The desktop market is tricky to read. Market analysts tell us that the segment is declining, with preassembled PC shipments falling compared to ever-rising notebook sales. However, an alternative picture is painted by component manufacturers and retailers, who say that these factors have not had the hugely negative effect that was predicted.
A number of retailers and vendors have said that although sales of preassembled units may have dropped, the market for components and upgrades is a strong as ever, if not stronger. This raises the possibility that most consumers are choosing to upgrade or self build their computers – an activity which is considerably harder for analysts to track and quantify, but no less important.
“We haven’t seen a significant drop in sales for components,” observes Target Components managing director Paul Cubbage. “As you’d expect, components are a key part of our business, and on average we’re up by around 45 to 50 per cent on last year.”
When asked whether a rise in component sales for upgrades and self-building was impacting sales of pre-assembled PCs, Cubbage responds positively: “You’d expect customers to take an interest in upgrades during a recession, which is a really great situation for component retailers and the channel in general. For us – and we might not be the best bellwether for the industry as we’ve had a really good year – we’re seeing a lot of interest in memory, hard disk drives and motherboards.
“If customers are moving away from pre-assembled units towards repair and upgrades, that can only be a good thing, as I think it’s safe to say that a lot of those companies that make them, don’t really do much for the channel.”
VIP’s product manager, Matt Parrish, has also seen a move away from ready-assembled desktops: “There has been a shift to laptops, but a great proportion of laptop sales are coming from the consumers who were previously buying systems directly from the likes of Dell, so it’s actually been good news for the UK channel.”
EntaTech product manager Richard Dolman reports that many customers are taking notice of the importance of cases and PSUs in an effort to make the most of their home computers. He comments: “Generally we are doing very well in the enthusiast market at the moment. However, there are more people taking the media centre concept seriously too, and this market is looking at the noise from their case and PSU combination.
“When looking at a good PSU and case, the user is able to control the air flow through the case and maybe overclock the CPU. This offers the power user extra performance at little to no extra cost as long as they have good cooling.”
Although any discussion about components inevitably focuses on the ‘holy trinity’ of motherboard, processor and graphics card, other parts, such as the case, power supply and cooling, are equally important to the running of a computer.
“The core to any system is the case you house your components in, and the power supply used to run your whole machine,” says Target Components’ purchasing manager, Kelly Coxon. “Investing in a good quality and reliable power supply is invaluable to the speed and efficiency of the general running of your system. Investing in superior cooling and power will allow your graphics card to perform to its maximum potential, while giving you the option to upgrade without causing a drain on your system. Of course, avoiding any chance of overheating problems is essential.”
Overheating can be a key factor in a computer’s performance, especially when high demands are placed on a system. Cooling is therefore an integral, but often overlooked, aspect of a balanced machine.
“Any system’s performance will suffer as the temperature of the components increases,” says Parrish. “This is especially true when overclocking, which is a battle between performance and heat. The more you can cool your components, the higher you can overclock them.
“Effective cooling requires a combination of effective component coolers, cases with good thermal management that allow heat to escape, and efficient PSUs that don’t waste electricity by turning it into heat.”
The key to making and selling many of these items, as with anything else, is education. The average customer may not be aware of the effect that a good case, PSU or cooling system can have on the performance of their PC. Fortunately, issues that previously were an accepted drawback of PC ownership – such as noise and power consumption – are increasingly being challenged by a wider, more discerning customer base.
“The market can be broadly split into two categories: those who want to make their systems run quietly and those who want their systems to run cooler to improve performance,” Parrish says. “The PC as a media centre is becoming more and more popular, so good cooling is vital; no one wants to watch a Blu-ray DVD on their system with a noisy fan in the background. Gamers form a significant part of the market as they look to push performance to the limit; this is where the price tickets are high. We’ve seen incredible growth in recent years in this market on brands such as Thermaltake and Antec.”
Asus’ technical PR and component product marketing manager, Iain Bristow, highlights the benefits of spending a little more on a good case, cooling or power supply: “Liquid tends to be a lot quieter and allows for cooler temperatures, but it’s generally more expensive. Air, on the other hand, is quite simple to install, but does suffer some limitations when overclocking. Cool components with a steady supply of power definitely last longer.”
For Chris Elt, CoolIT’s UK sales manager, the future of PC cooling lies in liquid solutions – his company has developed a sealed liquid cooling system for high performance systems. He says: “All computer components like to run as cool as possible. This is one of the reasons extreme overclockers use dry ice or liquid nitrogen to bring temperatures down way under zero – just to get more performance.
“Keeping computer components cool also makes them run more efficiently. As they get hotter, processors will throttle their performance, meaning they utilize the same amount of power but cannot perform as well.”
