Are Desktop PCs Losing Relevance?

The chances that you’re reading this article on a tablet or smartphone are growing. This trend is just going to get greater as mobile devices become more affordable and perform at levels we’re familiar with experiencing on our desktop PCs. Screens on mobile devices are getting bigger, marking the dawn of a new era, whether you like it or not. If you’re reading this, you’re probably pondering about whether the PC is still going to be relevant in the coming years or not. Perhaps it’s time we seriously examine this idea and explore some possibilities of the coming market.

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Advanced image editing, video editing, and gaming are some of the biggest PC-centric activities that people do on a daily basis. Sure, tablets come close, but nothing beats having a beast that can handle the likes of Adobe Premiere and the latest games on the market. Slowly, but surely, tablets will be able to handle the workloads necessary to run today’s resource-hungry applications, but they’ll never take the strides that PCs are reaching every year simply because of the space advantage desktops have over everything else.

One of the reasons why some of the most powerful programs run best on desktop PCs is that they have tons of space. This space allows manufacturers to implement hardware that generates a lot of heat. Because of the space advantage, you can have large fans in your desktop that blow away all of the heat produced by the number-crunching beast.

There’s no argument here. Tablets have their merits, but the PC will always be one step ahead in hardware power. I doubt this will always be the case though. People used to think that a quad-core processor could never fit in a space smaller than a shoebox. I carry a phone in my pocket every day that proves this old assertion wrong.

But wherever you have more space to work with, you can always pack more of a punch. I highly doubt that PCs will go away. They’ll simply morph into something more awesome, like they always did.

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Seriously, when’s the last time you saw a tiny microATX PC at a gaming PC convention? Some people like it big, and they’ll never give up PCs. The niche for large PCs might shrink, but it will never entirely disappear. Full towers are still selling, and I predict that they’ll still be selling in 2017, just not in the same numbers they were selling at in the early 2000s.

A big tower gives you one thing that no other device on this green earth will ever give you: room. And with that room comes the ability to charge the computer up with an inordinate amount of hardware, which brings me to my next point.

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What other device have you ever used where you can change its GPU? Sure, Motorola is coming out with a modular phone in the near future, but does that compare to having the capability to personalize things like a PC?

First of all, let’s look at the problem with modular mobile devices:

  • They’re small, which means that you’d be limited in the amount of hardware you can actually cram into them.
  • Hardware is proprietary, meaning that you can only buy what the manufacturer of the case provides for you. And before you tell me that perhaps they’ll make cases that others can make hardware for, remember that all that hardware has to communicate, and it has to be compatible with the operating system running on the device.
  • Power and voltage limitations might restrict the capabilities of what you can mount.

You can literally modify anything on a PC. Don’t have enough wattage on your graphics card? Get a new power supply! Is the computer running slow? Slap on a new CPU and add some RAM to it. Want a new generation of CPUs on that sweet rig? Buy a new motherboard.

The hardware is far from proprietary. Literally anything you put onto the computer, as long as it’s up to spec, will work perfectly and harmoniously with whatever you couple it with.

And lastly, we come back to a redundant issue: space. Because of the enormous amounts of space inside of full tower cases, you have the possibility of adding enough hardware to drain half the power capacity of New York.

It’s important not to feel nervous about the rise of mobile devices. Just like the PC, they have their special place, but they don’t fulfill every role. Mobile devices are meant to help you out while you’re on the go. The PC is there waiting for you at home like a loyal servant, able to do everything else the tablet couldn’t do for you throughout the day.

If you’d ask me, the pair makes a wonderful couple.

Got anything to add? Leave a comment below!

27 comments

  1. I am the IT Manager for a SMB Engineering firm. Try running AutoCAD, Infraworks 3D rendering, or any Adobe product on a tablet or smartphone and you will be thankful desktops still exist! Besides, where can I play Halo with lightning fast response time? Happy holidays all!

    • Thank you for your insight!

      Indeed, one of these days, tablets will be able to run games like what we play today on desktops. However, by then, PCs will have surpassed them by a ton. Space and airflow is everything. When they manage to create a chipset that is cool enough to run on a tablet, there will always be a hotter chipset that runs much faster on a PC.

    • I agree and hate the idea of desktops going the way of the Ford Edsel. I don’t use Auto-Cad or the like or do any programming, but I do run a program called Folding at Home. While it can run on a laptop it really needs a desktop or server type rig. The bigger and more CPU’s the better. More GPU’s too. One that can run close to 24-7.

      • “I agree and hate the idea of desktops going the way of the Ford Edsel.”
        No need to lose sleep over it. Mainframes were declared officially dead at least three times so far. Yet they are still in use and getting more powerful everyday. Many jobs they used to run have been taken over by PCs and servers but when it comes to data crunching, nothing beat the power of Big Iron. NSA certainly is not using PCs or even mini-computers to store and analyze all the data they collect. Similarly, many of the PC functions were taken over by smartphones and tablets but when it comes to jobs that require powerfull CPUs, lots of RAM and storage, you can’t beat a desktop or even a laptop.

  2. I’m a technical writer. Nothing beats sitting at my desk, in an ergonomic chair, while viewing a 20+ inch screen and using a contoured keyboard to touch-type to input, edit and review my work. Those tiny screens on hand-held devices with “chiclet”/flat/on-screen keys will never replace the capabilities and comfort that I have with my desktop PC.

    Frank D

  3. I can’t even imagine programming on a tablet of phone. It’s not possible, but nothing is better than a large screen next to my laptop.

  4. Hey Guys,

    You’re talking about peripherals, I love my 23″ (58cm) monitor as well attached to my small screen (13″) laptop.

