How desktop PCs got their groove back

Technology announced this week at CES breathes new life Into the desktop PC

Is the desktop PC dead? Far from it.

As PCWorld's Desktops editor, I have something of a vested interest in seeing these dinosaurs prosper. Tablets and phones of all shapes and sizes are hogging the limelight, but the desktops unveiled at this year's CES have offered up important evolutions in form and function. Driven by versatility, performance, and (arguably most importantly) value, the humble desktop will be with us for some time -- we probably just won't recognize it.

The Rise of the All-in-One

We've seen the rise of the alll-in-one PC coming for some time now. In 2010 especially, these melds of monitor and machine sought to simplify the desktop experience. "There's only one cord!" became a common refrain on marketing materials. All-in-Ones were a svelte, hassle-free alternative to the burdensome beige and black boxes we've known for so long.

But all-in-ones were more expensive than comparable tower desktops, and generally rather sluggish. That's changed. Intel's 2nd Generation Core processors have demonstrably lower power requirements, while offering substantial performance gains -- for the same price. That means smaller, thinner chassis -- or models that are the same size as today's all-in-ones, packed with discrete graphics cards and all sorts of neat extras. And while AMD's Fusion platform will be making its way into notebooks first, we've already seen all-in-ones like Lenovo's C205 offering up Fusion in an inexpensive chassis.

Multi-touch all-in-ones are also becoming the norm, and they've come a long way. Operating systems have long existed as mouse-driven applications, but the influx of smartphones and tablets has changed all that. We've become increasingly accustomed to navigating devices by touch: ATMs, navigation systems, cell phones -- chances are, you've used a touchscreen at least once today.

But the Windows 7 interface is simply not built for touch. PC makers have been scrambling to address that, baking in their own finger-friendly UIs -- HP's Touchsmart and Acer's Touch Portal overlays are two of the more prominent examples, but vendors like MSI and Lenovo have their own ways of addressing the general awkwardness of navigating file-systems with your hands.

The Right Tool For The Job

Desktops excel at versatility. And if you're paying attention, you'll notice that desktop manufacturers have realized which battles are lost, and are instead playing to their strengths.

There's no longer any reason to be stuck at a desk if you'd like to browse the Internet -- your tablet or netbook will work just as well on the couch. And while I won't dare broach the subject of PC gaming, top-tier gaming PCs are generally viewed as expensive luxury items, and that's not likely to change.

Instead, we're seeing PCs equipped with Nvidia's 3D Vision technology, and sporting Blu-ray players. Sending a child off to college? They'd probably appreciate a 42-inch HDTV. But why not save a few bucks, and send them off with an all-in-one equipped with a TV tuner and HDMI inputs? They'll get a movie-streaming, console ready, high definition media center. And when you come to visit, they can still pretend they use it to crank out term papers.

And for the video mavens: what could possibly pair better with your new camcorder or cell phone's HD content than a quad-core Sandy Bridge processor with Intel's Quick Sync encoding technology, for under US$800?

You might not be able to carry your desktop around, but with Tegra 2-equipped tablets boasting such impressive performance, chances are it's your laptop that's starting to look a little bulky.

What's Next?

Desktops aren't dead. In fact, I wouldn't even say they're threatened, for much the same reason that gas-guzzling pickup trucks and breakneck-pace motorcycles exist in a world of fuel-sipping sedans.

Whether it's gaming, number-crunching, or content-creation and consumption, desktops are poised to remain at the forefront of innovation, if only for the fact that the latest, most powerful hardware generally needs to draw power and expel heat -- and lots of it.

And there's always personal preference. I like to stay hands-on with my hardware, so I'll always prefer a machine I can open up and tinker with. But that didn't stop me from picking up Apple's iPad on launch day, or from ogling every smartphone and wunder-tablet announced at CES.

But the world of desktops is changing, and ARM and the system on chip (SoC) architecture appears to be the future. Microsoft is on board, having recently announced that Windows will be jumping on the SoC bandwagon. And with Nvidia's "Project Denver" out in the open, it's becoming increasingly clear that the desktop world's major players are moving in that direction too.

I can't pretend to know what the future of computing holds, but as long as we need ample raw power, or a versatile tool we can upgrade to fit the latest trends, the desktop -- or something like it -- will remain alive and well.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags intelhardware systemsdesktop pcsCESdesktopsConsumer Electronics Show (CES)CES 2011

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Nate Ralph

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?