In your opinion, are desktop PCs going the way of the mainframe?

Just curious September 1, 2011

Except for businesses where everyone sits at a cubicle, or library terminals where students are all at a desk, do you think the desktop consumer market is losing out to portable and mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and laptops?

Or do you think they’ll be a viable market for at least a few more years?

  1. Stanooch
    September 20, 2011 at 1:09 am

    In my younger days, I read a comic strip called Dick Tracy. It was about a police detective who had a wrist communicator, a radio worn like a wristwatch. About four years, I saw an actual wrist radio in use. Fiction foretells the future once again. Time marches on.

    September 17, 2011 at 6:24 am

    well if it is going away then why are companies like Apple selling larger and larger screens?  and who wants to edit video, film or any kind of motion graphics on a tiny portable.  at the expense of sounding behind the times, i really hate watching anything on a tiny monitor or device.  it kills my eyes and the experience well - sucks.

  3. Just curious
    September 6, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Wow, thanks for all your replies! I didn't think this would generate so much conversation as it did! :-)

    What I meant by desktop PC was the standard "tower" interface that we still see now, placed on *top* of a desk (or under one due to all the wires). ^_^ Might be a good subject for a blog post once I get one up and working! ;-)

  4. muotechguy
    September 5, 2011 at 8:15 am

    To be honest, I don't think the question is valid. Desktop PCs *as we know them now* will of course be replaced by something, but I think the "desktop PC" as a consumer product will still exist. 

    The internal hardware is ever evolving anyway, so what counts as a powerful desktop PC today will indeed fit inside a tiny mobile phone tomorrow - so I think what the question you're really asking is - "will we still be using large monitors with mice and keyboards in the future?". 

    To answer that question, we again look at hardware. Sure, tablet PCs and mobile devices get nicer screens, but they're still small. I for one could never replace my 27" screen with something portable like that, but I would accept having it projected directly onto my retina rather than a large physical display - if that was projected from a small device, would you still count it as a desktop PC? Personally, I would. With a screen that large, no matter how it hits your eye, it's always going to be something at the desk rather than used portably - hence, it's still a desktop PC.

    So then we are left with the last defining factor of desktop PCs, which is input device. Pretty the sure keyboard wont be going away anytime soon, but my mouse has been replaced by apple trackpad, so that evolved already... Then we're going to see direct biological interfaces soon enough (brain wave readers etc, already here). 

    Combine all those technologies, you get an ever small device, but still designed to be used in a stationary position, which I'd therefore call a desktop PC. 

    In terms of market share, perhaps we can predict safely that in the short term, desktop PCs will converge onto other devices. For most people, a laptop or mobile will be sufficient, while home gaming will be handled by a console. But inevitably something will come along that puts the desktop back on track - some new graphics card thats 100X more powerful than anything seen yet - a quantum processor - a monitor that projects to the retina but requires a sizeable base unit initially . 

    My point is... It's all swings and roundabouts really, so I personally find the question a little irrelevant. To me, it's a matter of semantics of the meaning of desktop PC. 

    Unless of course you want to talk about this whole "software on the internet / cloud" stuff?? Meh, not really into that myself...

  5. Saikat Basu
    September 4, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    I think like everything else, desktop PCs will also evolve. How quickly it goes the way of the dinosaurs will be determined by the development of wi-fi technologies (and its cost of course). If it becomes all pervading, then cloud computing will really take off and so will tablet-styled PCs. Fixed line net access is the one umbilical cord that keeps us at the desk.

    Also, there are things like accessories. How will they develop?Today, we can connect large clunky printers to desktops. But I guess, everything will become more compact. And the desktop PC? Well it will turn into something like a home media server for doing everything from watching TV to playing high-end games, or even interfacing with all other digital devices around the house.

  6. TidyWords
    September 3, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    I think the desktop PC is here to stay in one form or another but it will become the minority share of the computing market.  For heavy user tasks such as Video editing, Audio recording etc... a desktop will be needed for the foreseeable future.  I had my doubts but OSX Lion has proved that desktop computing can be brought up to date for the 'touch' generation.  

    I think people will be storing,creating and streaming content for desktop PC's for a while to come, even though tablets phones and laptops are more than powerful enough for most users every day consumption tasks.

  7. Dkdevnll
    September 3, 2011 at 2:58 am

    I think what people are missing is this:  all these little, low-power, mobile devices are built to COMSUME CONTENT.  PCs will be around for years, since CREATING CONTENT requires flexibility, processing power, expandable storage, and a more accurate interface.

    • Tina
      September 3, 2011 at 8:44 am

      I've been creating content (degree thesis, research publications, reviews, and 500+ articles on MakeUseOf) for years and since 2003 all I have owned was a laptop.

