Are Desktop Tower PCs Dead?

Are Desktop Tower PCs Dead?Dead is a harsh phrase to use when considering the fate of the desktop tower. After all, there are still plenty of them to be found at your local electronics store. Many gamers still swear by them, but it could be argued that the fate of these machines is looking fairly grim.

Sites like Gizmodo have been proclaiming the death of the desktop tower for years. PC Magazine recently ran a story outlining all of the gadget that have added nails to the coffin of the desktop tower over the years, ultimately declaring the desktop dead… and the desktop as its replacement.

Between the advancement of modern processors including the latest Ivy Bridge Core i5 and i7 chips and the improvement in battery life, notebook computers are becoming increasingly reliable for personal and business needs. Even HD video editing, a task previously considered overwhelming for laptop computers is now possible on relatively low-priced hardware.

There are still quite a few benefits to owning a tower. Upgrading components is much easier, as is finding compatible hardware for repairs and/or replacements of individual components to avoid having to buy a new PC altogether.

So, is the desktop tower dead? Have notebook computers come into their own and proven themselves to be the new workhorse? What about all-in-one systems like the iMac or the Dell One?

Downsides of the Desktop Tower

Desk Space
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who wants their desk cluttered with giant boxes. Add a mess of cables to it and you’ve got an unsightly desk hog. The desktop tower comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the general common trait about them is that the footprint is typically larger than the average laptop. Since a monitor isn’t built in, you also have to deal with that in addition to an external keyboard and mouse.

Portability
Desktop PCs aren’t portable by definition. You can invest in a special harness to make it easier to transport, but the machine itself requires outlets, space, and an environment suited to hosting a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Meanwhile, a notebook computer can be opened and used virtually anywhere. Tablet computers, arguably the form factor most suited to pushing the laptop into obsolescence, are even more portable.

Electricity
If you’re big on saving energy, the desktop computer is a hard sell against a tablet, all-in-one, or laptop computer. These options are generally lower powered, though not always. Perhaps the biggest advantage is the need for less plugs in your outlets, which is always a good thing.

Advantages of a Desktop PC

Power
Desktop PCs can still be quite a bit more powerful than their portable cousins in the computing world. The desktop typically gets the most powerful processors, GPU, motherboard, and has the most RAM upgradability. Especially with modern Ultrabooks and products such as the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, upgrades are either unavailable or expensive. Mobile processors have to be low-powered to avoid overheating in the tight space of a portable computer whereas the desktop PC has the advantage of more powerful air and/or water cooling systems.

Upgradability
You can upgrade just about every component of a desktop PC. Swapping out the motherboard, hard drive, CPU, GPU (graphics card), sound card, RAM, or anything else you can imagine is much easier on a desktop PC than on your typical laptop. In fact, most laptops made today have proprietary technologies that don’t allow upgrades unless the products are specifically made for the make/model. Motherboards are often custom-made to fit inside whatever chassis the manufacturer makes for the series.

You can build a custom PC fairly cheaply. Custom laptops are harder to construct and products offered for this purpose are few and far between.

Modability
This is a phrase you don’t hear a lot these days, but modifying your PC’s look and feel is still one of the coolest things about owning a desktop computer. I’ve put a lot of time and taken a lot of pride in creating an aesthetically pleasing computer including lighting, windows, and modified fan placements for better air flow. You can even buy cases online that add a little pizazz to your name brand PC, at the cost of the warranty.

When you buy a laptop, tablet, or all-in-one PC, you’re limited to making only a few modifications to the look of the device. You could add stickers or laser engraving to add a personal touch to your system, though.

Do You Need a Desktop PC?

In most office environments, you really don’t need a desktop tower. Workstations have long been built with slightly smaller footprints than their consumer counterparts, but even these systems may be on their way out the door in favor of budget-friendly all-in-one PCs. IT departments love simplicity, and having to service an easily replaced single unit rather than come out to service monitors and towers independently can help.

The vast majority of home users can get by on even the most budget-minded systems out there. Laptops are cheap enough to be considered budget PCs today, though you can always find a less-expensive tower with similar hardware.

Where the difference can really be drawn is in high-performance hardware. Gamers and video editors can find laptops capable of becoming the workhorse PC, but these often come at a price. Meanwhile, you can assemble a fairly decent gaming PC tower for a fraction of that cost.

