2015 wasn’t a bad year for computer enthusiasts. Intel released its new Skylake processors, AMD and Nvidia introduced several excellent high-performance video cards, and Microsoft put out Windows 10. This trifecta has made 2015 an excellent time to upgrade from an older rig.
Yet not all is well. Despite these advancements, PC shipments have continued on a slight downward trend, and several scandals, like Lenovo’s adware drama, have tarnished the market’s reputation. Let’s take a look at the companies that came out ahead, as well as those that are hurting.
Despite a misstep related to insecure support software, Dell finished 2015 strong thanks to the debut of several excellent systems. The XPS 13 and 15 form a dynamic duo of high-end systems that’s hard to beat, rivaling even Apple’s MacBook Pro in quality. Yet the company also has affordable systems, like the Inspiron 15 7000, and its monitors are the king of the hill.
Its excellent systems have helped Dell secure a comfortable 3rd-place position globally, and 2nd-place position in the United States. Its shipments in the third quarter of 2015 showed global growth, while the market overall declined almost eight percent. Dell is also far along the difficult path of transitioning from a focus on PC production to a broader focus on computing as a whole, covering the spectrum from consumer to enterprise, as well as providing servers and cloud services.
Most importantly, Dell is the only major PC builder besides Apple that has shown a consistent commitment to quality, which is why the XPS 13 earned our Best of Computing 2015 award.
It was tempting to place Lenovo in this slot, given the Superfish fiasco, but the company saw strong growth in the PC segment, and builds some excellent products – areas HP suffers in.
HP recently split into two companies, HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprises. This split is a problem for the former, because it forces the newly minted company into a very narrow category of consumer PCs and printers. It’s also cause a drop to number two in global sales. HP still ships the most units in North America, but its lead is slipping there, too.
A look at the company’s rigs makes it easy to see why. HP’s line-up is full of mediocrity. The HP Omen is not the best gaming laptop, the Spectre x360 is not the best 2-in-1, and the HP Stream 13 is not the best budget PC. Despite its size, HP looks like a house of cards. The slightest disturbance could topple it with shocking speed.
Nvidia has been on a tear. The company’s GeForce division has executed a strategy that combines frequent architecture updates, a focus on efficiency, and useful value-added software. The company has a solid video card available at almost every price point, and its high-end cards are almost untouchable. Every single gaming desktop we received for review this year had an Nvidia card in it. That’s not the result of a vast conspiracy – it’s the result of GPUs that serve superior performance with surprisingly low power draw.
The company has also continued its effort to branch out. We were impressed by the performance of the Tegra in Google’s Pixel C, and its hardware debuted in Tesla’s Model X. It seems nothing can stop the green team’s ascent.
AMD’s past half-decade has been rough, but 2015 was particularly harsh. All the news coming from the company’s investor relations department looks bad. Operating income is down, revenue is down, margins are down.
That’s translated to disappointing products. AMD’s biggest debut of 2015 was the Fury X, an innovative liquid-cooled video card that featured the world’s first implementation of High Bandwidth Memory, but it ultimately failed to beat Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 980 Ti. AMD’s processors, meanwhile, remain uncompetitive against Intel across a broad range of price points, and particularly poor for gaming systems, where lower efficiency at the same clock rate really holds the red team back.
It’s hard to see any way to right the ship. Less income means less to spend on research and development, which is what AMD needs to get back in the game. A buyout or investment from a larger company could be its only hope.
Windows 10 was a big deal. After the disastrous Windows 8, which alienated both everyday users and hardcore PC enthusiasts, Microsoft needed to prove it still understood how people use the desktop. Fortunately, the latest version of Windows did exactly that, and introduced some innovative new features. Now that we’ve used Task View, it’s hard to imagine going back to an OS without it.
Microsoft also scored points with its Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book hardware. Both systems are attractive, portable, surprisingly quick, and make a strong argument for the company’s vision of Windows. They focus on productivity, yet are also capable when it comes time to sit back and relax with an eBook or streaming video.
But Microsoft’s triumph on the desktop has been hampered by Windows 10 Mobile. It’s the same story as with previous versions of Windows for phones. The company made big promises its BUILD conference, boasting support for a full desktop environment, and unveiling projects that could bring compatibility with Android and iPhone apps.
Those promises haven’t held up. Windows 10 Mobile can run a desktop, but it can’t yet run x86 applications, and it’s not clear when the promised porting tools will be available. Project Astoria, that would allow emulation of Android apps, has been delayed indefinitely. Project Islandwood, which will help developers port from iOS to Windows 10 Mobile, is still in progress, but the release window remains unannounced.
The company has also suffered issues with Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book firmware support, and made OneDrive users angry when it unexpectedly decided to reduce storage for both free and paid users. These problems have offset the positive feelings the company earned with Windows 10.
This list doesn’t hold many surprises. While 2015 was great for the PC faithful, it wasn’t strong because of nimble new start-ups. Instead it was the big companies that made news, sinking or swimming in stormy waters.
That may soon change, however. VR headsets will debut within the first few months of 2016, and the major competitors – Oculus’ Rift and HTC’s Vive – will be tied to the computer. We’re excited to see how that spurs new, innovative tech in the PC space.