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Shopping for PCs? Ding, dong, the Dock is dead in 2017's new models

The world's big three PC vendors tell us what they expect you will buy this year

By Simon Sharwood, 7 Mar 2017

Yes, PC sales are now moribund. But someone's going to buy about 280 million of them this year. Lenovo, HP Inc and Dell look like being the ones to sell them to businesses, because all have rosy outlooks for PC sales despite the long sales slide across the industry. The Register therefore asked the three companies*, universally rated as the top three vendors by volume. what they've got in store for you this year.

When you shop for PCs this year your theme tune may well be “Ding, dong, the dock is dead” because now that USB 3.1, USB-C connectors and Thunderbolt all play nicely together there's much less need for dedicated hardware to connect a laptop to peripherals.

“With the type of bandwidth we have now, we can eliminate bottom docking and do a cable dock instead,” said Jeff Morris, Dell's Asia Pacific and Japan product manager for commercial clients. This year's Latitude laptops, Dell's flagship range for business, will therefore be shorn of the proprietary port previously used for a dock.

Lindsay Tobin, Lenovo's commercial product marketing manager, said the Chinese company will bring USB-C to all its business PCs this year and will therefore offer USB-C docks. Lenovo will also persist with WiGig docks, which Tobin thinks should do rather better this year.

HP Inc muddies the dock waters a bit with the HP Elite x3 Lap Dock, basically a brainless laptop that relies on an HP phone to push Windows 10 onto its screen. The company will also have more conventional docks to consider.

All of the big three think that USB 2.0 and 3.1 will co-exist in 2017's PCs, because nobody wants to lose touch with the enormous fleet of USB peripherals in which businesses have invested. HDMI won't die, but the clear direction is for Thunderbolt to carry video before too many years have passed.

Everyone's going thinner and lighter in laptops, helped by the cool runnings of Intel's newest silicon. Lots of those laptops will be convertible tablets, which it's agreed will intrigue business buyers this year. Business desktops will keep shrinking: HP recently cooked up a palmtop workstation. Lenovo will persist with its ”Tiny” range, including the modular version that slots into the back of a monitor. That range now includes 22 and 24 inch monitors.

Lenovo's Tobin says that enterprise buyers are now asking for 8GB of RAM more often than not. Dell's Morris says the company used to offer 16GB of RAM only for machines running a Core i7 CPU, but now makes the offer for i5s too and will have lots of machines with options for more RAM. HP Inc's PC category director for the UK and Ireland, Gavin Parrish, feels the standard remains at 4GB. Of course they'll all sell you whatever you want, within addressable limits.

Dell and Lenovo also told us that they'll offer Intel's is-it-RAM-or-is-it-storage product, Optane, once it becomes available.

Consensus is that business machines will offer a 7th-generation Intel Core CPU, solid state disk with an option to add conventional disk for users who require higher storage capacities and 4K graphics. 802.11 AC WiFi will be standard. Nobody's rushing to 10GB Ethernet, but it's an option on top-end machines.

Windows 10 will be standard, but you can have Windows 7 if you ask nicely (and have licences). Even Windows 8.1 can be yours if you insist. Lenovo's anticipating a surge in adoption of Microsoft's latest desktop OS, so has cooked up “Windows 10 ready to provision” that sees a “minimal” version of Windows 10 pre-loaded. Sysadmins can instruct Lenovo machines to adopt Windows 10, and their required standard operating environment, without having to do a full install.

The big three keep trying to offer value-adding special sauce. HP has teamed with Bromium to create a thing called “Sure Click” that promises every browsing session will enjoy “hardware-based isolated” to stop malware leaping from browser tab to browser tab. Lenovo's made its fingerprint readers independent of its PCs' hard disks, so that biometric data isn't on the boot drive. Dell's offering fleet-wide data encryption as part of the Data Guardian security suite.

Vendors keep telling The Register that there's a big PC refresh cycle coming thanks to either Windows 10, USB-C or users' lust for 4k graphics. But the vendors we chatted to seem to be offering thinner-and-more-economical-as-usual rather than anything startling this year. You lot know where the comments are: let us know if there's anything in this year's models that will hasten the opening of your organisation's wallet. ®

* Actually we asked the top four, but ASUS didn't respond.

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