Parrish also highlights the importance of a good power supply unit, as a faulty or misapplied PSU can very quickly render a PC unusable: “Most users are unaware that the cheap entry-level PSU in their system is actually costing them a fortune in wasted electricity. Some PSUs convert less than 50 per cent of the electricity they use into power for the PC. Not only is this bad for the environment, but it’s also wasting money. This wasted energy has to be converted into something, and often that will be heat, which then requires a noisy fan to remove it from the components.”
THERMALTAKE EVO BLUE 750W
Thermaltake claims this PSU’s oversized 14cm ball bearing fan dramatically reduces overall PC noise, while active power factor correction reduces heat build-up and energy loss. The Evo Blue also features modular cable sockets with blue LEDs and five user-adjustable LED environmental lighting effects
COOLER MASTER ELITE 334 NVIDIA EDITION
This gaming chassis features an Nvidia-themed side panel with a mechanical design that includes integrated keyholes for security locks. The fully meshed front panel body and 120mm rear fan ventilate while maintaining a silent cooling solution. The built-in front air filter is washable
Distributor: A One Distribution
This ‘eco-friendly’ PSU has active power factor correction and an efficiency of over 80 per cent. The 12cm fan has intelligent autothermal fan speed control to provide precise cooling and silent operation. This unit is PCIe2.0 specification ready, making it compatible with advanced graphics cards
According to Akasa, this fan’s ‘S-flow’ blades supply 30 per cent more airflow than a standard fan at the same speed. The fan also creates more focused airflow, providing blind spot cooling, making it an ideal solution for a case or heatsink fan. The hydrodynamic bearings claim to extend the life of the fan and enhance noise reduction
AKASA FREEDOM TOWER
The Freedom Tower is a multiplatform CPU cooler combining four nickel-plated copper heat pipes with direct contact technology. The white LED 12cm fan with pulsewidth modulation gives a quiet performance with subtle illumination, while the aluminium fins provide rapid heat dissipation
ANTEC NINE HUNDRED TWO
SRP: €130 (approx £116)
The follow on to Antec’s popular Nine Hundred gaming case, the Nine Hundred Two features a perforated front panel with blue LED fan control knobs, built-in washable air filters, and a cooling system with up to six variable-speed fans and eight expansion slots
Distributor: Computer 2000
The Skeleton’s unique design allows for maximum airflow, and features a front fan and a three-speed top fan with multicoloured LED. The component trays are layered for convenience, and the case also has rack-mount side rails. The Skeleton contains four drive bays and seven expansion slots
ANTEC BASIQ BP-430
This power supply unit is aimed at entry-level power users. The quiet-running fan keeps noise to a minimum, while the dual 12V rails provide the system with improved stability
COOLER MASTER ELITE 360
The Elite 360 comes with an adjustable Cooler Master logo, allowing it to be presented in either horizontal or vertical positions. The front panel PSU vent provides ventilation to maintain constant cooling, while the tool-free drive bays enable a quick setup. The case is compatible with ATX and micro ATX motherboards
Distributor: A One Distribution
The Domino liquid cooling system offers three operation settings, ranging from quiet to over-clocking performance modes. It is the only cooler with an integrated display for system status as well as audible alerts if attention is required, while the micro-controller automatically regulates performance for continuous protection
Distributor: Realtime Distribution
The Corsair Cooling Hydro Series H50 CPU Cooler uses liquid cooling for a higher over-clocking performance, but the compact, closed-loop system takes up less room than a traditional liquid cooler. It also features a copper CPU cooling plate and an integrated pump and reservoir sealed for improved leakage protection
This power supply features six PCI-Express connectors for powering multiple high-end graphics cards, and two EPS12V connectors for dual CPU configurations. The dual transformer, dual rail design allows for optimum load balancing for greater performance and stability, while the industrial-grade primary, secondary and solid state capacitors provide a longer lifespan than traditional components
Distributor: Computer 2000
KINGSTON HYPERX COOLING FAN
This fan has been designed specifically for use with Kingston HyperX memory modules to improve performance. It uses minimal power and is compatible with both standard and taller Kingston memory modules. Noise is kept to a ‘whisper-quiet’ 25 DBA
THERMALTAKE ELEMENT G
The Element G is designed for gaming, with a colour-shift fan that changes to six different colours with adjustable speed that can be set to performance mode or silent mode. The case has 12 drive bays
The fan is designed to reduce air turbulence and friction, making for a silent operation, while the copper and aluminium base enhances cooling performance and enables the ISGC-200 to efficiently transfer heat from the CPU directly to the sawtooth dissipation fins