Dead is a harsh phrase to use when considering the fate of the desktop tower. After all, there are still plenty of them to be found at your local electronics store. Many gamers still swear by them, but it could be argued that the fate of these machines is looking fairly grim.
Sites like Gizmodo have been proclaiming the death of the desktop tower for years. PC Magazine recently ran a story outlining all of the gadget that have added nails to the coffin of the desktop tower over the years, ultimately declaring the desktop dead… and the desktop as its replacement.
Between the advancement of modern processors including the latest Ivy Bridge Core i5 and i7 chips and the improvement in battery life, notebook computers are becoming increasingly reliable for personal and business needs. Even HD video editing, a task previously considered overwhelming for laptop computers is now possible on relatively low-priced hardware.
There are still quite a few benefits to owning a tower. Upgrading components is much easier, as is finding compatible hardware for repairs and/or replacements of individual components to avoid having to buy a new PC altogether.
So, is the desktop tower dead? Have notebook computers come into their own and proven themselves to be the new workhorse? What about all-in-one systems like the iMac or the Dell One?
Downsides of the Desktop Tower
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who wants their desk cluttered with giant boxes. Add a mess of cables to it and you’ve got an unsightly desk hog. The desktop tower comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the general common trait about them is that the footprint is typically larger than the average laptop. Since a monitor isn’t built in, you also have to deal with that in addition to an external keyboard and mouse.
Desktop PCs aren’t portable by definition. You can invest in a special harness to make it easier to transport, but the machine itself requires outlets, space, and an environment suited to hosting a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Meanwhile, a notebook computer can be opened and used virtually anywhere. Tablet computers, arguably the form factor most suited to pushing the laptop into obsolescence, are even more portable.
If you’re big on saving energy, the desktop computer is a hard sell against a tablet, all-in-one, or laptop computer. These options are generally lower powered, though not always. Perhaps the biggest advantage is the need for less plugs in your outlets, which is always a good thing.
Advantages of a Desktop PC
Desktop PCs can still be quite a bit more powerful than their portable cousins in the computing world. The desktop typically gets the most powerful processors, GPU, motherboard, and has the most RAM upgradability. Especially with modern Ultrabooks and products such as the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, upgrades are either unavailable or expensive. Mobile processors have to be low-powered to avoid overheating in the tight space of a portable computer whereas the desktop PC has the advantage of more powerful air and/or water cooling systems.
You can upgrade just about every component of a desktop PC. Swapping out the motherboard, hard drive, CPU, GPU (graphics card), sound card, RAM, or anything else you can imagine is much easier on a desktop PC than on your typical laptop. In fact, most laptops made today have proprietary technologies that don’t allow upgrades unless the products are specifically made for the make/model. Motherboards are often custom-made to fit inside whatever chassis the manufacturer makes for the series.
You can build a custom PC fairly cheaply. Custom laptops are harder to construct and products offered for this purpose are few and far between.
This is a phrase you don’t hear a lot these days, but modifying your PC’s look and feel is still one of the coolest things about owning a desktop computer. I’ve put a lot of time and taken a lot of pride in creating an aesthetically pleasing computer including lighting, windows, and modified fan placements for better air flow. You can even buy cases online that add a little pizazz to your name brand PC, at the cost of the warranty.
When you buy a laptop, tablet, or all-in-one PC, you’re limited to making only a few modifications to the look of the device. You could add stickers or laser engraving to add a personal touch to your system, though.
Do You Need a Desktop PC?
In most office environments, you really don’t need a desktop tower. Workstations have long been built with slightly smaller footprints than their consumer counterparts, but even these systems may be on their way out the door in favor of budget-friendly all-in-one PCs. IT departments love simplicity, and having to service an easily replaced single unit rather than come out to service monitors and towers independently can help.
The vast majority of home users can get by on even the most budget-minded systems out there. Laptops are cheap enough to be considered budget PCs today, though you can always find a less-expensive tower with similar hardware.
Where the difference can really be drawn is in high-performance hardware. Gamers and video editors can find laptops capable of becoming the workhorse PC, but these often come at a price. Meanwhile, you can assemble a fairly decent gaming PC tower for a fraction of that cost.
Whether or not you “need” a desktop tower comes down to your budgetary concerns. When it comes down to it, there really isn’t much you can do with a tower that you can’t do with a laptop or all-in-one solution. With technologies like Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 finally seeing the light of day on laptops, you can bet that just about any addition you could make to your desktop PC can be handled on your laptop, as well.
Laptops can do extraordinary things these days. You can find performance machines with every bell and whistle up to and including dual video cards and retina displays. The form factor of these systems is shrinking as well, making portability an emphasis as well as performance. Perhaps with desktop-class performance coming in a package that weights less than half of what desktop replacement laptops featured just a few years ago, the desktop tower will finally be put to rest for all but the most advanced users.