Factors driving the corporate PC upgrade cycle

It seems that a corporate PC upgrade cycle may be underway, and while uncertainties remain about how big of an upgrade cycle this will be and how long it will last, it's interesting to take a look at what's driving it.

It seems that a corporate PC upgrade cycle may be underway , and while uncertainties remain about how big of an upgrade cycle this will be and how long it will last, it's interesting to take a look at what's driving it.

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The most obvious factor is Windows.

Windows XP is dead and Windows 9 is on the horizon, so companies are positioning themselves to stay relevant. The final demise of Windows XP after so many years is undoubtedly turning a massive number of working PCs into obsolete junk, which is in turn fueling the upgrade cycle. While the base hardware might be capable of running fresher version of Windows, drivers support and such would present a serious problem.

What is curious is how long-loved and entrenched Windows XP has been. It's clear that Windows is no longer the upgrade driver that it once was and that new versions of Windows don't attract corporate interest in the way they once did.

But Windows isn't the only thing getting old on PCs.

Along with the software, the PCs themselves are getting long in the tooth, and millions of corporate PCs are so old that they are being held together with little more than duct tape and chewing gum. In particular, hard drives and power supplies have a limited lifespan and replacement items are getting hard – and as such, expensive to find.

Hard drives are especially an issue. Not only are hard drive failures a major pain in the rear for IT admins, but many old PCs still need the old IDE hard drives as opposed to the newer SATA units.

Replacing old PCs is now cheaper than keeping the old PCs operational. But it's worth bearing in mind that many of these PC upgrades are based on necessity and not a desire to keep up with the times.

Another black mark against the old PCs is the technology. While the PCs themselves might be powerful enough to do what's asked of them, they are lacking modern technologies such as USB 3.0 and such. This places limitations on what the PCs are capable of, and at a time when BYOD means people are bringing devices that benefit from more modern connectivity. 

New PCs are light years ahead of the old PCs, and as such so are the productivity gains they bring. PCs used for data entry and such don't need much in the way of power, and these are likely to have a seriously long lifespan. Barring failures, it is conceivable that a PC bought today will have a much longer lifespan than one bought five years ago, which should give OEMs something to think about.

Then there are PCs that are bought for new applications rather than replacing old PCs. New form factors means that the PCs of 2014 are far more versatile than the beige boxes of 2005. Think signage, projectors, tablets, ultraportables and such. Over the past few years about the only new PCs that many corporations have been buying have been for new applications as opposed to replacing existing systems.

There's almost certainly another upgrade cycle at work for these devices too, but it is unclear yet how defined it is. For example, the tablet upgrade cycle is hazy indeed.

There little doubt that the corporate PC upgrade cycle has morphed from a two to three year cycle into a much longer one thanks to more powerful and more reliable PCs that have a longer lifespan. Companies are making everything – hardware and software – last longer. But the PC upgrade cycle still lives on, only weakened and less distinct, and PC OEMs who used to rely in this regular income stream are going to have to change the way they do business.

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