      Like mainframes, desktop PCs will not entirely vanish, but they will be a tool used by only a minority. Or maybe the line between laptops and desktops will slowly become thinner and vanish. Just look at the portability of Mac desktops...they are basically just a screen or a huge tablet PC without the touchscreen and without a battery. Now that can be changed!

  8. Mike
    September 2, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    As always it depends on the definition!

    If you are referring to the form factor "desktop PC" (those ugly things you used to put underneath the monitor) they are almost gone. Although one could consider the media center or home theater PC being their successor in FF and application.

    If you are referring to the technical definition as in a none portable personal computing device I doubt they will ever be gone. The (technical) desktop PC might have changed in it's shape and form factor (desktop, tower, SFF, slim/thin client, all-in-one e.g. the iMac) but I don't see it ever being replaced.

  9. Nimbu Paani
    September 2, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Yes, definitely. Devices evolve and those that are way too obsolete are phased out. That was the case with mobile phones (from the bulkier 'brick' ones of 1980s to 'ultra light' 7mm thin ones of 2011), storage devices, cameras and countless other devices.

    Desktop : User has to sit at a place to harness the computing power.
    Limitation : Mobility, Lighter Hardware

    Sometime or the other, everyone feels the need to go mobile. Given the way as we are progressing, wireless communication is the way to grow. I think in the very near future, when SSDs get really cheap, and wireless communication much faster, desktops could evolve into centralized storage solutions, that offer remote access to data for the common user, while the real processing is done somewhere else.

    Maybe gaming would become less power-hungry hardware wise and would truly become mobile.

    Or maybe in the more distant future, foldable or 'paper' screens could be such a huge craze that everybody would want to use that, and the need to be bound to a desk-mounted screen would seriously diminish. Or maybe ingenious interactive portable projector/holographic screens would one day change the face of computing altogether.
    And what about wearing glasses for monitors, sensor-laden-clothing for input and some wireless earphones for speakers? You know, devices may be recharged wirelessly too.
    And what if the wireless clothing is replaces by our synaptic impulses?

    Who knows what goodies the future may have in store, but the desktop, as we know it, is sure gonna expire.

  10. Secondtimeagain
    September 2, 2011 at 7:10 am

    I don't believe desktop PCs will every quite go away. They are they only ergonomic computer option currently. Plus, the drive storage has always been larger on desktops. As we have seen with most smaller options, eventually, those get larger. For instance, laptops grew smaller until they evolved into netbooks, which are now disappearing. Smartphones were supposed to be the end of laptops, but these were too small, so we now have tablets. Unless you buy numerous accessories which must be connected every time you use the device, you still have extremely limited usability. 

    Overall, desktops offer everything we need in one package. While technology evolves, desktops will continue to evolve as well. They won't go away. Instead, they will simply change to meet users' needs. 

  11. Jeffery Fabish
    September 2, 2011 at 7:05 am

    I don't think it's an immediate concern, at least not for a good five years. However, yes. I believe that as consumers strive for a more portable yet also more functional alternative, soon there will be a fully featured hand-held device. Competition will eventually switch from the desktop market to the hand-held market, therefore causing a modernisation of portable devices.

    If you read history, even poorly, you'll see technology always gets smaller, but more powerful. A once room-sized personal computer, you now probably have in your pocket.

    I think this hype was started by an IBM engineer, not even an upper management engineer, just a desk-jockey. He deamed it to be an imidiate threat, when it really isn't. It's a gradual change, you'll probably adapt to it unintentionally, granted your a technology enthusiast.

    In conclusion, as of now there is no viable alternative that packs the power of a desktop system. Devices such as the tablet PC's and phones, simply don't harness the flexibility to danger desktop pc's.

    • RDRush
      September 17, 2011 at 12:13 am

      Agreed on all points.

      A serious concern is often overlooked and that is practicality. You could create images; etc. on a smart phone, but consider the scale you are working at. Some smart phones, media pads and others have docks to connect to an external monitor; etc. These devices are more powerful than allot of laptops, but nowhere near an 8 core i7 desktop with 32 gigabytes of RAM and a terrabyte HDD.

      Media devices enhance and will not replace systems like the desktop ever. They're awesome but are in a niche governed by size for mobility. Technology is applied as a science and as tangible hardware. As stated size plus performance has a direct effect on production and maintenance costs making the whole deal more appealing for the ultimate consumer.

      Desktop systems should directly benefit from advancements made in micro format hardware and that is entirely at the mercy of the manufacturers. Smaller components with similar output capacities should enable hardware manufacturers in refinement and optimization policies and practices overseeing the devlopment and delivery of their products as well as saving everyone a ton of money by going greener with less power consumption.

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