Does HP's ePC herald the era of the disposable machine?



Everyone knows that the cost of PCs has fallen over the past 20 years. However, not enough people have taken the idea to its logical conclusion: that...



Everyone knows that the cost of PCs has fallen over the past 20 years. However, not enough people have taken the idea to its logical conclusion: that they're rapidly becoming disposable.

Just comparing prices is not enough. You also have to compare it to personal income.

When I got my first IBM PC/XT in 1983, the list price for a well-specced system was close to £6,000. For many office workers, that represented six months' wages.

Today, similar office workers could buy a better machine with six days' wages. And some people can earn that sort of money in six hours.

The IBM PC was successful partly because of the flexibility, expandability and robustness of the design. People expected them to last five years, and even pessimists were amortising them over three or four years. They were designed to last.

Today, it's often not worth repairing and upgrading machines that cost so little to replace. If a PC only lasts a year, it probably represents less than 2% of its user's salary, so what's the big deal?

Devoting expensive staff time to their care and maintenance is even more ludicrous - how many cheap PCs could you buy for the annual cost of employing of an IT manager? - though I can understand why it's done.

But go round most companies and you'll find lots of PC users struggling with old clunkers that should have been dumped in a skip years ago.

Considering the time wasted waiting for them to perform routine tasks, these machines are making a negative contribution to the bottom line. Keeping them in service is a false economy.

This could change. PC suppliers are now introducing new ranges of "legacy reduced" computers like Hewlett-Packard's ePC. These small, sealed-box designs are not designed to be upgraded - or not upgraded in situ - but swapped out. The era of disposable PCs may have arrived.

Will they sell shed loads? You tell me.

Jack Schofield is computer editor of The Guardian

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