Ask Paul: September 16 (Premium)

Happy Friday! Here’s another great set of reader questions to kick off the weekend before the Windows 11 22H2 launch a bit early.
PC longevity
ErichK asks:

Hey Paul, where do you see PCs in about five years? I ask because a couple years ago I bought a prebuilt Core i7 system from Micro Center, and I'm so happy with it, I can't imagine I would need to upgrade it anytime soon. And it's already so fast... I mean, I got 32 GB of RAM, I run games at 1440p, etc., etc. Sometimes I worry that someday, we're going to need to put 128 GB of RAM in our machines in order to run Outlook.

I don’t think you have much to worry about: Microsoft did raise the minimum requirements for Windows 11 (mostly artificially), but they’re still ridiculously low-end (dual-core processor, 4 GB of RAM, 64 GB of storage) and far below what I recommend (16 GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage minimum). Plus, your PC is upgradeable should your RAM, storage, and graphics (and, to some degree, CPU) needs evolve.

But there are other trends at play here too. For example, PC reliability has gone up dramatically, and that means that PCs will remain viable for longer, both from a real-world usage perspective and from a software perspective; the only thing that could screw the latter up is another Microsoft shift years down the road that would prevent you from installing some future version of Windows on that PC because of its CPU or whatever. But that is unlikely and/or far off.

We discussed a related issue on Windows Weekly this past week when we debated convertible/2-in-1/tablet PCs vs. traditional laptops, and I noted that PC makers make a disproportionate number of these transforming PCs despite the fact that so few need or want those capabilities (smartpen, tablet form factor with touch, etc.) From most buyers’ perspective, I assume these things are aspirational---you never know, maybe I will use those features someday---but for PC makers, they’re higher margin, which I think really explains why it happens. (Don’t misunderstand if you like/need this kind of PC, I’m not saying they shouldn’t exist, only that most people would be better served by a traditional laptop.)

The pandemic created an artificial need for more PCs over the past few years, and we’re seeing that dying down, and PC sales should return to whatever healthy level going forward. So the only way that Microsoft and PC makers can try to generate more upgrade desire going forward is to put some exciting new features into Windows and to make new form factors like folding PCs. The introduction of such things doesn’t impact you and your PC, nor does it impact most people. But they could be a driver for some to upgrade for sure.

But really, the folding PCs of the next five years will be a lot like the Tablet PCs of the early 2000s: interesting, for sure, but it’s not clear whether they will drive a new wave and grow the market. We’ll see, but the Tablet PC failed in that regard. And ...

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