/ 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

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I have a Sony laptop, now 6 years old, with a 15.4″ (390mm) screen that I use in a desktop role generally (the battery now holds little charge). It does all I want – documents, photos, CAD (although for more demanding drawings a larger screen would be better – I could add a monitor), emails and web browsing. Although now it is a little slow at booting up (someone suggested processors slow as they age – any truth in that?). I will replace it with something similar – hopefully just before it dies (anyone know how to predict that!).
2 years ago Mrs R had an iPad for her birthday and that was the most successful present ever – she uses it largely for photos, emails and web browsing on the settee. I could not have foreseen how much use it would get, and how much enjoyment.
My sons are into professional Computer Aided Design – demanding software – and run this on laptops. Essential as they travel abroad. They can use large monitors in the office, but the screen quality on the laptops is so good these are not necessary when travelling.
So for us, laptop for serious work, iPad for leisure.

Bryan says:
4 February 2014

Processors do not slow down as they age; however disks fill up with rubbish and programs which load (without your permission) as you boot up. Also the memory you felt happy with 6 years ago is probably too small now. If your disk light spends lots of time illuminated after you have booted up, it probably needs to be ‘cleaned’ out – try CC Cleaner (there are other free programs which do this).
Also your work on design and graphics needs lots of memory; if you don’t have enough the program writes temporary information to your disk instead – much slower!
If you know someone who has successfully completed a laptop upgrade before, he or she could be your best friend. An upgrade is much cheaper than a new machine; you could get another 4 or 5 years from your laptop if you upgrade it now.

I have a 2 year old 15 inch MacBookPro, a 5 year old 24 inch iMac and a 2 year old iPad 2.

The MacBookPro is in use throughout the day and has all the email and other correspondence, presentations and photos that I am likely to need. I have been using mobile broadband for a few years, so I can keep in touch and update a website easily. Since the laptop is my life, I regularly do backups.

The iMac is where I keep an archive of important documents and a copy of my email back to 1999. Sometimes these emails contain very useful information, even if it was of little significance at the time. The 24 inch screen is great for desktop publishing, accurate drawings and viewing one document while working on another.

I use my iPad when out for the day and it often lives out of sight in the car. My MiFi mobile broadband dongle works with both the iPad and the laptop, and costs me around £55 for a new sim, which lasts a year. Though I love the battery life and portability of the iPad, I find it has its limitations. For example, it is a pain to scroll down long Web pages like those on Which? Conversation, which is so easy to do on my laptop.

Haggis says:
30 January 2014

It’s worth remembering that the initial purchase price is only part (albeit a large part) of the overall cost consideration. There’s the cost of software, upgrades, repairs and time wasted when things go wrong.

MsSupertech says:
1 February 2014

Software costs? Almost everything I use can be downloaded free… Repairs? Only ever needed one in all my years of computer ownership. Upgrades? Again, usually free stuff…
The only thing I spend money on is a new mouse now and then…
I’ll admit to a bit of time spent sorting out problems but I enjoy the challenge and with regular backups to fall back on there isn’t much I won’t try to tackle, despite being a complete amateur.

I’m somewhat knee deep in various computers! My rather ancient W95 desktop is still used as a general purpose workhorse for many applications, it is not connected to the internet. I also have a W98 desktop used for some specific applications because it has ‘real’ DOS available and an RS232 serial port. For some of these applications I also have a couple of W98 laptops when I need to use them away from ‘base’. Then there are my two XP laptops which are steadily being replaced by the use of a recently acquired W7 lap top. Finally, there is the tablet that I am actually using to post this!

The point is that there are horses for courses. Different machines suit different needs. Having just one type available can be somewhat restricting.

By the way, why does the questionnaire at the start of this conversation exclude laptops with screens between 15 and 17 inches? After all, a very popular screen size is 15.6 inches!

“By the way, why does the questionnaire at the start of this conversation exclude laptops with screens between 15 and 17 inches?”
I hadn’t noticed this. Mine is 15.4″. Incidentally, all this is likely to fall foul of the imperial vs. metric police (see earlier conversation, currently gone quiet). The label on my laptop is only in inches (no metric equivalent), and Which?’s intro only mentions inches. Why is this and does it matter (not to me!).

