The last two years have seen a slow but steady decline in the price for PC notebooks, with the average cost dropping from $530 in January 2010 to $456 in December 2011, according to U.S. sales numbers compiled by Market Research Firm NPD. Although a sharp drop to just $407 in November is undoubtedly due to steep Black Friday sales, the overall decline points to a glut of cheap laptops combined with user demand for the lowest priced systems.
The average U.S. notebook price overall, which includes Macs, has risen and fallen over the past 24 months but now sits at a much-higher $631, about the same average as in January 2010 ($635). Clearly, Macs have been able to hold their prices even as PCs have gotten cheaper and cheaper. The least expensive Mac notebook is still $999, while Best Buy alone sells two dozen PC notebooks for less than $400 on its website.
Deron Kershaw, a notebook market analyst for Gap Intelligence, said the decline in PC notebook prices is particularly impressive because most of the low cost systems are not netbooks. "It's the 14- and 15-inch laptops being aggressively priced," he said. "In the US retail channel, netbooks account for just 4.6% of all models now, compared to 15.4% last year."
How much notebook can $456 buy you these days? Searching around the web today, we were able to find a number of sub-$456 notebooks with Intel's 2nd generation Core i3 CPU on board. Bestbuy.com offers an Acer Aspire AS5742 with a 2.4-GHz Core i3 CPU, 15.6-inch screen, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive for just $399. HP is currently selling a 14-inch Pavilion G4 notebook with a Core i3 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive for only $454.99.
Although declining PC notebook prices may be good for the consumer, manufacturers are less thrilled. In the face of shrinking profit margins, manufacturers such as Acer, ASUS and HP are turning to Ultrabooks to buoy the average price of laptops.
"The retail market continues to focus on high-volume SKUs, which right now are the $399-$499 full-size notebook segment," said Stephen Baker, director of industry analysis at NPD. "The reason the industry is looking for Ultrabooks to be a game changer is to help stop this cycle and create a more stable market for mainstream consumer notebooks in the $500-$800 price range."