Does it still make sense to buy a desktop PC?

Once a computing staple, the tower PC now holds little appeal for most mainstream users. Who's still buying them?


Earlier today I caught a glimpse of the HP tower that's been sitting, untouched, on my spare desk for the better part of a year. And it got me thinking: does it still make sense to buy a desktop?

As recently as three years ago, I'd never have a considered anything else for my primary PC. Real work required real horsepower, and that meant a desktop. Plus, as an avid gamer, I needed a fast processor and the occasional video-card upgrade to feed my habit.

Needless to say, the times, they are a-changing. I don't game much anymore, in part because my priorities have changed, but also because there's a dearth of great first-person shooters and RTS titles (my preferred genres). And as a writer, I have decidedly minimalist needs. Give me a Web browser and word processor and I'm pretty much set.

Laptop sales first eclipsed desktop sales back in 2008, and that was pretty much the beginning of the end for desktop superiority. What brought about the change? Simple: laptop prices dropped close to desktop levels, and performance disparities became less severe -- and less of an issue.

Today, for example, you can buy a quad-core laptop with a 17-inch screen and 500GB hard drive for under $400. (No, really; that was my Cheapskate deal just yesterday.) A similarly equipped tower might run you around $300 -- monitor not included. The price/performance playing field has leveled like never before.

That said, for people who still need maximum horsepower and plenty of upgrade options (gamers, video editors, etc.), you can't beat a desktop. Need more RAM? Usually you can drop in extra modules without having to replace any. More storage? Pop in a second hard drive in one of the tower's open bays. Faster video card? Five-minute upgrade.

And that's just internal expansion. Most desktops offers six USB ports, while most laptops have just half that number.

So, yeah, ultimately it boils down to what your needs are. But I suspect the latest desktop-to-laptop sales data reflects that most people don't need much more than what an entry-level or mainstream laptop can deliver. And lest we forget, laptops are portable. Desktops, not so much.

In fact, it's that very combination of portability and minimalist computing needs that will likely see tablets take the place of laptops in the coming years. So check back in, say, early 2015, when I'll probably be asking, "Does it still make sense to buy a laptop?"

In the meantime, hit the comments and let me know if you can ever see yourself buying another desktop.

Like this post? I've done others like it, pondering whether it still makes sense to buy "traditional" tech items like a GPS, a camcorder, Microsoft Office, and even DVDs.