Steve Jobs piqued consumer curiosity when he unveiled the iPad and declared “the post-PC era has begun.” And now with the imminent release of Windows 8 RT tablets—low-powered slates running a touch-friendly version of Office—it might seem that perhaps the world actually can live without desktop computers.
It’s an intriguing proposition, but don’t count on mobile devices killing off your desktop PC any time soon. While mobile gear is certainly convenient when you’re trying to conduct business on the go, it’s nowhere near as convenient as a desktop when you’re trying to complete serious work in an office environment.
Sure, your phone, tablet or even laptop might conveniently fit in your pocket or backpack, but all these devices are fraught with compromises, whether it’s computing power, screen size, or, well, a really expensive price tag.
No, friends, the so-called post-PC world is not yet upon us. But if you’re still not convinced, here are ten reasons you shouldn’t give up your desktop any time soon.
Desktop PCs are cheap
Desktops are cheaper than laptops—both when you buy them new, and when you have to make repairs. There are a few reasons for this, but the main reason is that mobile components are more expensive, because they’re, well, smaller, and expensive engineering is required to make them fit inside your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
Desktop components don’t have to be nearly as small or fit together like jigsaw pieces, because a roomy desktop tower is a heck of a lot larger than even the most generously sized laptop.
Of course, to be fair, you pay for more components when you purchase a laptop—you’re also purchasing a screen, keyboard, and trackpad. But, of course, you can pick up a keyboard and a mouse for around $5 each, and a decent 24-inch monitor can cost as little as $50.
But laptops usually cost at least (if not well over) $60 more than corresponding desktops. For example, a Dell XPS 8500—which has a third-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive, and an AMD Radeon 7570 discrete graphics card—costs $799 on Dell’s website. Meanwhile, a similarly-equipped Dell Inspiron 14z laptop—with a third-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and an AMD Radeon HD 7570M graphics card—costs $999.
Desktops are more powerful
Desktop processors are more powerful than corresponding laptop processors. And I’m not even going to get into mobile ARM processors (that is, the processors running in most phones and tablets), since the comparison is laughable. Let’s just say this is a case in which size definitely matters.
Laptop processors are not only smaller than desktop processors, they’re designed to use less energy and produce less heat. There are a several reasons for this: First, laptops usually run on battery life. Because of this, mobile processors are designed to conserve battery life. Second, laptop processors are fitted into a tight, closed chassis, and surrounded by a couple of small fans—and they’re still prone to overheating.
Desktop processors, meawnhile, are lucky enough to sip an endless supply of juice from a wall outlet, and they can be surrounded with fans or even a liquid cooling system to keep their temperatures down. Thus, they’re not only more powerful, they can also be easily overclocked to run at even higher speeds.
You can plug a ton of peripherals into desktops
Let’s say you want to plug in an external mouse and an external keyboard. Can you also plug in a USB-connected headset? If you’ve got a laptop, probably not.
As laptops get thinner, port offerings decline. Most laptops these days have a couple of USB 2.0 ports, though higher-end systems might throw in a USB 3.0 port here and there. Most tablets have one USB 2.0 port (except for the iPad, of course, which boasts a whopping total of zero USB ports).
Desktops, on the other hand, usually have a minimum of four USB 2.0 ports, and most have many more. Plus, desktops have tons of other connectivity options that only the highest-end, most gamer-oriented laptops might include—these options include eSATA, VGA, DVI, HDMI, and multiple audio lines.
You get extra screen real estate with desktops
Studies have shown that more screen real estate can make you more productive (or more productive at being unproductive). Need more screen real estate? This can be accomplished in two ways: with a larger screen, or with multiple monitors.
The largest laptop screen you can find on the market is 17.3 inches, and it’s huge—for a laptop, that is. But a 17.3-inch laptop screen is nothing compared to a 20- or 24-inch stand-alone monitor. Plus, a 17.3-inch laptop is usually too bulky for you to tote around comfortably, which means your laptop may essentially become a desktop.
Most laptops don’t support multiple monitor set-ups, though you can try USB-powered displays or using your tablet. Desktops, on the other hand, are built for multiple monitor setups and, depending on your graphics card, you can support two or three or four (or more) monitors for maximum productivity or maximum gaming.
