Death of the desktop computer

As laptops have become cheaper and smartphones more common, is the era of the desktop computer over? PAUL WALLBANK

Paul Wallbank Tech Talk blog

By Paul Wallbank

The personal computer revolutionised business. The office of today is a very different place to what it was 25 years ago before the personal computer became common. But the venerable desktop is slowly giving ground to the new breed of cheap portable computers.

Research company IDC predicts this year will see laptop sales overtake those of clunky desktop computers. It’s no small wonder, as portable computers are a pretty compelling buy. For less than a thousand dollars you can get an all-in-one computer that works almost straight out of the box, with no hassle of cables beyond plugging in the power cord. For many people that’s all they want or need.

But it’s not all bad news for the humble desktop computer. Rather than going the way of the manual typewriter, it’s more like the QWERTY keyboard; odd and it’s antiquated, but it gets the job done so we stick with it.

For a start a desktop computer is cheaper; cramming the hardware into the confines of a laptop means the portable will always be more expensive. Despite the price drops, a laptop is still around 30% dearer than the comparable desktop. So budget users are always going to find value in desktop computers.

At the other end of the market, the demands of the power user simply won’t fit in the standard laptop layout. A laptop that tries to do this ends up weighing five times the standard portable with a massive screen.

Not that this has stopped manufacturers trying to sell 8kg laptops with 20” screens. Last year the editors of Laptop magazine took one of these monsters on to the streets and subways of Manhattan to see how they went. You never want to find yourself sitting next to one of these beasts on a plane, even if you are up the pointy end.

Screen size is a big issue for many users; even if your eyesight is good, the ease of using one, or even two, 20” screens beats a 15” monitor any day. When you start plugging these screens into your laptop, or lugging a monster around, you’re defeating the purpose of having a portable.

The plug-in issue extends beyond monitors. Being able to easily replace parts like power supplies and keyboards extends the lives of desktops. I won’t even describe what happens to laptops when the inevitable glass of red wine is spilled on the keyboard.

So on balance, we’re not going to see the end of the desktop computer, but we are going to see portables become more common. I suspect in five years we’ll see laptops outnumbering desktops by a ratio of three to one.

The desktop computer is going to remain the tool of choice for many knowledge workers because that’s what meets our needs and that’s the whole point of technology; to use the tool that best gets the job done.


Paul Wallbank is Australia’s most heard computer commentator. For the last 10 years he has been the resident computer expert on ABC Local Radio and has written five computer books. Paul founded and built up a national IT support company, PC Rescue and has a free help website at IT Queries. Today he spends most of his time consulting and advising community and business groups on getting the most from their technology.

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