/ Technology

Desktop, all-in-one or laptop – what made you pick your PC?


Looking for a new home computer? These days it’s not just a case of working out which model to go for, but rather the dilemma of what type you’re after. A desktop, laptop or all-in-one PC?

Walk into any well know PC shop and you’ll find a myriad of computing devices. They range from chic, super-slim tablets to old-school desktop computers. And even your phone is in on the act now, with big smartphones offering similar (if not identical) functionality to tablets.

For those of you who just want a normal home computer, what do you choose? And what criteria do you use to narrow down the choice?

Desktops, all-in-ones or laptops

The humble desktop PC harks back to the days of old, but often provides superior memory and processor specs. It also leaves you free to choose your own monitor. Armed with decent innards, desktops are capable of handling even the most taxing of computing tasks. And if they start to get a bit sluggish, it’s relatively easy to upgrade them.

All-in-one PCs (AIO) look great and take up less room. They’re great for all round computing, including heavy duty tasks like photo editing, but they’re often eye-wateringly expensive (I’m thinking of the iMac here).

And then there’s the option of a desktop replacement laptop. Their larger screens often afford a better processor and more memory than your average laptop, but they’re pretty hefty and can end up living on your desk. In the end they can just turn into an AIO or desktop, thereby making their “portability” virtue pretty useless.

I love my laptop and iPad combo

Me? Well I’m the proud owner of an ultraportable laptop and an iPad mini. My laptop gives me that extra bit of functionality and is much better when I need to sit down and do some serious work. But the tablet wins for browsing the internet while I lounge around on the sofa.

So, are you a desktop, AIO, large laptop or tablet owner? What made you choose that type of device? What does it do that no other device can do as well? Your best examples will be featured in Which? magazine!

Which of the following do you use for computing at home? (multiple choice)

Desktop PC (39%, 791 Votes)

Laptop (16-inches or less) (25%, 520 Votes)

Tablet (22%, 454 Votes)

Desktop replacement laptop (17-inches or more) (7%, 138 Votes)

All-in-one PC (6%, 133 Votes)

Laptop-tablet convertible (1%, 16 Votes)

Giant tablet (20-inches or more) (0%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,258

Loading ... Loading ...

I’m rethinking the future after these comments. Before my old laptop gives up I am now thinking of replacing it with a desktop – I don’t use the portability and it should still be around anyway. In the absence of Which?’s guidance, anyone recommend reliable makes?


In using Apple desktops and laptops since 1992 I have only had a single breakdown, when a hard drive required replacement. I had a hinge break on a laptop, some time after I dropped it. I still use it for displays at events, where I would not want my newer machine stolen or damaged. Apple desktops and laptops do well in Which? tests.

I hate the company but like their hardware.

wavechange, I’ve never got to grips with Apple. I’m used to MS Office, MS Money, AllyCAD, where I am familiar with some useful details of the software and don’t really want to change. How does the Apple OS handle such things?

Malcolm – I have never attempted to run Windows on a Mac, but here’s what I learned a few years ago. One of the alternatives is to partition the hard drive and run Apple Boot Camp, so that you have a dual-boot machine running OSX (Mac operating system and Windows). To avoid having to re-boot there are third-party applications including Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion. I presume they are emulators.

I am certainly not going to pretend that the Apple platform offers anything like the same choice of software as is available for the PC.

MS Office has long been available for the Mac. A major difference is that there has never been a version of the database Access for Mac. Microsoft released Excel for the Mac before it became available on the PC.

When I mentioned that I had few problems with Macs, that refers to desktop and laptop machines at both home and at work. Not everyone has been so lucky.

wavechange, thanks. It would be useful if we had some guidance on reliable makes of PC.

From memory, the information about computer brand reliability is fairly basic on the Which? website.

If you are planning to move from a laptop to a desktop, replacing faulty parts is easier and therefore cheaper. I expect that compact all-in-one machines lie in between laptops and traditional desktops in this respect.

With a laptop, even a failing battery gives protection against brief interruptions in the mains supply. With a desktop machine, a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) can both protect the hardware and help avoid file corruption.

I have always had a desktop because, being old and retired, I have no need for a portable PC and a desktop gives me a big easy-to-read screen and masses of storage. Recently I have also bought a Hudl tablet for two reasons; first it is handy to be able to watch YouTube and to access my emails whilst sitting in my Lounge and secondly it only cost me £4 as I was able to buy it using Tesco vouchers.