I’ve tweaked the poll 🙂

I agree with the horses for courses view. Also very relevant is the operating system. We have got Windows Vista And Windows 7 desktop computers in daily use at home with Windows XP and 98 base units ‘mothballed’ in case required. I have just bought a large laptop for use out of the home but for me its biggest problem is the Windows 8.1 operating system which I find extremely user unfriendly after 20 years experience as a windows user. (Maybe a new inexperienced user would have fewer problems from preconceived ideas of how to use a computer.). Businesses are apparently still buying machines with Windows 7 but I did not see any for domestic use when I looked at the market for cheaper laptops.

Although I have not tried it for myself, I understand that it is still possible to buy an official copy of W7, with licence, to replace W8.1. Having heard a lot of bad reviews concerning W8.1 I managed to find a suitable W7 laptop from Morgan Computers when I was looking to update from XP.

Windows 7 (in all it’s varieties) is still available from the smaller suppliers. Just Google it – but beware there are lot of fakes and illegal copies about on e bay. I’ve used a firm called PC Specialist who have Win 7 still available on CD. Naturally the likes of PC World will tell you it is no longer available. Don’t be taken in !


Peter M says:
31 January 2014

I have a mix of desktop systems, some small footprint, vertical, or small enough to go behind a screen, plus a few (old) iMac systems, and a number of laptops. The laptops are often used with a second screen connected (or HDMI to a big screen TV, 40″ or 42″). Although I have a tablet and phones, I tend to want plenty of space on screen for multiple browser windows so I have 17″ screens, 19″ and 21/22″ monitors / LED TVs with HDMI, DVI or VGA inputs.

Not convinced there’s any big problem with using a laptop in an ‘office’ setting – they are usually quieter than the older PC ‘tower’ systems or ‘desktop’ models which are simply big slabs, and while those desktop/tower PCs had more expansion options (and flexibility to install radio, ISDN, and replacement/ additional graphics cards) they were often noisy, large and quite heavy (needed to dispose of a dozen before moving to a smaller house)…

Have to agree with Tonyp – horses for courses – plenty of options, but have also recently seen article suggesting people might be better moving from Vista and XP to Linux and I’d agree – as Windows has developed it’s been a bit of a ‘hog’ on memory and resources and rather than upgrade an old PC to try Windows 8.

Finally, if buying new, to consider a Chromebook at around £200 rather than a Windows or Apple device (at 2 to 5 times that). I really do think some people are taken in by ‘hype’ and pay waaaay too much (especially for Apple gear like iPads).

I had a look at Linux. It seems pretty versatile but the open source nature can mean that some applications will not work on all flavours. This is particularly so if the application was originally intended for Windows or DOS.

Perhaps I would change my mind if I had more time to play with the system, but life is too short to try everything and for me computers are tools rather than things to play with!

Derek Putley says:
21 February 2014

I moved my main PCs over to Linux last year, after I fell foul of some malware posing as a “fake” Abobe Flash Player upgrade request pop-up on my Windows 7 laptop. I had also tried Linux at home a few years before and I do also use it at work for technical computing.

Otherwise, my favourite version of Windows is XP – to me all of the more recent Windows versions seem very bloated and slow in comparison to XP. As Microsoft are ending their support for XP this year, now is a good time to consider “upgrading” old XP boxes to run Linux. This can be done either by replacing Windows altogether or by setting the machine to offer the choice of either at start up.

In general, Linux does not run Windows sofware – but provides a vast range of alternative software, much of which is free. There are ways to run some Windows software under Linux, for example I can run my copy of Office 2000 using a Linux program called Wine to act as a bridge.

My recent experience is that most common forms of Linux will readiliy install and run on new-ish PCs. Very many different versions are available, so it can be worth trying a few different versions to see if you can find one that easily does what you want.

There’s no beating a desktop PC with a decent keyboard, mouse, and monitor for doing real work comfortably.
For travelling I’ve recently got one of the new breed low power/long battery life laptop/tablet PC convertibles (running full Windows) – as allows me to do all I need (which a tablet alone won’t), while being just as portable as a tablet.

Completely disagree about the “need” for a desktop. I have a laptop for use around the house or when out-and-about. But when I do high-resolution graphics or detailed Excel charting work, I simply connect to an external (24-inch) monitor and USB keyboard/mouse setup. Laptops match the power of desktops with the big advantage of portability!

Megan dog says:
31 January 2014

I have got a pedal bike (with lights) and a pair of walking boots (with laces). Covers most situations.