Whether or not you “need” a desktop tower comes down to your budgetary concerns. When it comes down to it, there really isn’t much you can do with a tower that you can’t do with a laptop or all-in-one solution. With technologies like Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 finally seeing the light of day on laptops, you can bet that just about any addition you could make to your desktop PC can be handled on your laptop, as well.

Laptops can do extraordinary things these days. You can find performance machines with every bell and whistle up to and including dual video cards and retina displays. The form factor of these systems is shrinking as well, making portability an emphasis as well as performance. Perhaps with desktop-class performance coming in a package that weights less than half of what desktop replacement laptops featured just a few years ago, the desktop tower will finally be put to rest for all but the most advanced users.

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • Curtis Coburn

    I honestly feel like someday in the future, Desktops will die out. Maybe in the next 15 years or so because Tablets are getting more advanced and powerful, and laptops are really taking the place and power of desktops. Like the next generation macbook pro with retina display. Wow. When you are starting from scratch with getting a new computer, you actually are better off getting a laptop, or a AIO (all in one) because comparing it to a laptop with the same specs the desktop will be more, because you need a monitor. A decent monitor can cost $150, that’s just adding on to the desktop.

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Ryan Matthew Pierson

      Very true.

      • zitiboat

        What was wrong with the old monitor? You do know you can just plug it in to the new machine and it will work don’t you? Or did someone tell you it is out of style and you have to look good, right?

  • http://twitter.com/fixgadget GadgetFix

    The desktop will always serve as your own personal cloud. Price is always flexible being that you get to pick a system based on your needs. I don’t think desktop towers are dead, but it all depends on what your needs are. Besides clouds/digital lockers of sorts involve a third party hosting YOUR content, how comfortable are you with that? The desktop PC is the new personal cloud. Just think when you finally do have 100mbit/1gbit ethernet available at home it’ll work like how its supposed to without compromise.

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Ryan Matthew Pierson

      True. Desktops still make the best home servers I find.

  • http://twitter.com/DutchGuyOnAir The Dutch Guy

    I stopped using desktop PC’s a couple of years ago. I had 7 running at my home studio at one point. Now I have several laptops (Windows, Ubuntu and Macbook Pro soon) and perfectly happy with it…

    But I don’t know if the desktop PC is gonna die soon. It all depends on what you need your computer for. If you can do it on a laptop, like I can, fine. If you need more customization power, perfectly fine too! It will become a niche market tho…

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Ryan Matthew Pierson

      Cool!

    • zitiboat

      Yeah, like everybody is running out and replacing their big screen TV home theaters because tablets have better definition on the gargantuan 7″ screen.

  • http://twitter.com/JoshuaJRideout Joshua Rideout

    I own two computers, both fairly recent upgrades. The first one I was upgrading from an AMD 4000+ single core system, two GB DDR800, and a Nvidia 7900GT. I upgraded to an AMD 1100t hex core CPU, 8GB DDR3 2000 with an AMD HD6970 Graphic card, in a nice Lian Li full tower. I while down the road iOS app development caught my interest and the choice of low cost Apple systems (oxymoron?) was Either a Mac mini, or a Macbook air, both had very similar specs, with the mac mini lacking a SSD. I decided to go with the 11′ Macbook air, but wasn’t really convinced that it would have enough power for me.

    I do miss being able to run Windows (Apple track pad drivers for Windows are abysmal), And Ubuntu in virtual box at the same time, all the time without noticing any slow down, but now I’m using the Macbook for 90% of what I do. Probably more than 90% actually. There was an adjustment period that was quite aggravating, and some things still irk me, like not having new document in the right click window, but now looking at future upgrades, I really don’t think that I’ll be looking at desktops. If I get another windows machine, it will probably be the Surface Pro, if it’s released, depending on price, and linux drivers, and battery life, but even more likely is a Macbook Pro. Once Mountain Lion drops with Airplay.

    I think that the biggest factor in my successful transfer away from desktops is my diminishing interest in PC Gaming. The most interesting games right now are all indie games, most of which run very smoothly on Laptop spec’ed machines, I’ve even been able to run Diablo III and MineCraft acceptably (Minecraft actually is the more stressful game of the two.)

    I don’t predict the death of desktops anytime soon though. The Macbook air is absolutely obliterated by the desktop when it comes to performance, and it was $400 more than the desktop, not including pheripherals, which don’t need to be upgraded each time (also including them in the cost would completely unbalance the comparison due to my choices, but add an extra $800 for keyboard, trackball, and monitor). Most knowledgeable consumers, power users and gamers will find it hard to look past that big of a performance to cost ratio without cringing. For me it was all power on tap, that was hardly ever being put to good use though, while being much louder, much more power hungry even at idle, and with being tied to a desk.