    I have a big screen monitor at work and at home, mouse and keyboard for each as well. I just carry around the laptop, and if I had a smartphone that I could plug into with the same performance, and a RJ45 connector, you betcha I’d forget all about the laptop as well.

    • As long as you don’t want to have performance from the early 2000s, that wouldn’t be a problem. Big screens are not the only thing stopping some people from abandoning their desktops. There are simply some things you can’t do on mobile platforms. For example, you can’t run highly-demanding (and I mean truly demanding) software, like AutoCAD (like someone mentioned above), Adobe Premiere, and several other beasts. This might become a possibility in the future, but by the time that happens, the PC will be able to do other things even more efficiently.

      • Hey Miguel,

        I agree with Steven’s assessment both for AutoCAD and gaming, as well as for the reasons stated in the article.

        I was actually responding to Frank’s, your and bjarnobe’s comments :)

        (With no criticism intended)

  5. Considering what most people do with a PC, a tablet answers well for those activities. I have yet to meet another programmer (VBA/Python/Gambas3/SQLite3), or video editor (Lightworks-Linux) or 3D modeller (Blender3D) in my day-to-day here in Qld: oh, I know they’re out there, but those in my acquaintance don’t do any of those things. They basically read emails, surf the web, watch YouTube videos and chat… a smartphone/tablet handles those sorts of things with no dramas at all.
    But then, I don’t know too many – actually, *any* ! – who install their own OSes or use Mint or Ubuntu, either.

    Conclusion: most people *don’t* need a PC. I do. But I’m not like most people.

  6. I think it’s not so much a case of the PC “market” shrinking as it is that new devices have now emerged to cater for a market that could previously only be met by PCs. Most people who only browse the web and maybe write a letter or balance a checkbook will do fine on a tablet, and never needed a PC in the first place.

    The only thing that makes me “fret” is that a smaller PC market will mean less economy of scale, making PCs more expensive to buy and/or build. I hope that the small form factor devices become an Open Architecture, just as IBM made the PC back in the ’80s, but at the moment, we’re repeating the ’70s with a bazillion incompatible devices that don’t interconnect (on a hardware level).

    It’ll come around, like the “home/hobby computer industry” did, but will it be as open as the PC? I hope so…

  7. “People used to think that a quad-core processor could never fit in a space smaller than a shoebox.”
    In 1977 Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., said”There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
    Technology moves on.

  8. The biggest problem I see is that due to lack of demand, the price of PCs will rise. i.e. R&D costs will be spread amongst fewer people. I’m a translator and work with NaturallySpeaking from Nuance – That would never work properly on anything other than a decent PC.

    • I don´t see any raising price curve so far and the market is still complying with the rule of halving the price of the same performance every 18 months. There is a demand by professionals, who make their living by PCs in the real economy, which may be different from parents´ subsidized cadged cyber world with small touch screens.

  9. I see the price of PC’s dropping so people will buy them. I know many photographers who prefer a desktop as do gamers. I hate doing photo edits on my phone even though I’m taking a quick snap shot to share. Just upgraded my desktop this week to handle my photo editing programs. Both my sons do PC gaming and prefer desktops.

  10. Try a high powered flight simulator on a smartphone or a tablet! We call smartphones “kiddyphones”. Cute little gadgets for the teenscenes.

  11. As soon as someone using a tablet or smartphone can write a system software specification, which can run hundreds or thousands of pages, for a 1,000,000 line software program, code it, compile it, maintain software control, debug it, test it, write the operational manual and do this when 10, 20, or more people are involved with the development, then I will believe that the desktop will be dead. Until then, stop with the BS.

  12. …No matter how smart and powerful small gadgets I would ever have, whenever I would have the opportunity to connect them to a large screen and handle them with a wireless keyboard and mouse, I would do so… Add to that the optical drive which is quickly disappearing from the small gadgets but you still can afford in a PC…

  13. The desktop will never die because as mentioned too many people need the power. Video editing for example as briefly mentioned is very high. As someone who did a degree in film and tv production as a producer I know how annoying rendering is for editors and it certainly isn’t something that could be done to the full extent via a tablet. I’m also involved in the online radio scene and I’d never broadcast with a table, probably not even a laptop.

  14. Windows XP Pro is due to lose MS support in 2014. So is Win-7. Win-8 is a dog’s breakfast, upchucked. I have 5 or 6 desktops that I swap in and out on 3 desks, that may have a time limit on their usefulness. Some already have Linux distributions loaded, and down the road, I will probably use Linux on all of them. Linux is predominately geared to desktop usage, and they work beautifully for what I do. I’m retired, and don’t use Auto-Cad, or any heavy resource-intensive programs (proprietary programs). My eyes also appreciate the larger screens on desktop systems, and as our population ages, bigger screens may become more in demand. I don’t want to find work-arounds to accommodate little gadgets, simply because they are the current marketing rage. I want a device that works, and works well. I have a tablet for those occasional trips out of the house, but it will never become my main tool. I like the Android OS, but I don’t like being locked into Google’s world. Linux allows me to escape all the data-mining from the biggies, as long as I use the right software (as in open-source programs). I’m also an all-fingered typist, thanks to my typing teaching father, so little buttons on a screen don’t cut it. If you owned a business, would you pay a typist to create large documents using the one-finger method? I wouldn’t want to create web pages using a little device with so little viewing area.

    My point? I see desktops moving to Linux, and continuing to fill a need for many people that the mini/micro devices can’t handle efficiently. By the way, there are some very sophistocated programs available in the open-source world, some of which were developed for non-Windows based systems, that have since been ported to Windows, and are widely recognized in the Windows world. So my future is in desktops, Linux, and open source. They also meet many people’s needs, they just don’t know that, yet.
    —-Dave——

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