I just bought my first desktop in 10 years

As usual, the right tool for the job won out.

Well, my company bought it, but I picked it out. I should say that I willingly chose a desktop over a laptop for the first time in 10 years. My company's CEO was in town for EDUCAUSE and needed a powerful laptop that he could use here in the States and then take back to one of our developers in India who had earned himself some pretty serious speed (he and his team cranked out an iPad app in record time, allowing us to demo it at the conference). Since I couldn't find a 13" or 14" laptop with a second-gen Core i7 and discrete graphics off the shelf in short order, I gave him my Lenovo IdeaPad since that met his performance and size requirements, knowing that I could order a suitable replacement at my leisure.

While my MacBook Air remains my laptop of choice for writing, traveling, and general use, the IdeaPad was my graphics and video machine. Increasingly, I find myself spending a whole lot of time in Adobe CS5.5 and, while my MacBook Air runs it without much fuss, Photoshop, Premiere Pro, and InDesign are just a lot happier with more horsepower. I'd gotten a great deal on the IdeaPad and couldn't justify spending much more than the $900 it cost on a replacement. As I started looking around, though, whether on major OEM sites or on the usual online suspects (TigerDirect, NewEgg, and Amazon), I wasn't finding any comparable deals.

At the same time, I was looking for a bit more screen real estate than 14" could provide. After all, if I wanted portability, I couldn't get much more portable than my MBA. My mouse started drifting towards desktop bargains. I thought about building a system with one of AMD's new Bulldozer chips, but overall, performance tests have been disappointing at best. Building a system with Intel's snappy quad-core Core i7 2600 just kept bumping me above that $1000 mark with the components I wanted and, quite frankly, I just don't have the time to be building computers these days, as much as I really love the smell of new hardware.

Enter NewEgg, with Dell, HP, and Lenovo systems, all under $900, with solid graphics cards and that Core i7 that keeps blowing the doors off 8-core Bulldozers (I know, I know, they weren't tested with the high-speed RAM they support and the comparisons weren't done with them overclocked, but that RAM isn't cheap, nor are beefy power supplies and liquid cooling systems). I finally settled on a Lenovo since I could pick up a 22" monitor to go with it and still stay under $1000.

It's not often that I'll recommend a desktop over a laptop. Notebook prices have dropped considerably and performance continues to increase dramatically. Besides, even desktop replacement models are still at least somewhat portable and there are plenty of times when your computer simply needs to go with you. I have the luxury of having a couple of computers, though. In this case, I just needed maximum speed on a limited budget. An unlimited budget would have netted me one of the HP workstations with which I'm so enamored, but the sort of performance I just purchased can't be had in a laptop (or most desktops, for that matter) within my relatively limited budget.

Ultimately, I just needed something that would be fast and work well for my purposes right out of the box. Two decently sized monitors, number crunching goodness, and professional (if not gamer quality) graphics were necessities. The desktop, it turns out, isn't dead. The market is simply a lot smaller than it used to be, but a bit of looking can turn up some pretty great deals on machines that will more than meet the needs of many creative and business professionals.