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The number of Desktop PC’s purchased by businesses have long been predicted to dwindle as the modern way of working is becoming more and more portable. However, have compact PC’s like laptops, tablets and even mobile phones rendered desktop machines completely obsolete?

Introduction

The fate of desktop computers in the workplace has been a talking point for several years. Experts have anticipated that the use of desktops will gradually diminish in an age where devices (and technology) are so much more portable. Such foresights have proven to be accurate it seems so far, with desktop sales dropping year on year. Conversely though, a number of stats and surveys suggest that the desktop computer is still the primary device used in the workplace. So, is the ‘Death of the desktop PC’ theory accurate?

The introduction of the desktop computer

The first computer that could be considered a ‘workplace desktop’ that could fit on a person’s desk is probably the Datapoint 2200. Released in 1970, this device included a keyboard and monitor and was, as you would expect, stationary.

Throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, desktop PC’s became more and more advanced with IBM, Apple and Microsoft (amongst others) all contributing.

Milestones for desktop PC’s like the development of Ethernet (to connect multiple computers and hardware), colour graphics, operating systems like Windows being introduced as well as microprocessors being used meant desktop computers became more and more essential in the workplace.

Desktop machines would be used for a number of reasons in the workplace including:

  • Communications – Businesses would use desktop machines to communicate via email, instant messaging, conferencing and many more methods to colleagues and external users/clients. This is essential for any business.
  • Research – Whether this be using a particular software application or an online service, a desktop machine could be used to conduct research, collect data, analyse trends and much more to help hit targets and achieve business goals.
  • Managing documents – Whether this be word documents, PDF’s, Excel spreadsheets etc, users have the ability to create, save and share all sorts of documents on desktop machines

However, whilst portable computers did exist during these decades, it wasn’t until the mid-2000’s that growth shifted from desktops to laptops.

Rise of the laptop

Prior to the millennium, laptops did exist, but most were a combination of very expensive and not very portable (due to its size and weight). However, manufacturers like Apple, Toshiba and Dell had released laptops that were becoming more portable, more affordable and more capable.

In 2003, with screen resolution improving, it became the norm to ship laptops out with 17”+ screens, inbuilt hard drives and CD/DVD drives. In the US, such advancements coincided with laptops providing larger revenue streams than desktop machines the same year, according to NPD group.

As time went on, more advancements were made related to the laptop including the introduction of the MacBook Pro in 2006, Windows 7 being released in 2009 (which provided numerous features that would benefit portable devices), SSD’s being developed small enough to fit in laptops including the impossibly thin MacBook Air 2010 model and the introduction of the Thunderbolt connector.

laptop phone tablet person

In conjunction with advancements in portable technology increasing the sales of laptops, the introduction of the Cloud has also had a positive effect.

Essentially, Cloud computing allows you to store data off site (marketed as The Cloud) in secure data centres and data can be accessed from anywhere and from any device that has an internet connection. With this in mind, it is only natural that having the ability to access data from anywhere, anytime is going to encourage users and businesses to look at purchasing hardware that allows for this. As a result, laptop sales continued to increase and even overtook desktops as early as 2005.

Google has also recognised the need to work on portable devices on the move with mobile and tablet traffic overtaking desktop traffic and as a result Google has implemented ‘Mobile First’ which basically means it will look at the mobile version of a website over the desktop version when deciding how high it should rank in Google’s search engine.

Choosing a laptop over a desktop

For a while, a desktop’s primary advantage over a laptop was its potential for more power and its capability of running more resource intensive applications (such as Cinema 3D or various architect design software). The main reason you would choose a laptop over a desktop machine was its portability/convenience.

