Desk­top com­put­ing

Tech Advisor - - FEATURE -

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.

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