I’ve had at least 4 desktops over the last 15 years or so. My present one, unsurprisingly, is immensely better than my first.I also have an iPad and occasionally use my wife’s laptop, but I’m much happier with the d/top as my rather large fingers are more likely to hit the right keys-I’m no touch typist.

Pat Raftery says:
1 February 2014

Linux? I couldn’t make anything work on it! For instance it couldn’t find my printer. I would like a fast desktop but my laptop seems to work well ‘though its 4 years old! thanks for the input, very interesting!

Derek Putley says:
21 February 2014

Linux does not readily support all makes and models of printers and/or scanners – so that is one area where Windows is arguably superior. Luckily for me, my old Canon MP750 is supported quite well for printing from Linux. I can also use its scanner under Linux, but the Canon supplied Windows software does a much better job of making scanned copies of documents.

I still have an old Windows desktop that I use for printing and scanning – and for playing Windows games on (if I can find the time).

Vivian Brumpton says:
1 February 2014

I tend to use my Galaxy Note to access the internet nowadays & only use my pc for things android can’t do – Flash & printing, & my husband watches BT Sport football on my pc.

I purchased a 10inch screen “netbook” several years ago.

I pondered for some time whether to buy a tablet since my netbook was “showing its age”

Eventually I decided to replace the HDD (hard disk drive) in my netbook with an SSD (solid state disk). This speeded up the netbook and gave it a battery life of 4+ hours. I now have what is effectively a tablet but it has the convenience of a keyboard.

Incidentally – I never was very keen of the concept of a tablet with an on screen keyboard.

I too am looking to replace my desktop soon, and would be interested to hear others’ recommendations. Dell used to be a good bet, but don’t hear so much of them these days – are they still as reliable?

And does anyone know of a trustworthy site where I can go and get help to put together a spec for a new computer?

Also – I have a 5 year old Dell netbook that freezes on many net pages, especially when I open and use Facebook. Is this just a memory problem? or something else?


Planner says:
3 February 2014

I would recommend Medion – they scored well on a Which reliability evaluation and I have found their kit very reliable and support very helpful – both for PC’s and a Medion satnav I own. I did a recent exercise on their site to price up a desktop replacement and for the spec I found an All-in-one came out cheaper. I think that when I replace my desktop PC’s I would opt for an All-in-one – in my experience, although desktops do allow easier upgrade, people rarely actually do change the hardware spec that much. In 9 years of owning 2 Medion PC’s I have only added more RAM – this can also be done on All-in-one’s.

I have been very satisfied with my HP desktop set-up with a Brother printer which I have had for over five years now I think. I don’t exactly stretch the machine and much of the time it is in use as a word-processor really. Since I don’t have any other equipment on which I can access the internet I have depended on this PC and it has never let me down. One advantage of a desktop is that you cannot drag it around with you and use it in inappropriae places or at inappropriate times, although some people might see that as a drawback I suppose.

MsSupertech says:
1 February 2014

Because of a shortage of space I have never owned a desktop PC at home. I’ve always had laptops – although my first one cost a small fortune relative to desktop prices. I generally upgrade every 3 years or so.
As far as I can tell, the only disadvantage is that it would be tricky for me to upgrade or change components but I’ve never had the least inclination to do that…
For genuine mobility I rely on my smartphone and a Google Nexus 7 tablet.
I may consider a larger tablet+keyboard combo for home use in future.

Planner says:
3 February 2014

I have 2 networked desktop PC’s which I bought from Aldi some 9 years ago (Medion XP models). They do pretty much everything we (wife & I) want to do with computers – email, skype and web surfing. I rebuilt them a year ago and Medion were helpful in providing detailed information on how to go about the task. The PC’s have never actually failed; the only issues I have had is a failed CD writer in one PC and a failed network card in the other. Both problems resolved fairly easily. I use the shared drive to store all our files and back this up to the other PC so if one PC does fail I will be able to access all our data irrespective of which PC fails. I recognise that support for XP ceases in April this year but the PC hardware will not support the latest Win 8.1 operating system so I am in a quandary about what to do. The hardware is virtually worthless now – even trade-in is only a token gesture. My view is to keep the two PC’s operational and accept that the OS is no longer supported. We have a tablet (Hudl) complete with keyboard case which we use for holidays and we have been able to do everything on the Hudl we can do with the desktop. While the tablet keyboard is a huge usability boon once home we tend to return to the desktops. Overall I think we are content with our computer setup – it’s economical and does everything we need from it.

