The Windows 10 Hardware Argument

The release of Windows 10 is bringing with it a range of perspectives on the eagerly awaited operating system and what it means for the future of computing. One of the biggest questions has been around its impact—or lack thereof—on PC sales. As anyone who’s watched tech industry news for the last year or so knows, the PC market has hit tough times, with last quarter’s shipments falling around 10% year-over-year according to market research houses like IDC and Gartner.

As a result, the PC industry is clamoring for something that will help reinvigorate it and drive new sales. In the past, a new Windows OS release was generally cause for celebration in the PC hardware and component business because it typically drove solid boosts in shipments—not always right away, but definitely within a year or so of its release.

This time around, however, things could be different. Microsoft has made it clear Windows 10 will be completely free for one year after its release to anyone owning a PC running a legitimate copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8. Because of this, some industry watchers are presuming that, instead of buying new PCs as they’ve typically done with major OS transitions in the past, many people will simply upgrade their existing PCs.

Microsoft has actually made this pretty simple to do. The hardware requirements for Windows 10 are extremely low by today’s standards. If you’ve purchased a PC over the last 6-7 years, it’s probably capable of running Windows 10. Plus, based on my own experience on several different machines as well as reading the accounts of many others doing upgrades, the company has done a good job of making the upgrade process smooth and relatively carefree. Of course, we won’t really know until the final bits have propagated out to the hundreds of millions who are expected to make the upgrade—a process likely to take several weeks—but early indications seem pretty solid.

Despite this, I’m still hopeful the PC industry will see some decent upside from Windows 10, particularly in the fourth quarter of this year and into 2016. The primary reason for my optimism is Microsoft has actually integrated quite a few new capabilities into Windows 10 that will benefit from new hardware. Some are more well-known and more obvious than others, but here are some of the key new functions I think can (and should) drive new Windows 10 PC hardware purchases:[pullquote]Microsoft has actually integrated quite a few new capabilities into Windows 10 that will benefit from new hardware.”[/pullquote]

  • Windows Hello—The new biometric login feature for Windows 10 points the way to a password-less future, at long last. To take advantage of it, you need to have either a new fingerprint reader or an integrated 3D camera, like Intel’s RealSense, built into your PC. Down the road, Microsoft is expected to support other types of biometric authentication methods, such as iris scan. In addition, the company is also expected to leverage standards efforts with the FIDO Alliance to extend biometric authentication onto other devices and services. Hopefully, it won’t be long before you can digitally authenticate to your Windows 10 PC from a wearable and then use that authentication to transparently log you into your online banking site, e-commerce site, and more.
  • Windows Continuum—The Continuum features will make 2-in-1 devices like Microsoft’s Surface, Dell’s Inspiron 7000 Series, HP’s x360, and Lenovo’s Yoga even more compelling. The OS can automatically adjust the user interface and details like icon sizes, allowing you to easily switch from PC mode to tablet mode. Eventually, Microsoft will also release Continuum-enabled Windows smartphones that will allow you to directly connect your phone to a monitor and keyboard.
  • Array Microphones for Cortana—With Windows 10’s new personal assistant feature, you will likely talk to your computer a lot more than you ever have and a high-quality array microphone—which essentially integrates multiple mics working in tandem across the front of your PC—can make a big difference in the accuracy of speech recognition.
  • DirectX12—The latest iteration of Microsoft’s key gaming API comes bundled with Windows 10 and enables an impressive range of new capabilities for PCs with improved graphics—whether it be dedicated GPUs from nVidia or AMD, or even the graphics enhanced, sixth generation APUs (code-named Carrizo) that AMD just released. Games that support DirecX12 can now fully support multi-core CPUs, as well as better support multiple GPUs, better leverage GPU memory, and much more.
  • GPU Acceleration–The new GPUs and APUs aren’t just for gaming either. Many different elements of the Windows 10 UI, as well as video playback, web page rendering, JavaScript performance, and much more now benefit from hardware GPUs. By themselves, none of these elements are game changing but, taken together, they should provide a much smoother visual experience on new Windows 10 hardware.
  • Display Scaling—Speaking of displays, Microsoft has also made working with multiple displays and/or higher resolution displays much easier. Gone are the days of unreadable icons and text on high-resolution screens.
  • New CPUs—Both Intel and AMD are making important new introductions to their line of CPUs—the upcoming Skylake from Intel and the previously mentioned Carrizo from AMD. As with any new CPU release, the performance will improve but, more importantly, each is expected to offer important improvements in battery life and in the quality of its integrated graphics. Given the growing role of graphics acceleration across Windows 10, these developments are important even for non-gamers.
  • Wireless Charging—An additional benefit that Intel is expected to bring to the table in the early fall is a new chipset platform for its Skylake CPUs that will offer wireless charging using the new Rezence standard on certain higher-end notebook PCs.

Of course, another key benefit of getting a new PC along with a new PC OS is the “clean slate, fresh start”. Most people tend to accumulate lots of “stuff” on their PCs over time—extra applications, files, desktop icons, etc.—and the ability to start over is often one of the nicest benefits of getting a new PC.

Not everyone who upgrades to Windows 10 will need a new PC, obviously, but for those who may be interested and choose to do the research, there are some pretty compelling reasons for buying new hardware. The percentage of those who choose to do so will be a critical metric to closely watch.

Published by

Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

793 thoughts on “The Windows 10 Hardware Argument”

  1. One important thing not touched on is why many people used to buy new PCs soon after a Windows launch.
    The reason was that the Intel side of Wintel used to deliver improvements at a faster rate that the Windows side.

