Planning Hardware Upgrades?

Many corporate PCs are nearing end of life as budgets are opening up a bit. eWEEK Labs recommends what to look for when evaluating client hardware.

Four years after Y2K and the end-user hardware upgrades it inspired, IT decision makers again face a major refresh of desktops and notebooks.

Cautious spending attitudes will continue to prevail in most industries, but PCs purchased prior to 2000 have long since reached the end of their life cycles. While many organizations began upgrading hardware last year, price erosion and a greater push by vendors to justify the return on investment for mobile computing will be big drivers this year as IT buyers begin desktop and notebook refreshes.

Although it is still too early for optimism regarding 2004 IT spending, positive economic news and GDP (gross domestic product) growth will drive IT managers to spend modestly more than last year on IT overall—an estimated 1.7 percent, according to Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.

Desktop and hardware vendors eWEEK Labs spoke with said they have seen renewed interest in spending on end-user hardware. In addition, in a survey by Forrester of 818 technology decision makers in North America, more than 40 percent of enterprise IT buyers said they considered new end-user hardware and Windows upgrades to be a priority for this year. The report was released in November.

Although IT executives are cautious about their 2004 spending forecasts, Forrester is projecting that pent-up demand for replacement PCs will push hardware spending into positive growth for the first time in four years—jumping from an estimated $77 billion in 2003 to $84 billion in 2004.

This is not to say that IT buyers will be spending frivolously. Rather, they are hunting for bargains and pushing vendors for the best deals possible.

As evident in a recent conversation with eWEEKs Corporate Partner Advisory Board, IT buyers are still looking for performance at the best price.


Roundtable: See what eWEEK corporate partners had to say.

"In general, were looking at early next year as being a very conservative time for buying," said Gary Gunnerson, an eWEEK Corporate Partner and IT architect at Gannett Co. Inc., in McLean, Va. "And well do what we always do, which is go after the best-bang-for-the-buck machines."

Vendors say IT buyers are looking for systems that ease user frustration, decrease IT costs and increase productivity. Flexibility in the hardware infrastructure—as provided by docking stations, power adapters and peripherals that can be used across the board by different products—is also in demand, vendors said.

Executives at IBM, Dell Inc. and Toshiba America Inc. say 2004 hardware lineups will support better compatibility. Dell, for example, is pushing across-the-board peripheral and power adapter compatibility among its Latitude desktop and notebook offerings.

Interest in lightweight mobile computing devices remains focused on Intel Corp.s Centrino platform. The platform, which includes the Pentium M and the Pro/ Wireless 2100, Intels integrated wireless networking solution, made its debut last year.

With better battery life and faster processing speeds, Centrino-based laptops and Tablet PCs are something to be excited about. Interest in such systems will likely pick up when Intel releases a dual 802.11b/g Wi-Fi chip for its Centrino platform this quarter.

Sumit Agnihotry, product marketing manager for the notebook business unit at Acer Inc., in San Jose, Calif., said his company plans to release the new Wi-Fi chip in its TravelMate TM C300 Tablet PC line as soon as the chip becomes available. Toshiba is expected to follow suit with its Portégé lineup.