I am happy with my washing machine, cooker, microwave, hi-fi, etc which are all over 25 years old and still doing a good job. I would not be happy without a modern computer, though I do dig out ones older than yours when I need to run obsolete software to access old files or because I don’t have equivalent modern software.

If you are happy with your old computers then keep using them, but keep backups in case you have a problem.


It sounds as though you have a fair level of expertise in which case you could consider using UBUNTU open source operating system. It is almost as user friendly as Microsoft Windows and good technical support is available through Forums etc.

These is also open source software available for most common tasks including an office suite (LibreOffice).

The only time that you may experience difficulty using this free of charge operating system is if you have any special purpose software or an obscure peripheral for which drivers may not be available. You will probably find that it runs OK on your computer because it generally requires less resources than Microsoft Windows.

Why not try backing up one of your Windows PCs and give UBUNTU a try. If you have taken a complete backup of you existing system, you can always go back to Windows if you do not like.

Planner, Saturday’s Daily Telegraph (Rick Maybury) covered the XP topic. Essentially he said keep using it and don’t worry. Microsoft Security Essentials will no longer update virus definitions, but there are plenty of free alternatives, it says, with examples.

Planner says:
4 February 2014

Thanks to Mike and Malcolm r for their comments. I had never heard of UBUNTO – until now of course. I’ve had a quick look at the web site and I might give it a try. I do have a bit of expertise being an ex electronics engineer from the days of ‘valves’ but I moved into IT for a few years before I retired. My overriding principle is KISS keep it simple (stupid) which in my experience is always the best approach. Your comments have reassured me about keeping my XP machines operational.

Derek Putley says:
21 February 2014

If you like XP (as I do!) then you might like the “Lubuntu” flavour of Ubuntu best.

I particularly like a derivative of that called LXLE (see http://lxle.net/) which comes bundled with lots of useful software preinstalled.

These versions give a Destop experience that is pretty much a “crib” of the Windows XP desktop.

The main standard version of Ubuntu now comes with a very different destop called Unity, which not everyone likes. A bit like Windows 8, Unity is quite different from the general Windows 95/98/2000/XP (etc…) model, so there is a steeper initial learning curve – arguably for little ultimate benefit. Unity has done for Ubuntu something akin to what Windows 8 has done for Microsoft – so a derivative of Ubuntu known as Linux Mint now seems to have become the “most popular” Linux family.

AK Martin says:
5 February 2014

I looked for the most “powerful” desktop I could find and ended up with Dell Alien. This was a VERY expensive, big machine with a 7 core processor and 12gB memory.

It failed.again and again and a gain. Eventually Dell decided to replace the Motherboard, and over some 3 engineer visits, everything else. It still didn’t work! So they then decided to change the computer.

It now is a slight down graded machine and it still has lots of problems. Given the choice, I would avoid Dell absolutely, or at least their “high power machines”!

Derek Putley says:
2 March 2014

I have had a couple of low cost Dell desktops – both have been great machines. I still have the Vista-era quad-core desktop – this cost me about £300 in Tesco when they were selling them.

One way to get a fast “destop” would be to buy an off-the-shelf machine sold as a “server” – these seem to come with the fastest and most reliable components in them.

Another way would be to entrust a local computer shop to assemble a besopke machine. When I used to frequent computer fairs in Birmingham, I often saw firms such as Bytetech Computers doing such work there on a “while you wait” basis.

Desktops are also suitable subjects for “home build” projects. You won’t necessarily save any money compared to the cost of an off-the-shelf product – but you can at least tailor the machine for your exact needs.

Derrick says:
22 March 2014

I am getting on in years and time is getting evermore valuable, I no longer want to be and unpaid machine minder, housekeeper, network manager, I want to recover my life and basically let Google assume that role. Give chromeOS and And use strong passwords with multifactor logins a go, using what ever form factor seems appropriate at session time.
Can which! have a go at this brief. Can Google be trusted! Any better or worse than the others around in the world.