The desktop PC doesn't get a lot of respect these days. Laptops began outselling desktops years ago, and now tablets and smartphones are all the rage.
So what does that make the venerable desktop?
If you answered "A doorstop," you're wrong, oh cynical one. Why? Despite its declining popularity, the desktop computer has many advantages over its clamshell counterpart. Here are ten good reasons to buy (or build) one.
You Get More Bang for Your Buck
Go ahead--compare a desktop and laptop with similar prices. Invariably the desktop will have a faster CPU, better graphics hardware, a larger display, and more storage.
Case in point: Compare Apple's $1500 iMac and the company's $1500 MacBook Pro. The iMac has a 21.5-inch display, a 2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, and a 1TB (7200-rpm) hard drive. The MacBook Pro has a 13.3-inch screen, a lesser 2.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 CPU, and a 500GB (5400-rpm) hard drive.
If you don't need a computer designed for the road, why not grab all the power you can?
Vive la Différence
You'll find more variety among desktop designs, from business-friendly minitowers to slim all-in-ones such as the iMac or the Dell Inspiron One Touch to spooky ET-inspired gaming rigs like the Alienware Aurora-R3. With laptops, your choices are limited to slight variations on the conventional clamshell: compact (netbooks), ultrathin (the MacBook Air and competitors), and the traditional notebook with an optical drive.
More Simple to Troubleshoot
A desktop is a lot easier to repair or upgrade. If something goes wrong, you can quickly use Google (okay, Bing also) to search for the solution, and then pop open the desktop case and investigate. Busted Blu-ray drive? Swap it out. Need a bigger hard drive? Add a second disk to an open bay. Coffee-damaged keyboard? Buy a new one. A laptop repair, in contrast, often means shipping your computer to a service center.
A desktop display allows you to go big. Really big. Want an Apple Thunderbolt Display with a 27-inch LED-backlit screen? A 46-inch Samsung SyncMaster? Buy a desktop. Of course, you can use a monster monitor with a laptop, but most people don't need two screens. And in case you're wondering, big-rig laptop displays typically max out at 18 inches or so.
No Battery Woes
Too obvious? Perhaps, but still worth a mention. According to Dell's Laptop Battery FAQ, the typical laptop user will experience a "noticeable reduction" in battery run time after 18 to 24 months of use. (In my experience, it's more like 12 months or less.) Replacement batteries are expensive too, ranging from $136 (six-cell) to $156 (nine-cell) for some Dell Inspiron laptops. The desktop PC owner is free of battery worries--well, unless he or she owns a laptop as well.
Better for Gaming
Choosing a desktop means having extra cash for all the games you want to play. Say you've budgeted $2000 for the ultimate gaming rig. Dell's Alienware Aurora $1700 desktop bundle comes with a 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600K processor, a 23-inch HD widescreen monitor, an AMD Radeon HD 6870 video card, and a 2TB hard drive.
Compare that with the $2000 Alienware M18x gaming laptop, which comes with a 2.2GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 560M graphics card, and a 500GB hard drive. That's right: Not only is the Aurora desktop a more powerful beast, but it also costs $300 less. Bottom line: The desktop owner can spend three Benjamins on games without busting the budget.
Massive Storage Capability
As the above examples show, desktops offer more storage for less dough. The $450 HP Pavilion p7z desktop--without a monitor--comes with a 1TB (7200-rpm) drive. But the pricier HP Pavilion g6s laptop, at a cost of $775, has a smaller and slower 750GB (5400-rpm) drive. Of course, you could buy a cavernous external drive for your laptop for less than $100 (a good plan for backups, by the way), but there's no denying that the desktop is the storage king.
A Desktop Should Last Longer
Table tumbles, drop kicks, and hard knocks? Possible, yes, but less likely with a desktop. And you can always add RAM, toss in a Blu-ray drive, upgrade the CPU, insert a new graphics card, and so on to slow your desktop's inevitable march toward obsolescence.
Extra Cash for Other Gadgets You May Crave
Buying a powerful yet affordable desktop means having more money for other tech gear. Need a no-frills PC for the road? A cool $200 will buy a low-end netbook such as the Asus Eee PC X101, any of a few basic laptops, or one of several inexpensive tablets--the Amazon Kindle Fire, for example.
Build One Yourself
It's easier than you think to assemble a desktop PC. Choose a chassis with plenty of room for expansion, and then mix and match components that best suit your needs. Option B: Construct a compact, energy-efficient computer. Sure, you could build a laptop too, but the menu of options is far more limited.
[Related: My $200 Laptop Can Beat Your $500 Tablet]