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Ryan Matthew Pierson

      Interesting, thanks for the input.

  • gameguy73

    Most of the desktops I’m seeing at stores are all in ones.

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Ryan Matthew Pierson

      Exactly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nathan.berg.92 Nathan Berg

    Though of of the points mentioned in this article are all valid. I still believe that desktops are going to be here for a long time still. No matter how powerful laptops get. There will still be a market for enthusiasts that will buy the top of the line desktop hardware every 6 monthes to keep up with gaming. Sure maybe there will be less desktops but they will always have their place.

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Ryan Matthew Pierson

      Good thoughts. Thanks!

    • http://www.facebook.com/JasonGHarbour Jason G. Harbour

      I completely agree with you, and let me add that I find it a lot easier to replace or upgrade a part on a tower then on a laptop. If my laptop goes kaput, I buy a new laptop. However, if my desktop goes kaput, I replace/upgrade whatever part is broken and it is good for another year.

  • http://twitter.com/DragonkinSverd Steven Sword

    As an avid PC gamer, I don’t think they will ever die. They will become
    niche. Most everyone I know use their Laptops and Tablets for work and
    general computing needs. That’s is really all your average everyday user will ever need, but in the PC gaming community this isn’t even an issue. From that side of the fence it doesn’t feel like a dieing market. It feels like a thriving one, that is making quite a comeback from years of being ignored for dedicated gaming consoles.

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Ryan Matthew Pierson

      Exactly. Gamers will always remain a fringe element, though they are a big consideration for hardware manufacturers.

  • Tom Rondello

    If I had a desk and a wall socket or at least somewhere to set up at least 45W of solar panel, I’d have a dsktp computer.

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Ryan Matthew Pierson

      Cool!

  • http://www.facebook.com/bharatkumargupta Bharat Kumar Gupta

    i prefer custom pc’s bec parts today are so much better and choices like ssd, ivy bridge cpu’s and high performance ram, pre built systems cant beat these specs and the more pro u go the more specs matter, imacs shud upgrade accordingly too, we have great choices.

  • ollie97

    Totaly Agree with that article! I have both and only have a desktop because you can customly build it yourself cheaper at a high spec than laptops

  • Brian

    Like all of these sorts of articles, the industry has swings and flows. My own experience is mixed, with consoles and laptops taking most of the gaming (kids), laptops being the general use interface, and desktops, both chunky and mini, becoming the servers. They are headless per say, however they feed content to TVs in the house. If I had the time to do more photography work, I would probably have a desktop set up or at least a grunty laptop with a decent docking station attached to a large monitor.

  • http://twitter.com/MikeCleveland Mike Cleveland

    I feel very cramped playing games on my laptop. If I had a choice I’d rather have a speedy PC desktop.

  • uusue

    I just bought a new desktop – I can still get a faster processor, more memory, and a bigger hard drive for less money that way.

  • Kerns Phoegon

    Stories like this only fan the flames of fools. There will always be a need for a desktop.
    1. Shared work computers, where modifying the laptop to secured to the desk, but removable by the tech support, has costs and is far more hassle then desktops.
    –Not only is that defeating the point of laptops on the portable cousins, it’s also more expensive to pull off. [Cheaper just to get pos model workstations, and pull everyone logs into a central server]
    2. There are setups for music creation/editing, video creation/editing, that a server would be overkill and to much for, and in no way possible laptops would be suited for.
    3. Options like ‘Clustering’ aren’t available for laptops, and would defeat their purpose.
    4. Costly & limited options in terms of Storage and it’s performance.
    –Desktops can have custom HDD setups that allow for a massive jump in performance while maintaining a stupid amount of space for storage. *as good as SSD’s are, they aren’t cheap enough or big enough to satisfy the needs. I also can’t get over the write life span that they have*
    5. laptops are not starting to become a ‘replace to upgrade’ machine and that’s frustrating for anyone who just wants a new part and would have to pay high labor *if at all possible* that would be cheaper to buy a new laptop.
    6. Function over form, That’s what a computer should be. This sleek ‘design over function’ ideal that I swear has been make more popular with apple is a huge problem with portable computers.
    7. Cost.. Desk tops are cheaper[except for apple, their overly costly]. It’s that simple. If you were to get a laptop that’s the same specs as a custom 2k desktop, you’d be spending a hell of alot of money.
    8. Ease of replacing a damaged part without replacing the entire thing, will always be a benefit when your talking about systems that are over 1k. {Would you rather spend another 2k-5k on a gaming/audio/video creation/editior system, or would you rather spend the 100-400$ to replace the ram that was bad, or 100-500$ for video cards that got damaged, *SLI config*, or would you rather spend weeks + costs replacing the monitor, or just go buy a replacement and be up and running within a day.

