The arrival of a new Intel processor architecture next year, a strong dollar and retailers determined to avoid a repeat of last year's Xmas sales bust is behind early discounting.
The first notebook powered by an Intel Core i3 computer to go on sale for less than $600 kicks off what's expected to the most aggressive discounting season yet seen in Australian computer retail. If you're looking to buy a notebook, the pre-Xmas period and the more traditional post-Xmas and New Year sales are going to be providing phenomenal bargains over the next few weeks.
Retailers are privately describing this sales period as the “crazy zone.” They are motivated by several factors, which have lined up in a kind of rare harmonic convergence of planets. These include:
1. NEW PROCESSORS FROM INTEL EARLY NEXT YEAR
Intel will start replacing the entire current-generation of Core family processors that powers modern notebooks with a brand new line nicknamed "Sandy Bridge," from early next year. This is not a minor refresh but a completely new microarchitecture that gives the CPU much stronger graphics capability and which will supplant current Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 processors. When Sandy Bridge hits next year, retailers won’t want their shelves filled with current-generation stock so they will use this Xmas and New Year period to start shifting stock, using aggressive price cuts as their main weapon. But while Sandy Bridge is a major advance, current processors are no slouches. If you're in the hunt for a new notebook, you won't go wrong getting current, tried and tested technology at the much more favourable prices.
Intel's competitor AMD is also releasing new technology to replace current generation AMD processors. AMD is renaming its new chips APUs (for Application Processing Unit) because they combine processor and graphics cards on a single unit. As with Intel processors, retailers will want most existing AMD CPUs off the shelves by the time Fusion hits.
2. RETAILERS WANT TO AVOID REPEAT OF 2009 XMAS PERIOD
Last Xmas season was a bust for Australian computer retail sales, particularly notebooks. The predicted sales spikes never happened, and the culprit was identified as Microsoft. It launched Windows 7 in October and started telling users this was the OS they had to have - but come December, barely a month later, a large proportion of notebooks on retail shelves still came with Windows Vista, which by then was truly tarred and feathered, including by Microsoft itself. Customers didn't want to buy Vista-powered notebooks and any cash which might have gone to a new notebook purchase went to getting copies of Windows 7.
3. STRONG DOLLAR
Normally the Australian dollar is worth way less than the US dollar. Right now, it's close to parity. A good exchange rate means notebooks don't cost as much to import into Australia and the savings can be passed on by retailers to customers.
WHAT BARGAINS CAN BUYERS EXPECT?
Staff on APC's Notebook Hunter service say you should expect to see notebooks powered by Intel’current generation Core processors dropping by $200-$300, in some cases even more.
As we mentioned earlier, the first 15.6in Core i3 -powered notebook to sell for less than AUD $600 has gone on sale at Officeworks for $599 this weekend (full details on our Notebook Hunter service
). We expect this will be the first of many, which is good news for consumers because a full-sized Intel Core i3-powered notebook will be perfect for basic computing and makes a great computer for a child's homework. When available for less than $600, it starts to become a serious alternative to full-sized notebooks with feebler processors like Celerons and Pentium Dual Cores or AMD Turions. It also a valid alternative to notebooks if you were forced to consider a netbook because your budget did not stretch to a full-sized laptop.
We’ll also see Core i5 notebooks appearing under $700 (some have already) . Anything with a Core i5 in it will be a powerful notebook that will easily cover off every common computing need and still keep plenty of power in reserve - but available at a price level that a few months ago just gave you budget-oriented machines.
And even more astonishingly, we’ll also see the first Core i7 –powered notebooks for less than $1,000. Core i7 are Intel's ultra-powerful processors - the patricians of notebook computing until recently never seen below $1200.
HOW TO APPROACH THE XMAS DISCOUNTING PERIOD
Our Notebook Hunter staff stress that, regardless of what’s on sale, be really clear about the kind of notebook you want. Sooner or later the kind of notebook that meets your requirements will show up in the sales, since retailers eventually have to shift all
notebooks with current-generation Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 chips. What you don’t want is to rush into the first extreme bargain and then end up with something that does not meet your needs.
WHERE TO FIND THE BARGAINS
A good place to start is our Notebook Hunter
website. This is an independent APC service that analyses the notebook market to find you the best technology at the best prices - and this Xmas will be closely monitoring notebook sales. The recommendations and ratings are made by APC staff and are independent of commercial interests. We don't sell notebooks or get commissions - our revenue comes from advertising on the site, which is kept separate from editorial decision-making.
The graphic below shows how to use Notebook Hunter.