Happiness is a new computer

Buying the latest iPad may not excite the imagination, but a new high-performance desktop gets everybody excited.

There might be a lot of commentary here on ZDNet about living in the post-PC world, but the responses from my friends and colleagues to some new computing hardware that I've acquired this week leads me to believe that  the PC is alive and well.  It's always interesting to see how the non-technical community responds to technology advances, and is a good reminder of how those of us in the technology business tend to be somewhat isolated from the real world user.  And by non-technical community I simply mean people whose jobs are not IT focused.

I like to think I have a good idea of how the mythical average computer user feels about new technologies; my consulting business, focused on the SMB market) is oddly fragmented between clients who are up to date on the latest technology issues and have large investments in computing hardware, datacenter colo's, and are looking for more cost effective solutions, and companies who generate significant revenue without having any major computing infrastructure and are looking to grow to the next level.  This gives me a pretty good overall view of how technologies are used and accepted by business consumers.

Yet when I posted on a few social networking sites I frequent about the new computing tools arriving this week, I didn't get exactly the response I expected. The first thing I posted was a quick screen shot of my order confirmation for the new iPad.  This garnered a few likes and some comments that indicated surprise that I had jumped on the iPad bandwagon.

Much like my colleague David Gewirtz, I'm buying the iPad only because I need to own and use one to talk and write about it intelligently, and I have at least one client that wants me to evaluate it for deployment in their business. Posting the information that I was buying one also resulted in a few client phone calls asking me about my motivations for the purchase, but all in all the response was somewhat ho hum.  Perhaps there was simply the expectation that an iPad was something that I would have given its high profile in the technical community.

A few days after my iPad order, my new primary desktop computer showed up, custom built to my specs, it had been ordered a month previously.  Unlike the gadget flavor of the month, I tend to use my desktop computer for four or five years, for everything from my daily work, to occasional gaming, to rendering the video projects that make up about 20% of my consulting business. This being the case I try to buy fairly high-end systems so I don't get too far behind the curve over the useful life of the box (the computer being replaced was a top of the line Dell XPS 720).

Posting about this new desktop, on the same social networking sites, resulted in no less than 200 comments from various people, ranging from comments on my choice of components to questions about the software I use for rendering and the relative performance of the new system versus the old. What was also surprising were many of the technical discussions that were spun off from my posts (merits of Sandy Bridge-E vs. Sandy Bridge, why not wait for Ivy Bridge, processor water cooling for day to day use, and many others).

This was from a much broader audience, not primarily technology driven, and yet they wee extremely interested in many of the technologies involved, software choices for photo and video editing, and a plethora of things that you won't be doing on a tablet anytime soon. Direct questions ran from why I did a custom build to why I chose to use four 24" 1900 x 1200 monitors as my standard display setup. And for you hardcore overclocking fans, I've dropped the OC to 44 * 100 with a vCore of 1.375 volts for daily use, stability tested with both Intel Burn Test and Prime95.

So what did I take away from this week?  While it seems that tablet announcements may draw all the press, to the average user, they've moved into the commodity category.  Maybe that's a good thing for Apple and a bad thing for Android. If non-fan boy users (on either side of the aisle) just have an expectation of tablet performance and usability (once you remove all the press hoopla) tablets may become as ubiquitous as a TV set.  But it seems that hot PC hardware still can excite the imagination of many desktop computing users.