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Hardware: Is There a Reason to Upgrade?

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As fall begins, computer manufacturers hope their new hybrid tablet PCs are powerful enough to move consumers and business.

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MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL A decade or more after the last big wave of computer buying by consumers and businesses, hardware makers are hoping to convince them that it's finally time to upgrade.

The timing is hardly ideal, given the aura of uncertainty about the US economy, signs of slower growth in Asia, and the near certainty of hard times ahead in Europe.

Worse, many businesses and consumers seem to have taken a vow never to replace a device until the old one literally starts shooting flames. This rule, notably, has not applied to the smartphone or the tablet, especially if it's made by Apple (AAPL).

In part, that may be because the new ones looked just like the ones they replace. Maybe they were a little faster, sleeker, lighter, or more powerful, but there wasn't much there to brag about.

That's changing, right now and over the next few weeks. Virtually all of Apple's competitors are hoping to create demand for a product that will combine in one device the functions of the tablet, the laptop, and -- in some cases -- the desktop.

At least two new product introductions common to the non-Apple computing world are forcing this redesign of the basic black or silver box that is the computer. The producers of both these products have the deep pockets to make sure everybody hears about it many times a day from now through the holiday season:
  1. Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows 8 is about to be released for new devices, portable or desktop. The operating system has been thoroughly (if belatedly) redesigned from the ground up for a mobile world, with dual capabilities for touchscreen or keyboard use.
  2. Intel (INTC) is producing new and more powerful chips for a category it has trade-named the "ultrabook," which is intended to suggest laptop speed and power with a notebook's smaller size and weight. Intel is by no means the only chipmaker working on that, but it owns the "ultrabook" tag, and the company is working to make it synonymous with light and speedy.
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