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The Windows 10 Hardware Argument

Microsoft has actually integrated quite a few new capabilities into Windows 10 that will benefit from new hardware.


A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.

The release of Windows 10 is bringing with it a range of perspectives on the eagerly awaited operating system and what it means for the future of computing. One of the biggest questions has been around its impact — or lack thereof — on PC sales. As anyone who has watched tech industry news for the last year or so knows, the PC market has hit tough times, with last quarter’s shipments falling around 10 percent year over year, according to market research houses like IDC and Gartner.

As a result, the PC industry is clamoring for something that will help reinvigorate it and drive new sales. In the past, a new Windows OS release was generally cause for celebration in the PC hardware and component business because it typically drove solid boosts in shipments — not always right away, but definitely within a year or so of its release.

This time around, however, things could be different. Microsoft has made it clear that Windows 10 will be completely free for one year after its release to anyone owning a PC running a legitimate copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8. Because of this, some industry watchers are presuming that, instead of buying new PCs as they’ve typically done with major OS transitions in the past, many people will simply upgrade their existing PCs.

Microsoft has actually made this pretty simple to do. The hardware requirements for Windows 10 are extremely low by today’s standards. If you’ve purchased a PC over the last six or seven years, it’s probably capable of running Windows 10. Based on my own experience on several different machines, as well as reading the accounts of many others doing upgrades, the company has done a good job of making the upgrade process smooth and relatively carefree. Of course, we won’t really know until the final bits have propagated out to the hundreds of millions who are expected to make the upgrade — a process likely to take several weeks — but early indications seem pretty solid.

Despite this, I’m still hopeful that the PC industry will see some decent upside from Windows 10, particularly in the fourth quarter of this year and into 2016. The primary reason for my optimism is Microsoft has actually integrated quite a few new capabilities into Windows 10 that will benefit from new hardware. Some are more well-known and more obvious than others, but here are some of the key new functions I think can (and should) drive new Windows 10 PC hardware purchases:

Windows Hello: The new biometric login feature for Windows 10 points the way to a passwordless future, at long last. To take advantage of it, you need to have either a new fingerprint reader or an integrated 3-D camera, like Intel’s RealSense, built into your PC. Down the road, Microsoft is expected to support other types of biometric authentication methods, such as iris scan. In addition, the company is also expected to leverage standards efforts with the FIDO Alliance to extend biometric authentication onto other devices and services. Hopefully, it won’t be long before you can digitally authenticate to your Windows 10 PC from a wearable, and then use that authentication to transparently log you into your online banking site, e-commerce site and more.

Windows Continuum: The Continuum features will make two-in-one devices like Microsoft’s Surface, Dell’s Inspiron 7000 Series, HP’s x360 and Lenovo’s Yoga even more compelling. The OS can automatically adjust the user interface and details like icon sizes, allowing you to easily switch from PC mode to tablet mode. Eventually, Microsoft will also release Continuum-enabled Windows smartphones that will allow you to directly connect your phone to a monitor and keyboard.

Array microphones for Cortana: With Windows 10’s new personal assistant feature, you will likely talk to your computer a lot more than you ever have, and a high-quality array microphone — which essentially integrates multiple pics working in tandem across the front of your PC — can make a big difference in the accuracy of speech recognition.

DirectX12: The latest iteration of Microsoft’s key gaming API comes bundled with Windows 10, and enables an impressive range of new capabilities for PCs with improved graphics — whether it be dedicated GPUs from nVidia or AMD, or even the graphics-enhanced, sixth-generation APUs (code-named Carrizo) that AMD just released. Games that support DirecX12 can now fully support multi-core CPUs, as well as better support multiple GPUs, better leverage GPU memory and much more.

GPU Acceleration: The new GPUs and APUs aren’t just for gaming, either. Many different elements of the Windows 10 UI, as well as video playback, Web page rendering, JavaScript performance and much more now benefit from hardware GPUs. By themselves, none of these elements are game-changing but, taken together, they should provide a much smoother visual experience on new Windows 10 hardware.

Display Scaling: Speaking of displays, Microsoft has also made working with multiple displays and/or higher-resolution displays much easier. Gone are the days of unreadable icons and text on high-resolution screens.

New CPUs: Both Intel and AMD are making important new introductions to their line of CPUs — the upcoming Skylake from Intel and the previously mentioned Carrizo from AMD. As with any new CPU release, the performance will improve, but more importantly, each is expected to offer important improvements in battery life and in the quality of its integrated graphics. Given the growing role of graphics acceleration across Windows 10, these developments are important even for non-gamers.

Wireless charging: An additional benefit that Intel is expected to bring to the table in the early fall is a new chipset platform for its Skylake CPUs that will offer wireless charging using the new Rezone standard on certain higher-end notebook PCs.

Of course, another key benefit of getting a new PC along with a new PC OS is the “clean slate, fresh start.” Most people tend to accumulate lots of “stuff” on their PCs over time — extra applications, files, desktop icons, etc. — and the ability to start over is often one of the nicest benefits of getting a new PC.

Not everyone who upgrades to Windows 10 will need a new PC, obviously, but for those who may be interested and choose to do the research, there are some pretty compelling reasons for buying new hardware. The percentage of those who choose to do so will be a critical metric to watch closely.

Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of Technalysis Research LLC, a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. Reach him @bobodtech.

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