There’s a continuing debate around the future of the PC, with some reports suggesting that PC shipments have been constrained and declining in recent years. But any predictions that the PC itself is “dead” or redundant are greatly exaggerated. We’re seeing significant growth in PC segments – most critically in the mini-PC – that bring innovation to form factors and new approaches to design. This represents an opportunity for the channel.
After a peak high of 364 million units in 2011, IDC numbers show that the global annual shipments of PCs have fallen by 25 per cent. But this decline has eased dramatically in recent years. In fact, IDC has predicted that through to 2020, compound growth for shipments will ease to just -0.5%.
“If you look at our recent results, we have seen an uptick in demand for the PC segment,” Intel business development manager, Glen Boatwright, said.
“PCs will always be in demand; because people are still sitting down to do their work. Everyone has a mobile device, but many still like to have a place to sit and concentrate. What’s changing is that desktops perceived as clunky and bulky are less appealing, so to have a PC that is small without compromising on performance is important.”
“This is becoming an option for people, and the mini-PC form factor is seeing very good growth in the PC market.”
PCs still have advantages and applications that can’t be satisfied through other devices. What is important for the PC market going forward is that manufacturers and channel partners understand the changing needs of customers, and build PC devices that suit those evolving demands.
The new wave in interest for mini-PCs is coming from a number of different drivers. One is the increase in workforce mobility; the idea of being able to drop multiple PCs into carry-on luggage for a flight makes setting up presentations and displays at conventions and meetings more convenient. Another is the small form factor allowing for much “cleaner” displays, with those in digital signage and other sectors appreciating the ability to attach the mini-PC to the back of a screen and have the entire space wire-free and uncluttered.
These features are only possible because mini-PCs are now more powerful. The new NUC (Next Unit of Computing) lineup from Intel, for example, features powerful 7th Generation Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors, which are sufficiently powerful to handle demanding applications, such as the display of 4K audio-visual content, or home automation. In businesses both large and small this means the modern NUC can excel at everything from graphical design to video editing, word processing to big data crunching and analytics, allowing the entire business to unify its technology fleet across a single device and form factor.
Additionally, for business environments looking to replace an aging desktop fleet, the ability for mini-PCs to run powerful applications at a fraction of the power consumption can lead to significant savings. These are all significant advantages that channel organisations can use as an introduction to discussing fleet replacement with their customers.
“A lot of people in the channel, when looking at replacement desktop PCs, have in the past overlooked the mini-PC,” Boatwright said. “Because it’s small, and looks like a hard drive, there can be a perception that the devices aren’t powerful enough to replace desktops. But they are.”
Equally, customers are looking to customise their PC experience, and mini-PCs have reached the point where the customisation options are every bit as robust as with other desktop options. For example, there is a real resurgence in people building their own PCs, and users are more familiar with the feature sets that they need in their PCs than ever before. This is a major opportunity for the channel, in which bespoke and highly-tailored solutions are the bread-and-butter.
The customisable mini-PC kit allows for many configurations of up to 32 GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 2.5” SATA HDD of any capacity. This means a business is able to purchase only what it needs, and upgrade its devices easily. Combined with 16GB Intel Optane memory and an 7th Generation Intel Core processor, customers get high SSD like speeds and a large storage capacity in the form of a small box that can suit any environment. Additionally, there’s a Kensington lock that makes it an ideal choice as the Audio-Visual hub for schools and public spaces. There is a full suite of peripherals that channel organisations can also offer customers to further customise the experience of a NUC to the specific and unique needs of the organisation.
It is the versatility of a PC that means there will always be demand for them. With the mini-PC now offering customers that same functionality, the channel has a real opportunity to introduce a new form factor into mainstream computing use that had previously been tailored towards more specific audiences.