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Curtains for desktops? If not now, when?

The statistics are starting to bear out the anecdotal evidence: Desktops are on their way out.

It's hard to remember the last time I bought a desktop computer. Sometime back in the stone age, I suppose, when vendors still bundled the machines with CRT screens.


My back-of-the-envelope tally of friends and colleagues turns up the same taste trend. Few say they plan to spend money on desktops any more. Those who do say it's because they need the bigger computer for serious gaming applications. I hang with a crowd of early adaptors, but it's not just the predilections of the double soy nonfat latte crowd. Now the statistics are starting to bear out the anecdotal evidence.

One of the big surprises out of Intel's second quarter numbers is that for the first time, demand for notebook processors outstripped the company's product sales for desktop machines. Everyone expected this would happen one day, but the future just got here a lot faster than most folks--including Intel--ever assumed.

And that occurred even without big sales of Atom processors, which Intel debuted in the second quarter. These chips are geared for what Intel describes as Internet-centric "netbook" and "nettop" alternatives to current notebooks and desktops. Truth be told, though, it's still not clear how much impact Atom will have. Witness CEO Paul Otellini's seeming putdown of his own product: "(Atom) is less than a third the performance of our Centrino (processor). You're dealing with something that most of us wouldn't use," he said.

But enough computer shoppers, here and abroad, will be buying increasing numbers of these and other notebook computers. The second-quarter news Intel reported about notebook sales was not an anomaly. The trend will continue until the popularity of notebooks get eclipsed by even smaller devices. None of this suggests that the curtain is about to close on the era of big desktop PCs imminently. But "Let's get small" has become more than just a mantra for the future. It's now the present.