    People were used to slowly deteriorating performance caused by OS cruft accumulation and increasing hardware requirements of newer version of software they used.
    A newer Windows release brought not just increased hardware requirements but also signalled that enough time had passed for mainstream computing power to increase substantially enough to warrant a new PC.

    That’s pretty much reversed today. Intel is focused on low power and delivers minuscule performance increases. AMD has been stuck on the hardware equivalent of IE6. Windows 8 had lower requirements than 7.

    The laggards upgraded last year when XP was abandoned. The rest are likely going to wait for compelling new features (USB-C, high PPI screens, etc) as opposed to performance increases.

    1. Very true about the CPU stagnating while the OS gets better/faster.

      Plus Windows has had a “reset my OS, keep my data” tool for some time (8.0 for sure, not sure about Vista/7), that puts the OS back in a pristine but working state, making what used to be a complicated reinstall from scratch a lot easier, so accumulating cruft is less of a reason to get a new PC.

      As for new features, they aren’t much of a reason to upgrade, at least on the desktop: SSDs got swapped in for HDDs, and that was a lot more difficult (internal fiddling+ OS transfer). High PPI screens are an external device that doesn’t require a PC upgrade (unless you want to game at high PPI), and USB 3.1+C is an addon card away… or you can just buy an A-to-C cable since 3.1 is mostly renamed 3.0 anyway.

      Nobody around me is talking about getting a new PC for Win10.

      1. Why do some people think we’re interested in SEVERAL comments from them on EVERY post on Tech.pinions? Those people seem to believe they’re an authority on everything but they’re not.

        1. While I understand your point, I think what you are expecting of the comments section is unrealistic. If only authorities were allowed to comment, then the comments section would be a pretty lonely place.

          Instead, I think of the comments section as a place where readers (not authorities) can ask for more information on a specific aspect, or can ask for clarification on the logic in the article. Oftentimes, when the authors themselves cannot provide the information or logic, then commentators can discuss it among themselves.

          I do not expect the comments section to be a panel discussion among experts, but that does not make it any less interesting. In fact, because the authors *are* authorities and make their livings from being so, there are topics that they seem to understandably refrain from and bold conclusions they shy away from (they have to maintain their reputations). Not so for the commenters.

  2. I feel like half of the reasons you list actually work *against* upgrading ?
    – I’m not aware of any current consumer PC with Hello hardware integrated. Assuming people care, they have to get an external device anyway, so may spend money on that and push back on a new PC ?
    – Continuum: Indeed, might motivate tablet purchases. Works on the current tablets too though, so not a reason to upgrade.
    – array mics: same as for Hello, does any device actually have that ? Plus, is it really necessary ? Does it make a difference ?
    – DX12 is actually 2 things: A) new features that make games look better, for which you do need a new, DX12, card; B) a better driver that works with pretty much all graphics cards, that makes your current games faster *on the same hardware*, lessening the need for an upgrade to your DX10/DX11 card.
    – GPU acceleration: ditto, faster on same hardware, so less need to upgrade ?
    – display scaling: independent of new hardware, except maybe a reason to buy high-rez laptops/displays. Not sure what’s new compared to 8.0 though ? Windows issue with hirez has been fixed in theory for a while, it’s just 3rd party apps not implementing the feature.
    – CPUs & wireless charging: nice for sure. Independent of Windows 10 though, and probably not game changers ?

  3. Bob, 2 things:
    1) Doesn’t the very phrase “Tablet Mode” scare you? That the phrase exists shows the depth of compromise in design.
    2) Does the hardware argument suffer if there isn’t the tight level of integration between the hardware components and the software on the device? This is where Apple’s vertical integration excels and where I believe the myriad of hardware combinations used by the various OEMs will cause the users to suffer (though perhaps it will be OK on Surface Pros).

    1. 1) not any more than apps that have watch, phone, phablet, and tablet UIs ?
      2) The vertical integration mystique is mostly bunk: Apple spec the hardware, but it’s made by subcontractors, from OEM parts. Windows OEMs have exactly the same process, and access to the exact same parts and more. And now they have an OS to design to. The Surface Pro is not any different either. I think the confusion comes from the rush to the bottom in OEM-driven segments, but that’s because it’s were most of the sales (if not the profits) are ? Apple look good in comparison the low/midrange devices that make up the majority of Windows’ parc. They don’t look much better (if that) than the -rare- Windows high-end stuff though

      1. I disagree thoroughly. The BIG difference is that Tablet Mode allows for 2 completely different UI paradigms on a single device. That’s a very different thing than talking about having different UI paradigms for different device classes. The visual dissonance should not be underestimated.

        On the vertical integration front the manufacturing process may be similar via subcontractors, but the crux is that the selection of the components by different OEMs (and I’m not just talking about the low-end guys like ASUS, but HP, Dell, Toshiba, Lenovo) can be significantly different and therefore result in very different performance…none of it optimal. Although as you and I noted, the Surface Pro may be the optimal reference device (like a Nexus device), but it will only end up in a minority of users’ hands.

          1. So people only buy Apple laptops for a status symbol? Maybe where you live.

            You revealed you bias.

            Noted.

      2. Hmmm

        Do you understand that the rush to the bottom prices=rush to the bottom profits?

        Maybe they can make it up in volume?

        Not a great business strategy, where is Gateway, Compaq, etc…

        Apple uses the same parts, but they use the same parts on every model and iteration over several models selling millions.

        If I buy 3 different OEM PCs, over 3 months, I might get 3 different wifi/Bluetooth chips over 3 “exact same” towers.