Computerized Investing > November 15, 2014

PC Buyer’s Guide 2014

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

Intro

The calendar has made another turn, and it is time once again for Computerized Investing’s annual PC Buyer’s Guide. The trend in the PC marketplace continues toward smaller, faster and cheaper. All of this is an attempt to stave off competition from tablets and, to a lesser extent, smartphones. Research firm Gartner estimates that 229 million tablets will be sold in 2014, compared to 276 million PCs. Next year, it is estimated that the number of tablets sold will outnumber the number of PCs sold.

However, the rumors of the PC’s death have been greatly exaggerated. In some ways, PCs are enjoying a mini “resurgence” as tablets reach a saturation point in developed markets. Research firm Gartner estimates that tablet sales grew by 11% in the third quarter of this year, compared to 55% growth for the same period last year. This slowing growth is attributable to tablet adoption peaking with mainstream users as well as the fact that the upgrade cycle of tablets is longer. Another boost to PC makers this year was Microsoft ending support for Windows XP, including discontinuing security updates. Microsoft was having a difficult time getting users to upgrade from this venerable version of Windows, and ending its support was an effort to move users to newer versions of Windows, especially Windows 8.1. Lastly, there is the reality that tablets, while very useful, cannot fully replace a PC for certain tasks. As someone who owns multiple tablets, along with multiple laptop and desktop systems, I find that tablets and even my smartphone are great ways to consume content. While I do on occasion write articles on my iPad using a Bluetooth keyboard, I still look to my PC for most of my productivity work. Furthermore, many of the investment analysis and tracking programs we use at AAII are not available on a tablet. This is why I think the PC will still be with us for years to come.

That is not to say that worldwide PC sales are growing. Quite the contrary. According to Gartner, worldwide PC sales dipped by 0.5% in the third quarter. However, this was better than expected. For 2014, the firm is projecting an overall decline in PC sales of 6.8%. As a result, we are seeing consolidation in the PC industry. For the first time ever, the top five vendors account for two-thirds of worldwide PC shipments. Sony and Samsung have withdrawn from the PC business and Toshiba has announced plans to restructure its PC business. Even Hewlett-Packard is planning on splitting itself into two companies: one comprising HP’s enterprise technology infrastructure, software and services businesses; and one that will comprise HP’s personal systems and printing businesses. However, the impact to its PC operations is not expected to be significant. Here in the U.S., however, the story is more cheerful for PC makers, as PC shipments rose 4.2% in the third quarter, according to Gartner.

This year, we are timing the release of our buyer’s guide before the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, to offer guidance as you head out for your post- or even pre-Thanksgiving holiday shopping. Whether you are braving the crowded stores or shopping online from the convenience of home, you will find yourself faced with a myriad of choices, including touch-based laptops, more affordable Ultrabooks and a greater array of hybrid two-in-one systems that combine the functionality of a laptop with that of a tablet. Overall, you will find that your computer-spending dollars have never gone further in terms of selecting a processor (CPU), memory, hard-drive capacity or graphics technology.

Having more options inevitably leads to more questions and increases the possibility of ending up with a piece of technology that does not meet your specific needs. The purpose of this annual guide is two-fold: to update to update you on some of the key trends in the computing industry, and to help you make an informed purchasing decision. While numerous buyer’s guides come out around this time each year, ours is unique in that it is intended for those looking for a PC to aid in the computerized investment analysis, research and tracking process. This includes tasks such as portfolio management and tracking, stock and mutual fund screening, and technical analysis and charting. Depending on the level and complexity of the analysis, these tasks require specific software that will only run on certain systems. In addition, the systems we recommend will be able to handle typical everyday tasks such as email, Web browsing, word processing and spreadsheet work.

These recommendations are my opinions, but they are also based on my own experiences with investment software and websites as well as the current trends in the software and computer industries. The systems highlighted here should allow you to run today’s crop of investment-related software titles. However, realize that computing is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Therefore, the system specifications we recommend may be too much computer for some readers and not enough for others. However, our goal is to outline the considerations you need to take into account when buying a new PC for computerized investment analysis so that you can pick the best computer for yourself, for today and the next few years.

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