You can play (real) computer games on desktops
Okay, to be fair there are gaming laptops out there, and they’re not bad. For example, the Alienware M17x R4 features an Intel Core i7-3720QM processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M discrete graphics card. But can it really compare to a gaming desktop, such as the Maingear Shift Super Stock, which houses an Intel Core i7-3960X processor and three AMD Radeon HD 7970 graphics cards? I don’t think so.
Graphics-intense PC games put systems to the ultimate test, as they require as much processing- and GPU-power as possible. And, let’s face it—you can stuff three graphics cards into a desktop tower (plus liquid cooling, an awesome sound card, and, hey, even some extra gaming peripherals). On the flip side, a hardcore gaming laptop can accomodate just one measly (albeit sometimes moderately powerful) graphics card—and that’s inside a device that’s barely even portable.
Next page: Don’t forget about repairs…
Fixing a desktop is easy
Three years ago, the graphics card in my husband’s laptop died. We’re still not sure what happened, but all of a sudden, the screen started artifacting and displaying colorful squiggly lines, making things generally unreadable. He took it to the Apple store (it was an old MacBook), and they opened it up and told him the repair job would be expensive.
Total cost of repairs: $800.
Two years ago, my graphics card died. Nvidia posted a faulty driver; I was playing a game at the time, and before they could correct the driver (a mere 24 hours later), my card overheated and fried. I went to Best Buy and picked up a new (non-Nvidia) card and replaced it myself in about 10 minutes.
Total cost of repairs: $80
The moral of the story: If a desktop component craps out on you, it’s easy to purchase a new one, whether it’s a graphics card, the monitor, or even the processor. But if a laptop component craps out on you, well, good luck.
You can use creative software efficiently on a desktop
Sure, today’s laptops can run creative software, such as Adobe Photoshop or Premiere—but you won’t enjoy your time with these applications when fighting with your laptop’s trackpad or puny screen real estate. To be used efficiently, creative software requires a powerful processor, a high-end graphics card, lots of screen real estate, and peripherals—a keyboard, a mouse, and maybe even a drawing tablet.
A laptop with the required specs would either be insanely expensive or physically impossible (in the case of a much-larger screen). A desktop with decent specs, however, will be able to run this software just fine.
You can recycle a desktop as an NAS device…or a fish tank
When your laptop or tablet dies, it can be recycled as a laptop- or tablet-like device, such as a kids-only laptop, or a kitchen-only tablet. In other words, your recycling options are limited. But desktops can be recycled into a variety of different uses, such as a home server or as a network-attached storage (NAS) device.
If you’d rather not repurpose your desktop as a machine, you can always clean it out, sell your parts on eBay, and turn the tower or old monitor into a fish tank. (If you truly need the power, you can also turn an old fish tank into a mineral oil-cooled desktop.)
Granted, you can send your older laptop into the garage for handy weekend DIY instruction-checking or give it away, but creative alternative uses for laptops are much more limited than for desktops.
Desktops are secure and they last a long time
Desktops are not portable. Not portable at all. And this is a good thing when it comes to security and durability. Because desktops don’t move very much—if at all—they’re fairly secure from theft. There’s pretty much no chance that you’ll lose your desktop on the train, or that someone will steal your desktop from the library. And even if someone happens to break into your house, they’re unlikely to take your desktop, which has to be unplugged from the wall and transported with all of its attached peripherals to be of the most use to your thief.
Also, because your desktop never moves, it never gets bumped or dropped or scratched in your bag. A desktop can easily last several years—more if you’re upgrading it piece-by-piece—while a laptop will often fall victim to an unfortunate spill.
By comparison, building a laptop is…tricky, if not impossible. Components are more expensive and less powerful, and you have to get them to fit inside a laptop chassis. There’s pretty much no chance you can build a laptop from the ground up, either—you’ll have to pick out a bare-bones laptop and upgrade it as much as the chassis allows.
Long live the desktop!
Don’t get me wrong—laptops, tablets, and smartphones are undeniably essential to most people’s modern-day lives. But as long as desktops are cheaper, more powerful, and more versatile, they’ll always have a place.
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CPUs and Processors
Sarah is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She has a love/hate relationship with social media and a bad habit of describing technology as "sexy."
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