A couple of years ago the personal computer (PC) market offered mostly faceless rectangular boxes decorated only with logos, devoid of bright colours or anything that could be deemed as innovative PC casing.
It is heartening to see that computers are now packaged in different colours, not just grey. And that's simply because home users are more picky about their computers that are not just functional devices but a part of ordinary domestic equipment.
While laptops make good sense for home users as they take up less space and can easily be carried from room to room while also be used by different members of the family, but experts often wonder if they can compete against the ease of a full-fledged keyboard and a bigger screen. In that sense, desktops still have the edge in ultimate graphics performance and hard disk capacities.
While Manufacturer's Association for Information Technology or MAIT, the apex body representing Indian IT hardware, training and R&D services sectors, pegged the desktop penetration in the business segment at 18 per cent, it was the household consumption that topped the list.
Domestic consumption of desktops grew 23 per cent, accounting for 26 per cent of the total Indian desktop market, with sales crossing 14 lakh units.
With a revenue base of Rs 10,431 crore from desktop sales alone in 2006-07, players like Acer, Lenovo, Dell, Sony, Sahara, Zenith, LG and HCL, among others, are struggling to balance their retail prices so as to fight the fast penetrating laptop population among home users and the grey market that is known to deliver desktops at prices as low as Rs 10,000.
The PC market, particularly in recent years, has splintered into lots of different segments, each of which offers varying and interesting options.
Even a basic desktop PC today is not only an ergonomic PC with a small form factor (SFF) but is equipped with a full set of ports including USB 2.0 and Firewire, a DVD drive, and supports all high-performance processors and graphics cards in most cases.
LG Electronics, the latest to plan an entry in the home PC segment, hopes to deliver desktops with decent graphics, solid sound system and strong processor speed.
"There should be no compromise on quality and yet it should be priced at a sweet spot of around Rs 21,000, comfortable for average households," says V Ramachandran, director (sales and marketing), LG Electronics.
A home PC actually needs few frills to it. That's because one by-product of technological advances and price drops of the past 10 years is that a budget PC can easily do the majority of things asked of it. Save for playing 3-D games, video editing and intense multimedia work, one can get a capable machine for Rs 18,000-20,000.
For this kind of money, users essentially get a processor like a Sempron 2400 from AMD, an Athlon XP 3200+, maybe even a lower-end Athlon 64 chip. If you prefer Intel, your machine could be a Pentium 4, 2.6 GHz or maybe a faster chip (at an extra cost).
That's ample processing power for any office tasks, for DVD playback and for anything Internet related. In this price bracket, one is more likely to get a small TFT (15-inch) screen and somewhere around 512 MB of RAM (256 MB should be the absolute minimum). A 60 GB hard drive, a CD burner and standard PC speakers, keyboard and mouse will complete the package.
Where the economies are made for the manufacturer is in the graphics department. They assume you won't want to play 3-D games, so rarely give you a graphics card that can handle anything too modern. For many, that won't be a problem, but it's best to know this before you hand over your money.
One growth area in desktop PCs has been the targetted home entertainment machine. These computers can play all sorts of media without you having to go through an elongated switch-on and boot-up procedure.
However, in our view, it is still something of a false economy. You can pay anywhere near Rs 30,000-40,000, which usually gets you a machine with a nice screen, fancy software but limited functionality beyond home entertainment (certainly gaming seems to be a no-no). In case the user decides to go down this route, he can expect to get the Windows XP Media Centre Edition with the machine, and it is easy software to master.
But there are a few who don't want to go the "cheap way". Vu Technologies, a new entrant in the desktop market, is focusing only on premium home and office customers. "We wanted to be different from the barebones PCs," says Devita Saraf, CEO, Vu Technologies.
The company has launched a limited edition of desktops, with the Boss PC having a 22-inch monitor, central processing unit and keyboard for Rs 65,000. "The exclusivity attached works for Indian customers who are looking for the oomph-factor," Saraf opines.
Keep your eyes open for free bundled scanners and printer offers that are the epitome of false economies in almost all cases. One cannot expect great performance from these, as cheap printers guzzle ink like there's no tomorrow. It would be better if you budget for whichever device you need and choose it properly.
Tricks that most vendors use to keep the costs down on the list involves lack of monitor in the price mentioned, not including an operating system, not including VAT in the prices and not including delivery and/or credit card surcharges. Check all these out in advance before you indulge yourself with a new-age desktop.