BackOut46 says:
31 January 2014

Nice one Megandog. I hope you carry a penknife and a couple of hanks of bale string as well?

Megan dog says:
31 January 2014

Thanks for your reply. Would have sent this earlier but I had to go out to buy cellotape. Must move with the times and string is now “old tec”.

BackOut46 says:
31 January 2014

Never be without bale string. The modern stuff is polyprop, very hi-tech. It holds up everything here, even my trousis.

Megan dog says:
31 January 2014

You may have fallen on hard times but you have convinced me. Tomorrow, I’ll buy a ball of string (large) and a book on 21st century knots to ensure I can use it properly. Does the string holding up your trousers ever constitute a health hazard?.

BackOut46 says:
31 January 2014

I’m a farmer, I’m used to hard times, eh wot old chap?
Do you think this conversation is holding its own technically? I may be hiding my light under a bushel or whatever the expression is, but ask me anything about, say, Linux, I know about that, it’s what was on the kitchen floor when I was a child. And windows….

PS; No, unless it’s still going through the baler with the hay.

Megan dog says:
31 January 2014

We seem to have covered all the basics and have done so, if I may say, in a thorough and constructive manner. Your technical knowledge will have impressed many IT professionals.

Our conversation probably peaked when you mentioned Linux and a baler. Reading between the lines, your personal baler has lots of lights above the cab and packs string into tidy oblong bundles or round circles ready for people like myself to use.

Thank you for all your helpful advice on string and good luck with your farming. Michael H..

BackOut46 says:
31 January 2014

A very refreshing non-nerdy conversation in a nerdy jungle. I do like a good bit of anarchy! Especially silly stuff.
All the best, Nick H.

BackOut46 says:
31 January 2014

I have a three year-old iMac desktop, an iPad 2 and an iPhone 5. All (pretty reliably) talk to each other through iCloud.
The desktop (now with the latest Mavericks OS which has iMessage and FaceTime) I use for work stuff, the iPad is in my sitting room and does most of my Messaging and emails and surfing, and the iPhone which I have with me at all times does just about everything but is too small to do much more than ‘phone, texting and limited emailing.
All this lot didn’t come cheap but I find it’s pretty reliable and does what I want without being clunky and nerdy (did you hear that, Microsoft???) and I’m very happy with it. And I’m not easily tempted to buy the latest Apple stuff, though they keep trying hard…..

Longstanding Which Member says:
31 January 2014

According to your survey, 60% of your members use a desk-top computer – the only type that you don’t test.

I have a smatphone, Ipad and laptop but my number one choice is still my self build desktop PC. It recently failed on me (motherboard issue), so I bought new motherboard, processor, memory and new case for less than £300. I used the existing hard drives, screens, video card, wireless keyboard and mouse. My Windows 7 licence and Office licence could still be legally used on this new system. I now have a new system that gives a “windows experience” rating of 6.0 which is 1.5 points lower due to my “old” video card. Horses for courses but for anything requiring copy and paste work, comparison look ups; my PC with dual screen wins hands down any day. The tablet is great for holidays or days away. The smart phone is invaluable with its free gps golfing apps on the golf course and of course for the ocassional phone call and text. The laptop is now pretty redundant.

alan says:
31 January 2014

i have just ordered a 12.1″ screen replacement ultra-portable laptop which hopefully will do all i require.
my existing 13″ laptop is 6 years old and runs windows xp which looses its microsoft support in april, hence the ordered replacement running windows 7.

When we needed a PC we went to a local independant shop, Computer Warhouse, based close to home. They are on Which? Local too. The guy built a PC that matched our current needs and a bit more. Fast forward 5 years and we needed to upgrade and once again Computer Warehouse did the business for us. We now have a personalised PC that will handle even the heaviest Photoshop work and still run things in the background.
We also had problems with a laptop and that was fixed very quickly and not a bad price either. We also get printer inks there, non manufacturer, and a full set of ink, (Colour and Black) for our old Epson C62 is only £10.
Check out these independant shops before you go off to the likes of PC World or Currys and see what they can offer. You don’t have to buy a mainstream machine and you won’t pay mainstream prices either.

