way, margins will be slim, for the foreseeable future.

        My point stands: The PC makers are completely free to make non-Windows/Intel HW, including tablets and phones. The fact that MS and Intel based products may be in decline and those who choose to rely on them for profits may be suffering, is only an indication of a rigid mindset, including yours apparently.
        • Are you sure you want to admit to this?

          "PC makers are completely free to make non-Windows/Intel HW"

          We've been told for years that the ONLY reason Linux was non-existant on the desktop is because PC makers WEREN'T completely free to make non-Windows HW.

          Huh, now we find out you guys have been lying.

          • Selective memory?

            And a bitter mind?

            Is there a purpose to your post other than to somehow make yourself feel better?
          • still you didn't deny the question TB3 asked

            that the persons like you shilled out that Microsoft and Intel tied out OEMs to exclusively for Windows machines other than resorting to insulting. Chill Out.
            Ram U
          • Re: Are you sure you want to admit to this?

            > We've been told for years blah blah blah...

            So here I am enjoying the comments and then you show up with your tiny issue. Get a life.
            none none
          • that's the fact, Jack

            ((( "We've been told for years that the ONLY reason Linux was non-existant [sic] on the desktop is because PC makers WEREN'T completely free to make non-Windows HW." )))

            That Microsoft formed restrictive licensing agreements with PC makers is a finding of fact and conclusion of law in United States vs. Microsoft, the federal antitrust trial in which Microsoft was found guilty of being a predatory monopoly and of violating the Sherman Act.
          • right but

            That decision is old and desktop Linux is still in the same place it's always been. Dell tried the linux route and found it was more trouble than it was worth so they dropped it. It may happen, but there's nothing to indicate it will. Apple has at least made some progress, though I suspect they're at the upper end on the desktop/laptop market, but they could come out with a cheaper Mac and that might increase marketshare. Bottom line is there's only so many people willing to spend big bucks on computers, but most of the populace can't afford it.
        • @D.T.Long

          So if five of the 12 top SELLING models are by Apple, and Apple being the only one who produces Apple products, how in the world is it NOT cutting into PC manufacturer's sales? Get a clue.
      • Apple not a PC maker

        how? In sheer numbers made/sold? Sure I am with you there.

        Now compare Apple to say HP, the "sheer numbers leader" in PC's. Who makes more money off of PC's Apple or HP? I honestly dont know that answer but I would bet its Apple.

        Apple continues to sell more "PC's" each year over last year. Which cant be now said for the "Windows PC" combined player group anymore.
        • Sheer numbers.

          Apple has 27% of the PC market according to this report, (I presume this is by revenue rather than unit sales).

          "Apple's MacBook products had a 27% market share of the personal computing market as of CQ2 2012. According to a DigiTimes report, Apple's MacBook Air is set to take 39% of the slim notebook market in 2012, but will slip to 28% in 2013 as Windows-Powered Ultrabook sales rise. While IHS sees shipments of 44M Ultrabooks in 2013, this is still down from its initial prediction of 61M. Apple even introduced a thinner and lighter version of its 13 inch MacBook Pro."
      • Apple is most definitly a PC maker

        (no text)
        x I'm tc
      • Ed... Apple PCs are Windows Machines too...

        I have an iMac and a Macbook... Both of which are running OSX and Windows 8. I use Windows 8 about 70% to 30% OSX. There is no OSX version of many of my programming tools... but Apple makes awesome hardware... so there you go.