Smaller desktops, slimmer laptops and evolved APIs could reinvent the PC experience, says Videep Vijay Kumar

There’s one word that instantly comes to mind when discussing the modern PC market today: ‘fragmented’. Not only are PC users divided on which operating system they consider best (most of them will tell you that Windows 8 is rubbish, for instance), opinions and loyalties don’t count for much when it comes to picking a hardware component, desktop or laptop manufacturer. Even a true Dell fanboy (if there is such a thing), will most certainly consider an alternative when it’s time to replace his ageing machine — shortened life cycles means that this happens more frequently now than ever before. But is anyone from the manufacturers’ side doing anything to fix this problem of non-standardisation, inconsistent performance and confusing marketing?

If anyone can attempt a quick-fix, it’s Intel. The first step to solving this problem is the easier-said-than-done solution of literally reinventing the desktop — or at least the idea of a conventional PC desktop. Despite the fact that we’re seeing fewer home PCs, the desktop market represents nearly 50 per cent of Intel’s PC business by volume. New processors will hope to change the way the business is currently lumbering along, starting with powerful 4th Gen and 5th Gen (codenamed ‘Broadwell’) multicore CPUs.

But what does this mean to the consumer who couldn’t care less about Ivy, Sandy and other nice lady-names that double as monikers for Intel’s products? For starters, it means more standardised, compact AIO (all-in-one) and mini PCs which look more like iMacs and Mac Minis. The biggest problem has been the sheer inconsistency in terms of appearance and performance, but with slimmer form factors and performance standards, there will literally be lesser product to ‘show’ and better overall experience. The compactness of the platform is ensured by new fabrication techniques allowing for integration into modular, mobile and portable devices in addition to desktops and laptops. ‘Ready Mode’ is something to look forward to as well. It is a technology which allows computers to take advantage of power saving states in 4th and 5th Gen processors, resulting in power consumption equivalent to a “household appliance” (as low as 10 watts), which is a good thing unless you have some industrial machinery tucked away in the guest bedroom.

Improving base level performance

Another key to a better across-the-board PC experience is leveraging existing hardware, and making it ‘do’ more. This is where the recently announced DirectX 12 API comes in. Granted, DirectX has been ‘something you had to update’ to make your PC work properly in the late 90s and early 2000s — unless you were a gamer, in which case you sort of understood why you needed it (to play the latest game, of course).

The latest version of Microsoft’s API promises hardware utilisation that is far superior to what the current API is capable of — particularly, low-level latencies. What this basically means is that existing low-end and midrange PCs sporting two or three year-old graphics cards while running Windows 7 and above (in all likelihood) will experience noticeable improvements in terms of performance. While more powerful PCs are less likely to benefit from DX12, one can take solace from the fact that any compatible device running Windows, be it phone, tablet, desktop or laptop will see its hardware being leveraged just a little bit better using DirectX 12. Gamers, on the other hand, will experience more consistent performance across PCs with different hardware.

Slim and powerful

While consumers struggle to come to terms with the idea of an Ultrabook versus that of a Chromebook, laptop manufacturers have resorted to more basic methods of satisfying their needs: more power, sharper screens, better performance, and slimmer form factor. Battery life has become a prerequisite for laptops to stay relevant in the age of the tablet, particularly since users are willing to make a compromise in terms of short-term productivity versus long-term convenience. The PC business is in a state where there’s a single profitable manufacturer (that’s Lenovo, in case you were wondering). But the future is looking bright. While I’m not entirely sold on the idea of the ‘hybrid’ PC which serves the dual purpose of touchscreen tablet and traditional laptop, I am convinced that users will see value in top-of-the-line performance and longevity. Dell’s XPS 13, Samsung’s Ativ Book 9 Plus (a non-convertible touchscreen laptop) and Razer Blade are great examples of combining the best hardware with sleek form factor. With improved power savings, more compact hardware and more efficient ways of leveraging it, the next generation of devices could reinvent the PC experience as we know it.