Take a look at the cover of our launch issue (it’s on page 144) and you’ll see: PCs have changed. A lot. Back in 1995, the term ‘PC’ referred almost exclusively to a beige Windows box, hooked up to a CRT monitor and a keyboard. You might have a connected printer – probably a dot-matrix type – and super-early adopters may even have a dialup modem, perfect for spending hours tying up the home phoneline in order to attempt to hack the Kremlin.
Up until the early 2000s, desktop PCs were more powerful, much easier to upgrade and, partly in consequence, much cheaper than laptops. But over the past decade or so that’s changed. Laptops are close to becoming as powerful as desktop PCs, they start as cheap as the same spec in a desktop, and most peripherals are available in laptopcompatible USB versions, which minimise the need for internal add-on cards.
Given a straight choice, what benefits do desktops offer, apart from a marginally easier upgrade process? And if I can change the hard drive in a laptop (and I can) it can’t be that difficult. Laptops on the other hand – even hulking great desktop-replacements – are more convenient. Even if you don’t want to take one on the train, the biggest laptop is still simple to shift from one room to another. And if it’s that keyboard-and-screen desktop experience for which you hanker? You can have it using your laptop and peripherals, and still have the benefit of portability.
All of which means that it was no surprise when, in the second half of 2008, laptops outsold desktops for the first time. The desktop isn’t going to disappear any time soon, but the trend toward portability is headed in only one direction. Not least because it suits manufacturers: laptops are easier to ship, they can be built and stored in vast numbers, and they are sold as a consumer commodity rather than a confusing amalgamation of parts.
But that’s not the end of the story. Far from it – we’ve done nearly 40 issues since laptops overtook desktop computers. And in that time the trend has been for an ever increasing array of personal computers in ever decreasing sizes. Consider the things for which you use your home computer: email, word processing, web surfing, gaming, photo and video editing, social networking. Each of those tasks can be accomplished on a smartphone or tablet, with a greater or lesser degree of comfort.
As computing platforms and form-factors continue to evolve and diverge, the choice of personal-computing device increasingly becomes a case of horses for courses: smartphone, laptop, netbook or tablet – and which is best for the task in hand, in your current circumstances.
There are still plenty of occasions where a desktop system best fulfils that criteria, but they tend to be workstation-based, editing large media files, crunching numbers and the like, often in an office situation. The days of a household having only one computing device, and it being a desktop PC, are numbered if not gone.