The Desktop is Dead! Long Live the Desktop!

Is the desktop really dead? Should it be killed? What would take its place?
Written by Scott Raymond, Inactive

Over the past few years, technology pundits have been decrying desktop PCs as dead or dying. It's certainly true that due to the recent bad economy, along with greatly reduced laptop prices, desktop PC sales have dramatically dwindled. As a result the writing is on the wall for the desktop PC that it will soon be nothing more than a fading memory.

This ideology is complete and utter nonsense, and the tech pundits should be ashamed of themselves for being proponents of it.

In many aspects of business, and even consumer usage, the desktop is unnecessary. You don't need a desktop for email, documents, spreadsheets. Programmers usually don't need a desktop for their work. Most mundane tasks can be handled with a laptop, a netbook, and even a smartphone in some cases.

But let's face it -- laptops just aren't as powerful as equivalent desktops. Hard drives are slower. CPUs run hotter, so they can't run as fast without burning up. Graphics chipsets aren't as beefy. And internal expansion and upgrade of components is not an option.

Laptops are static systems. You can add some RAM, you can put in a bigger hard drive. But you can't upgrade the CPU or graphics. You usually can't put in more than one hard drive. You can't replace the screen with a bigger one, although you can plug in an excternal one. Portable computers' main advantage is that they are portable.

The average business worker doesn't need a desktop. They can perform all of their daily tasks on a laptop. They can plug in a keyboard, mouse and monitor and have a desktop-like environment at their desk, and unplug the laptop when they need to be mobile.

With the exceptions noted above, the business community could dump the desktop and save a ton of money on electricity -- the laptop draws much less power than a desktop system. They take up less space, they generate less heat, and they're easy to repair or replace when needed.

Now consider a graphics design shop. They need high-end desktop systems, either Windows or Mac, driving high end design programs. A typical graphics designer or computer artist needs a lot of RAM, a powerful CPU and a high-end graphics card, possibly even a RAID array for storage to provide improved hard drive speed. And quite often they will need to upgrade these components.

While most developers can do their work on laptops, or connected remotely to a server, there are many that benefit from a more powerful system that can compile their applications faster. They need a lot of RAM. Sometimes their workstations need to have the capabilities of servers. A laptop cannot provide this.

What about gamers that need high-end gear to handle the most demanding new games? Sure, they could use laptops, but the work would take longer, and the games would run slower and not look as good. And while that level of gaming may not be necessary, ask any hardcore gamer and they'll debate that point with you to their last dying breath.

The business world, with a few exceptions, can survive without desktop systems. But there are just too many computer users out there that would have to sacrifice a great deal in order to switch to a mobile platform. Until mobile technology improves to a point where the desktop and laptop are on equal footing, there is always going to be a need for desktop computers.

The future holds a great deal of promise for mobile technology. We are already seeing laptops with powerful, quad-core CPUs, with a lot of RAM and high end graphics chipsets. Currently these tend to be a desktop system crammed into a laptop chassis, but the components are still getting smaller and more powerful with each passing year.

However, these devices still have a finite lifespan because they are not modular -- once a laptop is obsolete, you usually can't upgrade the CPU and graphics. Most laptop owners buy a newer, more powerful laptop every 2-3 years. It's wasteful, and the desktop PC still has the advantage in this area.

There's also the question of what comes after the laptop. If we finally move to a more modular computer format, we could have a portable tablet like an iPad that plugs into a larger system -- a hybrid of laptop, desktop and slate computer -- where you dock your slate into a home or office configuration that adds power and capacity that the slate doesn't normally provide.

A good example of this would be the Lenovo IdeaPad U1, a hybrid tablet laptop with removable slate. Taken a step further, that removable slate could plug into an assortment of docking stations where more powerful CPU, graphics and storage would be available. This would not be the death of the desktop, but rather a natural evolution where slate, laptop and desktop converged into a modular system that provided all three.

Does the future of the desktop lie in modular systems? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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