    As well put together as this article is, it does nothing but mislead stupid users to believing something that isn’t going to happen for a VERY long time, and would ONLY happen if the laptops were [A.] Just as powerful in every single way, with just as many options to increase it, along with just as many networking options, & [B.] Just as cheap as desktops, even custom built ones, & [C.] just as Easy to replace parts, and upgrade as Desktops.
    — Of course all of this is assuming there isn’t some massive leap forward in tech that no one sees coming that makes the way we do computers in all form factors now, obsolete to the point that there is only a need for 1 form factor because of it.

  • Old Chris-Craft

    My desktop with a full tower allows me to run 5 or 6 hard drives no problem. I do a lot of video and photo editing so I also like to have multiple optical drives so that I can easily duplicate my work. As an old military products designer I like to use power supplies that are twice as big as I need so that they run cooler. I could go on with all of the things I do with my desktop that would take multiple high end notebooks.

  • lylejk

    My main hobby’s computer art and just try to do that on a smartphone; just won’t happen. The control’s just not there with pads or pods (and also, I still use a brick for a phone and that’s alright with me, but I am way too old to text and don’t really care about browsing the internet when I am out and about; data plans would also cost me $10/month more over my barebones plan so why waste the money; lol). It will be quite a long time for the PC to die so long as you got old (mid 40s) fogey like myself still around. :)

  • Scott McMahan

    Laptops are getting so much better it’s true, but any thing they can do a tower can do cheaper. Everything that is except travel. But there is something to be said for having a “permanent” piece of hardware at a comfortable workstation always ready for hours of work or play. A big screen, large keyboard, nice mouse, joystick and a sub-woofer speaker set is why the desktop will never die. Tablets and Smart Phones have their place and cloud computing is a real big deal, and they may never die either. But the entire technology revolution could not have happened without the IBM PC and it’s clones, and I don’t think they’re going anywhere, except maybe into the walls of your house.

    • http://chris.pirillo.com/ Chris Pirillo

      Docking station / external monitor(s).

      • Scott McMahan

        I think it all comes down to where you spend your time. I don’t travel much so I don’t need to take my life with me on the road. But I can agree that it would be better to have your “main” computer with you if you needed to be away for long periods. But how many people don’t travel much and don’t need to pay the mobility premium? I still think the desktop will be around for a while.

  • zitiboat

    I can see portability being a big plus for the homeless and those that prefer to be away from home. Out of the house is for real life not virtual. When I travel I need the laptop to set up in the hotel room. But I also need the external mouse and wireless keyboard with numeric pad. They are very useful for those of us that value comfort. I seem to spend a lot of time, energy, and money converting my laptops to be more like a full desktop; losing desk real estate at every change.
    I’ve had more laptops develop non-repairable problems like screens going bad or built in Wi-Fi giving up than desktops that only die if the processor overheats. Power supply, network card, optical drive, monitor deaths – those do not even slow down a desk top tower more than a day or two. I can still use the 10 year old PC with the totally swappable monitor and I do not know of anyone using a laptop more than 5 years.
    I have had 6 towers, 3 laptops, and a tablet over the years and I compare them like sleeping on a really nice yoga pad for tablets and laptops to relaxing on my queen size mattress for towers. Sure, you get efficiency, but I do not see anybody giving up their home theaters for a session of Hulu on their lap.

  • RPW

    Not a “Gamer” by any means.
    But when I got my Gateway DX4860 last February, I wanted nothing to do with a SFF or Laptop.
    Must be a Guy thing…
    Big Cars, Big Guns, Big RAM.
    No such thing as too Big on those things.

  • RPW

    When it comes to Cars, Houses, Guns & Computers, you can never have it too Big.
    May be a Guy thing, But I have no interest in a SFF or Laptop, unless I’m on the go.
    I’ll never use a TB of hard drive space or fill all 32 GB of RAM space capacity.
    But it’s nice to know you got it if you ever need it.

