A curious thing about modern computing is that it’s gone almost entirely portable. Tablets and smartphones are growing faster than their laptop counterparts, but the older-fashioned desktop computer still exists and a lot of people still want them.
In fact do not be fooled by the hype: the growth may be faster in extremely portable computers but according to figures from International Data Corporation (IDC) the good old PC has returned to growth. Over 10% more PCs were sold in the second quarter of 2014 than the same period in 2013.
So, why would you opt for a desktop-only model, and what is on offer?
You can divide desktop computers into two broad categories. One is the all-in-one unit, in which the computer appears to be built into the screen. Many people like the styling and convenience, but critics tend to call them “laptops on sticks” with very little scope to upgrade without the help of an expert.
Their chunkier counterparts are the more traditional-looking desktop systems that attach to a separate monitor. The advantages can be many, such as the ability to replace only the computer when it has gone wrong, rather than the monitor as well.
James Morrish, HP’s chief technologist, UK and Ireland, says sales of desktop computers are still strong. “One of the key reasons is the affordability they offer as well as the ergonomics of a larger screen, keyboard and mouse,” he explains. The first of those criteria is worth bearing in mind for home workers and people without a dedicated IT budget in their business; you get a lot more computing power for your money with a desktop system, the miniaturisation required for a laptop is something we take for granted but it comes at a premium. “If portability or mobility isn’t a buyer’s priority then a desktop is hard to beat,” says Morrish. “Desktop PCs can provide more flexibility as they are often easier to configure and upgrade, less likely to be stolen or broken and offer a longer lifespan.”
A quick straw poll of LinkedIn and Twitter users found that a lot of people still like a chunkier computer at their desk. On Twitter, PR manager Craig Coward says he prefers a desktop in the office because of the full-sized display and keyboard without the need to fiddle with USB connections and docking stations. Musician and teacher Darren Pullman was even more precise, saying he used a desktop computer because it had a 27in monitor.
Over on LinkedIn, Cathal Morrow says he prefers a laptop, with Matthew Tyler pointing out that he’d never left a desktop computer on a train. Sharon Sweeney highlighted the issue of touch typing, which she says is more difficult on a laptop.
As mentioned earlier, though, the form is changing. Morrish says: “Style and design are becoming as important for desktops as for other devices such as notebooks and tablets.” However it’s not just looks: size matters as well, says Morrish. “Increasingly, smaller form factors such as micro PCs or all-in-one designs are gaining popularity as they reduce the space taken up on the desk and improve the appearance of the workspace. Additionally, enhancements to the user interface are being made with better display technology and the incorporation of touch and gesture recognition. Overall the user experience with desktops can be a very rich and productive one.”
The design issue has been important for decades but not quite understood until comparatively recently. In the mid-1990s when home computing began to become mainstream, manufacturer Packard Bell started issuing desktop systems with clip-on plastic strips of different colors to match someone’s home décor. The journalists at the launch may have laughed, but appearance is vital now, not only for the home but for reception areas. The Apple iMac appears to be the sleek computing object of choice for many but it’s far from the only one, with Dell’s Inspiron 23 5000 Series Touch coming in as low as &599 on the web and looking very smart, while if you have a keyboard and monitor already, simply opting for the HP EliteDesk 800 G1 Desktop Mini PC will offer change from $450. Apple’s kit is traditionally more expensive and it has just released its “budget” iMac desktop computer with a slightly slower chip than usual at $899.
The cost differentiator in the desktop versus laptop debate is a powerful argument and so is the sheer computing power at a particular price point. There appears to be life in the desktop market yet, and for the home worker who does not need to carry his or her entire office around with them daily, that is a good thing.
One problem with the desktop computer is that you cannot just slip it into your case when you need to remember something. Your work may be behind in the office just when you need it in a meeting.
One answer is to put everything into the cloud. Depending on your levels of trust in their security, a service like DropBox, Google Docs, Box, Microsoft Onedrive or one of the many other online storage facilities can ensure you have access wherever there is an internet connection.
If you need something portable there are numerous thumb drive and larger drives. The Toshiba STOR.E Canvio attaches to your computer and offers 10 gigabytes of cloud storage so you can access the files even when it is at home and you are not.
This is where we come in. Smaller computers take up less room but also encourage untidiness. Anything that can be folded up and stacked can contribute to clutter. However, there are a few solutions if you prefer to go the laptop route. You can get a workstation for your desk that your laptop attaches to. This may or may not include an additional large monitor, a laptop stand, a keyboard and a mouse. Using this will prevent your laptop from becoming one with a pile of documents if it is left at the office.