The traditional desktop tower has been the neglected older sibling of the computer space for a long time. As components got more powerful and Wi-Fi became ubiquitous, consumers began switching in droves, first to laptops, then to tablets and smartphones. Because frankly, it sucks to be tethered to your desk or stuck in your den when answering emails and browsing the Web.
But as millions are ditching their laptops in favor of new tablets and phones, the traditional desktop tower is arguably a better choice as a secondary computing device today than it has been in several years. The reasons you might want to buy a desktop today range from the old standards, like performance, upgrade-ability and value, to more modern considerations, like the security considerations of storing all your important files in the cloud.
First, though, let’s look at price:
For most users who don’t prioritize high-end gaming, spending between $600 and $700 on a desktop like this $599 model from Gateway, will get you a system that’s much more powerful than a similarly priced laptop, with comparatively cavernous amounts of storage.
Your desktop will be useful long after you’ve replaced your mobile device a few times.
$600 or $700 is also about what you’ll pay for a high-end smartphone (off contract), and roughly what you’ll pay for a decent convertible laptop. It’s probably more than what you’d pay for a tablet, but $600 isn’t an outrageous amount to pay for a device that will last you for years. And your desktop will be useful long after you’ve replaced your mobile device a few times.
Sometimes, You Just Need a Keyboard and Mouse
Writing long emails or documents on a tablet can be a pain—even if you pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard. Typing for long periods is vastly more enjoyable on a desktop with a large screen and roomy physical keyboard.
Likewise, squinting at spreadsheets is no fun on a screen that’s 10-inches or smaller. And unless you’re a wizard with keyboard shortcuts, you’ll probably much prefer the company of a mouse to help you bounce around those tables.
Things like video editing or file transcoding are best accomplished with heaps of processing power that mobile tablets just don’t have. Converting an HD video file you shot on your phone or other camera to a format that will play on your Roku player could take hours on a tablet—if you could do it at all. But on a decent desktop, it takes mere minutes.
Your Big Bucket of Media
Sure, it’s convenient to store files in the cloud. But unless you’re happy to spend heaps on monthly fees, you probably aren’t going to be storing all your family photos and videos online. And with the increasing frequency of online data breaches and revelations about government snooping, would you even want to store your sensitive files on someone else’s servers to begin with?
Modern desktops are often equipped with one- or even two-terabyte hard drives. That’s plenty of room for a family’s important files, as well as a hefty media collection. Netfix and Hulu are great, but when the Internet goes down, having a collection of your ripped Blu-ray discs that you can call up from the couch over your network is a glorious thing.
You might get by hanging on to a laptop for five or six years (although the battery won’t likely last that long). However, a mainstream tower PC with a desktop-class Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor and 8GB of RAM will almost certainly be powerful enough to handle common computing tasks for the next 10 years or more.
How many laptops do you know from 2005 that are still useful?
Want proof? Every person I know who’s still running Windows XP (which launched in the fall of 2001) is running it on a desktop.
One system in particular, which I built in 2005, handed down to a friend years ago, and just this week updated to Windows 7, is still going strong with its Athlon 64 processor and 4GB of RAM. If I needed to, I could still use that system as my main work machine today. How many laptops do you know that have been around since two years before the launch of the first iPhone and are still useful?
I thought so.
Finally, we come to the old standby argument for the PC tower. That 2005-era desktop I mentioned a minute ago? I dropped a $50 solid-state drive in the thing and it’s faster than it’s ever been. It also has two empty RAM slots and may soon be running on 8GB of RAM (and the motherboard supports 16GB).
If I wanted to, I could spring for a $150 GTX 750 Ti graphics card, pop it in the motherboard in under 5 minutes, and that 2005-era desktop would easily outperform the Xbox One in Titanfall and run modern games at resolutions today’s consoles aren’t even capable of.
I could also add four 4TB hard drives to the same system and turn it into a very capable video surveillance PC, or add a high-end graphics card and turn it into an alt coin mining powerhouse. (It’s worth noting that the latter would have been much more profitable had I done so a couple years ago).
You can upgrade some components (like RAM and the hard drive) in laptops and iMac-like all-in-one desktops. But nothing beats the versatility and upgrade-ability of a desktop tower.
So while a new mainstream desktop tower may not be the first option that comes to mind when you consider what your next computing device might be, it’s an option that’s should certainly warrant your attention—especially if you no longer have a reasonably functional laptop around to do those things that just aren’t easy to do with a tablet, smartphone, or convertible. And while spending $600 may sound like a lot, any decent desktop in that price range will serve you well for much longer than the latest super-slim smartphone or tablet.
If you want to save some money while also choosing exactly the components and features that fit your needs, you might want to even consider building your own desktop. It’s not as hard as it sounds either, especially if you follow along with a handy how-to article on the Web and a site like PC Part Picker.
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