  • Ricki Stern

    I go back and forth between being able to function exclusively on a laptop. Recently I switched back to a PC for home. Tablets are a nice toy but cant do much on them besides checking email and playing games so they will never be my primary machine anywhere When I did use a laptop at home, it was docked so i could get the benefits of the external keyboard, mouse and monitor. I HATE the touchpad so an extra wire for the mouse is a must. I also find that the laptop screens are too small which is why i always opt for external (my pcs are connected to 24 and 30 inch monitors) I therefore didnt really find the laptop a big space or wire saver. In fact the clutter of the wires seemed a bit worse with the laptop. The desktop also seems more reliable and larger hard drives seem to be cheaper.

    My apartment was also robbed a number of years ago and the laptop was stolen never to be seen again. So another benefit of the desktop is i feel much more secure and less nervous of theft

    The one benefit of the laptop is its portablity. I could dock at home and then undock when i went on a trip. This was very helpful as it helps me be productive from anywhere …. but this is not enough for me to give up on the desktops!

  • Dusan Oravec

    All is very nice and logical. But guys wait few years when your eye sights will “desert” you and you will need a even bigger monitor to see what is there. At 67 I am start looking for “Braille” monitor. And in the winter big tower even warm-up the room not to mention the hum of cooling fans which keeps me awake.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dbitbeats David Bitterman

    Um, video editors need the bandwidth of multiple sata drive setups (separate drives for media, exports, os/progs, cache/pagefile) to not run into bottlenecks when working with things like RED and 4k, which are becoming common. A laptop is not going to do this, and neither is thunderbolt, which can’t match todays top pcie speeds when correctly distributed.

    Laptops are not going to be competing anytime soon with multiple gpu setups either, especially with CUDA/OpenCL/GL/ and GPGPU gaining more steam.

  • Jignacio888

    actually I can do things in the desktop that can’t do in the la pop. i word with Photoshop ADN I need a big screen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Werneken/1428284599 John Werneken

    Seeing as unsightliness could not possibly concern me, nor could electricity use, and considering that my experience with things that I can carry around from pens to cell phones is that they get lost or stolen, I see no disadvantages to a “rower”. Besides mine are always under the desk. I don’t particularly want to work off my own turf, so that aspect of portability is unappealing. I can’t stand battery operated anythings.
    But I’m retired now. If I still ran a section of a government department and three unions I’d probably lug a damn tablet around…I had the same opinion of portable phones but pretty quick there was a transceiver in the trunk, then a brick on the belt, and so on…

  • abassim

    Desktop will stay the Royal choice until other species get as much flexible as desktops.
    Flexibility and customize-ability is the name of the game here.

  • Jonathan

    This comment is regarding your issues with “Desk Space”.

    I have an L shaped desk with six 20 inch monitors attached to two desktops. The towers are underneath the desk and are out of the way. I do not see many people put their systems on top of the desk (Though some people do it). So, for the most part, the tower does not cause desk clutter.

    The 2 keyboards and two mice for the two systems are on keyboard trays underneath the desk and not a major issue. But even for those that do not use keyboard trays, keyboards and mice can be moved out of the way at any time.

    My monitors are at the far edge of my desk with the wires behind my desk creating no issues there. There are two wires running to the keyboard and mouse. In the end, the monitors are not in the way at all and only a couple wires are in the way.

    Now a laptop takes up a LOT more desk space. While an external screen may be taller and wider, its base is relatively small. My laptop is 10 inches long (back to front) and 13 inches wide (left to right) and if you have no external keyboard/mouse it needs to be more in the middle of your desk, so you can reach the keyboard and track pad, eating up a lot of desk space. A laptop has a power cord and any external keyboard, mouse, hub, speakers, mic, external hdd, etc will have to be plugged directly into your laptop and wires will be strewn all over your desk space making it cluttered and unprofessional.

    I used to use a laptop as one of my primary computers, before I got my second desktop. It took up a lot more desk space that you would expect.

    So in the end, which do you want: A couple monitors that can sit at the back of your desk and if nothing else, you can use them to stick “post-it-notes” to, and have a keyboard and mouse that can be easily moved out of the way, or a laptop with a bunch of wires sticking out of it and sitting in the middle of your desk eating up real-estate.

    I agree with your other comments, though I personally do not believe the desktop will die. Will it take a back seat to laptops and tablets, absolutely.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hwalton211 Howard Walton

    I still believe in the desktop because it can be upgraded, rebuilt and repaired much easier than any notebook, netbook or tablet. The desktop is also a deterrent to thievery
    Whereas the smaller units are an easy snatch and grab.