I have often bought computing equipment, including my current W7 laptop, from Morgan Computers. Good range of stuff at reasonable prices

Lister says:
31 January 2014

Desktop PC customised from Computer Planet running Linux (Ubuntu)
Laptop running Windows 8, which I haven’t bothered using in months. Mainly bought it to play Simcity (game turned out to be very buggy) and Football Manager (now available on Linux)
iPod Touch and iPhone, which I use often

We had our 2 laptops stolen and were faced with the dilemma of PC, laptop or tablet. After much deliberation we bought a PC with the plan to maybe buy something portable at a later date. Our main reasoning was that if we were burgled again we would be less likely to lose it than something easier to grab. They’re also a good price for what you get. And with wireless mouse and keyboard you’re less tied to a desk these days.
I was slightly disappointed that Which didn’t review any of the main PCs available as we would have appreciated the advice!

Tony says:
31 January 2014

I use a desktop as my main computer. When people ask me what computer they should buy, I ask them what they need it for. Often they don’t want to answer this question as it rarely results in the answer they wanted i.e. the latest tablet or ultra portable laptop!!
I use microsoft programs, photoshop, listen to music and being a keen photographer have lots of photos. I never watch films except when away and then play them though a TV screen wherever I am. I don’t play games.
So I have a desktop with a large hard drive, fast processor and memory and a moderate sized monitor. It is plugged into my superhub by ethernet cable so providing me with fast broadband. I use a backup drive for my photos and valuable files.
There would be little point in using a tablet or ultra portable as they have tiny hard drives, (SSHDs),small screens, and cost twice as much.
For travel, I use a netbook and DVD drive. The cost of both computers is less than an ultra potable which would satisfy neither of my requirements although of course it would look good.

Alan G says:
31 January 2014

I use 3 desktops all tuned to their tasks. The first is my main workhorse and runs Linux, the other two run Windows (XP and 8.1). XP is for Video editing (can’t find anything good enough on Linux although Lightworks looks promising even if not free) and the 8.1 is for Lightroom/Photoshop for my photography, again nothing beats Adobe in the Linux space for photo editing.
I use a Linux netbook when on holiday and have a new tablet that I use for web browsing/email in the living room, but don’t use it as much as expected.
I also have an 11 year old pre-Intel iBook that runs iTunes and feeds my stereo.
Not sure if all these single purpose PCs count though?

Phil says:
31 January 2014

I use a desktop for photo editing, big spreadsheets and power stuff. A laptop for portability when out and about and giving presentations; and a tablet for consuming stuff on the sofa. Each have their merits and disadvantages.

Norman T says:
31 January 2014

I use a home-built desktop which is upgraded frequently. Last mod was an SSD to replace the HDD so it’s now almost completely silent. With a quad-core i7 it’s far more powerful than any laptop under £1500 and, with a 24″ monitor it’s ideal for video editing.
However, in front of the TV or on holiday a tablet (new Nexus 7) is all I need.

When I bought my two desk top computers this was the what everyone bought. One is connected to the web and runs Vista and the other -which goes nowhere near the internet – runs XP. Both do my photo editing, documents and writing and the XP also runs a brilliant language translator which won’t run on any other machine. My XP machine was built for me but I found a bargain in P.C. World and, despite misgivings, it was an Advent. It still runs well and is approaching seven years old.
Having to access E.mails from more than one address, I bought a 17″laptop running Windows 8(another bargain from PC World!) to use “abroad” when the computer at the second address died. I am very pleased with this and get on well with Windows 8.1 except for closing down aps. I do miss the red corner X. Swiping is less intuitive. I also have a smart phone which I can use for internet access and for looking up information on the go.
I made sure that the laptop had a dvd drive -blu ray in this case. This ruled out notebooks and ultrabooks. I don’t find the size or weight to be a problem when the laptop is in its carry case.
If I was more of a social animal I might be looking at tablets, but at present they are of no use to me. I have a wireless keyboard and mouse to combat the problems typing on a laptop keyboard.
When it comes to replace the desktops, I shall probably go for laptops to free up desk space but they will probably have solid state drives and internal or external dvd drives too.

erik99 says:
31 January 2014

I have a laptop running W7, which I like, but is not too convenient to take away. I did use a netbook, but that started playing up very badly because of an internal connection that runs through the hinge, and I replaced it with another Windows netbook. When that failed inside the guarantee period, I gave in and bought a tablet running Android. Experiencing initial problems, I wrote to Which? Computing, and was congratulated for coming up-to-date! I hate the android OS, I hate the touch-screen working (the finger is such a blunt instrument!), and I hate having to download apps to do basic tasks like reading PDFs or unzipping files.