Nowadays though, even the most compact of laptops pack considerable power and have specs that often match or even better what some desktops can offer. Below are some reasons why a business would choose a laptop/portable device instead of the traditional desktop computer: 

  • Performance – As the years have gone by, laptops have slowly but surely caught up with a desktop’s ability to provide power and speed, combined with its portability. The specifications laptops come with now are very good and some can compete with even the best of desktop computers. This is possible due to advances in technology including vendors building components specifically for portable devices (such as smaller processors and SSD’s).
  • Portability – The biggest determining factor when choosing a laptop over a desktop is portability. Desktop machines are stationary and permanent in the office, whereas laptops, tablets, phones etc can all be taken with you wherever you go at the drop of a hat - so you can work anywhere. This seems to be how companies are working today and trends suggest it will continue.
  • Price (to an extent) – Laptops and mobiles seem to be getting more and more expensive, however, if it is just browsing the internet, checking emails and watching YouTube videos you do then inexpensive tablets are easy to find. Chromebooks for example can be as cheap as £150 and allow you to do all of the above, on the move.
  • Connectivity – Laptops have a number of different ways of connecting to the internet. Whether that be via an ethernet cable, WIFI (via its wireless network adapter), 4G SIM or just tethered with a mobile phone. Some of these methods can be achieved on a desktop computer, but these options often don’t come as standard and you wouldn’t experience the full benefit of these methods due to it being stationary.
  • Accessibility – You can access information, documents etc immediately as the laptop can be taken anywhere with you - thus improving productivity.
  • Eco-friendly(ish) – Portable devices are generally more eco-friendly as they can operate on a battery rather than be constantly connected to the mains. However, it must be noted that although it will be using less power, users can tend to leave laptops running over night or kept constantly charging when not needed. So it is important to be as eco-conscious as possible when using laptops.

Fighting desktop PC’s corner

Whilst there can be no doubt that laptops can now combine both convenience and power, desktop machines do appear to still be relevant – for a number of reasons. Some of them are listed below: 

  • Customisability – With laptops being smaller and more compact than desktop machines, naturally, desktops are going to have a bigger scope for additional ports and components. It is also generally easier to upgrade a desktop’s components compared to a laptop as laptops are built so compactly it makes it difficult to replace or upgrade things like RAM, whereas desktops give you a lot more room to manoeuvre and often make it easy to remove the casing to get into the computer.
  • Power – Whilst laptops can provide a lot of power now, desktop PC’s still have ability to offer even more. This is down to the fact it is not running off a battery, and also the breadth at which it’s components can be upgraded/expanded.
  • Longevity – As desktops are generally built to be more sturdy and easier to repair, the lifespan is longer than that of a laptop. Due to the laptop’s portability, users tend to not look after them properly with machines not being shut down properly, updates not being installed and with it being on the move all the time it will no doubt be exposed more to the possibility of physical damage.
  • Specialisation – Similar to customisability, for resource intensive and power draining apps that carry out functions like video edits, 3D modelling and software development, desktop machines can cope with such demands better than laptops. This is down to a combination of being powered directly from the mains and also being able to increase the number of components under the hood (eg multiple graphics cards, more storage etc).
  • Price – Whilst the really top tier desktop machines can be expensive, if you just needed a reliably quick and fairly powerful computer that never needs to leave the office, then the cost of a desktop compared to a similarly powerful laptop, will come in at a lot cheaper.

 Statistics also show that desktop PC’s still exist in the workplace, and in fact, most businesses prefer them. A study carried out by Spiceworks found that 68% of businesses still use desktop machines as their primary device.

Conclusion

 The most important thing for businesses is that you choose the device that best suits your needs. A laptop may be necessary if you are often jumping from one building to another and you therefore need to be working on the move, but if you are fairly stationary and find yourself only really doing work in one office, then perhaps a desktop machine is the ideal choice for you.

Whilst there is no doubt that the use of desktops has declined and the rise of more portable devices has risen in the workplace, it probably isn’t fair to say desktop PC’s are obsolete. However, trends suggest laptops are steadily becoming the majority, so desktops should cherish its relevancy in an ever mobile-centric world.