In a somewhat split decision, 65 percent of the readers who responded to the latest NEWS.COM poll believe that new low-cost computers can meet most users' needs as efficiently as more powerful PCs, with 35 percent preferring to invest in more pricey but powerful models.
What is interesting is that regardless of which way readers voted, they mostly agreed on one tenet of PC purchasing: No matter what you buy, prepare to upgrade. The dispute arose on how much to invest in today's PCs while waiting to adopt the technology of tomorrow.
The new low-rent PCs generated a lot of buzz this year--the phenomenon was named by this publication as the news story of the year--because of the new possibilities of widespread, affordable access to computers and the Internet.
Their popularity seems to be snowballing. According to market research firm Computer Intelligence, the sub-$1,000 sector made up 32 percent of the retail market for PCs in 1997, compared with just 9 percent in the beginning of the year.
Readers who lined up behind the sub-$1,000 boxes pointed out that in both the home and corporate environment today, most folks use a computer for word processing, email, and Web browsing applications--functions a cheap computer can perform just as well as an expensive one.
"Performance will not be an issue with 90 percent of what users might run," noted Kyle Peterson.
Reader Randy Lisle cited the growing obsolescence of today's technologies as a reason to rein in spending when buying a PC these days. "Entry-level and base home users don't need the latest technology. For basic users, they are better off buying a $1,000 machine today and another one in two to three years than a $2,000 machine today that will be outperformed in two years by the new sub-$1,000 machine," he wrote.
The 35 percent of respondents who disagreed with this analysis argued that sub-$1,000 models will fall out of date much faster than high-priced, high-powered computers and that users will be doing themselves no favors by skimping on technology.
"I don't think the 'el-cheapo' PCs currently being made are cost-effective in the long run. A year from now, when your software won't run effectively on your Monorail, you can't just pop in a new processor or motherboard; you end up having to buy a new machine," wrote Chris "Cheech" Johnson.
"Sub-$1,000 PCs are a complete joke to the industry. These machines can't accomplish anything of value...[They] should be outlawed," fumed Don Lee.
Yes, I want to own a computer today for one easy, low payment of $999
Why sink $2,000 into obsolete technology when you can get away with $1,000?
"As long as there is some way to connect an Ethernet adapter, the answer is yes, they make a heck of a lot of sense, finally being cheap enough to toss every couple of years, which you have to do anyway because the PC architecture is so fundamentally broken (and because MS makes sure your old box can't run new software).
--Anonymous employee of "Texas-based computer company"
"I look at it this way: If the processor is handling something that something else would normally have handled, that is just one less thing that will eventually break and cost me tons to fix. With PC technology changing so quickly, consumers are better off to limit their investment and just buy 'disposable" technology.'"
You don't need a Pentium II to email Grandma in Fresno
"Unless you want extremely high performance on the latest 3D games/simulations, you don't need a Pentium II with AGP graphics. Most users will use the PC for word processing, educational software and games, some drawing and graphics, and Internet access.
"Sub-$1K machines are great for many tasks...Web terminal and general-office PC, and with prices of RAM continuing to fall, bringing a sub-$1K machine to 64MB is trivial--so they'll even run NT okay, which is more stable than Windows 95. For those situations where you need a Web terminal that can also run MS Office, they make sense."
"A friend of mine just purchased a $999 system complete with 15-inch monitor and printer and the PC had a Cirrus 200 processor. I helped him set it up and it's a very nice system that was very easy to set up and get running. I built my system and have more money in it and the only advantage I see mine has is I have a better sound card."
"For most corporate users, a sub-$1,000 PC can run Office applications, host access, email, and a Web browser."
"As a rapidly growing, medium-sized business with a few hundred PCs to manage, we have a significant population of users who simply do not need high-powered PCs. They spend much of the day using their PC as a dumb terminal on a Unix server with the occasional bit of word processing and email. We already keep the applications they use on a network server, so we don't really need much in the way of hard drive space on their local machines. A standard desktop PC costs about $3,300 to install, with about $1,800 of that being the actual PC. Dropping the cost of the PC to under $1,000 reduces cost of installation by nearly 25 percent."
And baby PC makes three
"When the TV first appeared, it was inconceivable that anyone would need more than one. Eventually, it was commonplace to have an expensive TV for the 'family' and a smaller, less expensive TV in the bedroom, kitchen, garage, wherever. The same story is happening with computers, but it's not taking as long to get there. For many people, especially first-time buyers, a sub-$1,000 PC will suffice just fine as an 'introductory' system. But the volume will come from the secondary systems in multicomputer households."
"I feel that for a lot of first-time users, college students, and families looking for a second PC that these type of computers are great. If you are looking for a second PC for the house, then I would suggest giving the powerhouse to the kids and buying one of these for the parents."
"The availability of the sub-$1,000 PC will change the way the market works. Once everyone can afford several computers and run them independently, an entirely new market will begin to evolve. 'Canned' OSes, bundled software, and plug-and-play hardware will increase in importance. The new cable modems with fast access to the Internet will become more common. Traditional dial-up connections will eventually wane. Keep the inexpensive PCs coming. It would help if peripheral prices came down as well."
Thanks, but no thanks
We also wear toupees and drive Porsches
"The whole point of getting a computer is to make your life more fun or to aid work, not to make it miserable waiting for a program to load. In the long run, It would be wiser to buy a 'pricey' PC. Hey, at least when you first get it you will have something to brag about!"
What's an extra couple of hundred dollars?
"I think sub-$1,000 PCs don't fit most people's needs because buying a $2,500 PC today still means that it will be outdated in approximately two years, so a family trying to keep up with a $1,000 PC will just have to upgrade that much quicker."
"Most of these machines have only 16MB of RAM. I personally have 64MB but I would never buy a machine without at least 32MB. Another thing is that these machines are normally not upgradable, and with technology moving as fast as it is, the fact that you can't upgrade most of the parts [feels] like you are wasting your money."
"Look, if you're gonna spend $1,000, then what really is the difference if you spend a few hundred more and get a computer with a monitor, bigger hard drive, more memory, and better expandability for the future? Sure, you get a machine that works for $1,000. But when technology continues its expanding future, the consumer will be scammed. Those machines will be nothing more than $1,000 doorstops."