Is the Desktop PC Disappearing?

Heading home for the holidays in college was always an ordeal for this desktop diehard.

While my friends dropped their laptops into messenger bags and walked out the door, I was still under the desk unhooking an ungodly tangle of monitor cables and USB cords, coughing on dust, and looking for enough dirty laundry to pad my fragile LCD monitor for the trip home.

It occurred to me, at some point, that it really might be better to just cave and invest in a laptop. I did, not long later, and never looked back. In fact, at this point, my home desktop has been broken for months, but I haven’t bothered to fix it because my trusty laptop gets me by just fine at home, at work, and on the road.

Is the Desktop Disappearing?As you may have noticed, I’m far from alone in my newfound laptop love. Sales of these devices have been steadily rising for years, and according to research firm Current Analysis, they officially outsold desktops for the first time all the way back in 2005. IDC Worldwide even predicts notebooks will outsell desktops in the U.S. by more than two to one in 2012. With such an optimistic forecast for notebooks, is it finally time to say goodbye to the desktop we know and love?

Not likely. Though notebooks have gone from specialized machines for business travelers and mobile workers to more affordable, consumer-oriented commodities, there will never be a replacement for the traditional desktop computer. Here’s why that clunky box under your desk is here to stay.

First, notebooks will never be able to close the barrier in price and performance that now separates desktops from their more compact cousins. Though you can order a modern desktop replacement that will run side by side with a midrange desktop gaming computer, the portable version is going to cost nearly twice as much. And if you’re the type of early adopter willing to spend thousands on a cutting-edge gaming machine, there simply is no notebook equivalent that delivers that type of power. As long as hardware keeps advancing, desktops will always have the new stuff first, and cheaper, because designing without power or size constraints allows breathing room for all sorts of innovation.

Second, you’ll also find no substitute for the behemoth monitors, full-size keyboards, mice and even speakers (with bass!) you can get on a desktop. Processors, RAM, and other silicon guts can get more and more compact, but bigger will always be better for human interfaces, and that won’t fly in a machine that has to close down to the size of a book.

And when your notebook starts to show its age, good luck bringing it up to speed without replacing it. After adding more RAM and a bigger hard drive, you’re done. Need a bigger monitor? Faster video card? More sound channels? Sorry, out of luck.

Peeking down the pipeline, we don’t see solutions for any of these problems any time soon. But as innovations like netbooks continue to push the entire portable category down in price, the far more likely conclusion will be consumers relying on both a desktop and a notebook, rather than either or. (People like myself, who moved cross country with six computers in the car, don’t apply here. We’re talking about normal people.)

The desktop remains the comfortable home machine, while an ultra-portable notebook fills in for travel duty, with both adding up to cost about the same as either one would have just a few years ago. Rather than seeing them merge into a single machine full of compromises, plummeting prices will allow each to diverge significantly and do what they do better. It’s division of labor for electronics.

If anything, this might mean fewer notebooks in the desktop replacement size class. Why buy a computer that costs more than a desktop, performs worse, and still sucks for travelling, when you can just buy a real desktop and a real travel notebook?

Changes are coming for this industry, but technology has a ways to go before an all-powerful überdevice can really fill the shoes of all the systems that came before it.

Long live the beige box.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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