/ Technology

Poor old desktop PC, sitting unloved in a dusty corner

Dusty computer keyboard

Man cannot live by iPad alone. Laptops, tablets and smartphones may be leaving PCs gathering dust in the corner, but is there still a place in your life – and living room – for a desktop PC?

My old PC has been sitting in a corner at my parents’ house for years. Last year my dad bought an iPad which lets him email and web browse with speed and ease, leaving my old PC gathering dust.

But after spending two hours on Easter Monday trying to upload a photo from my dad’s iPad onto a non-iPad optimised webpage, we conceded that we’d have to fire up the old computer. The final ‘photo upload’ hurdle proved insurmountable for his iPad.

So it seems you can’t put all of your (chocolate) eggs in one (iPad) basket. Now I know my dad’ll be reluctant to chuck out the old workstation without having a desktop replacement.

Replacing your desktop PC with a laptop or tablet

However, with laptops becoming ever more powerful and with plenty of cloud storage options available, the case for having a PC sitting around at home is becoming less convincing. This is backed up by our latest survey, where nine in 10 laptop owners told us they mostly use their laptop at home.

However, there are still lots of desktop machines out there. Of the people who responded to our computer reliability survey last year, 69% said they owned a desktop or all-in-one – 2% more than owned a laptop. But how many of those are being neglected in favour of laptops and tablets? Quite a few I imagine, given that 28% of PC owners bought theirs before 2007.

Which leaves me wondering whether the majority of PCs are sitting neglected in the corners of bedrooms, home offices and living rooms, watching the walls and gathering dust. Or are there some times you just couldn’t be without your home PC?

Murram says:
8 April 2013

I am sure that the use of Laptops is a fashion and is not driven by practicality. Using a Desktop PC with a keyboard firmly positioned on the desk and large monitor located at head hight is not likely to give back problems, wheras bent over a laptop located on your knees which moves as you use it will. My Desktop tower unit has had a larger hard drive installed, a bigger monitor and additional RAM. It was upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7 64bit and despite its age is still perfectly adequate for my needs. It is neither practical or cost effective to do any of these things with a Laptop PC. There is also the problem that Laptop batteries have a life and if it is still possible to purchase a replacement when they fail, it will certainly not be cheap. Whilst I accept that a Laptop is portable and a Desktop PC is not, I would suggest that a Tablet is a much better solution if portability is your criteria, with a Desktop PC also available for when you wish to do work that is not as convenient or possible on a Tablet.

Laptops are hardly a fashion and tablets are definitely not a substitute for a desktop or a laptop. I use all three, and the tablet is my substitute for a smartphone. The desktop machine will probably last longest.

Laptops – or at least portable computers – are not a fashion.

I bought my first “luggable” Compaq Portable III in 1988. I couldn’t afford the new price of $5,000 and bought it for around £1,500 second-hand.

The first decent desktop replacement, it weighed 10kg and had a 10″ bright orange plasma display you could warm your hands on on a cold day. Definitely mains-powered only! But it had the big advantage that I could use it in the office and take it home every night, so always available for a bit of overtime or preparing something for Monday morning, without messing with floppy disks.

If you have an avid gamer in your house, a laptop just wont do. Gamers need a high end graphics card with one or two large cooling fans.

Well there’s not much support for laptops in this Conversation, so I hope Which? will take note and keep their eyes on desktops well into the future. The serious world has not ‘moved on’ and just because the newer IT developments give portability, and are more image-making perhaps, it doesn’t mean we are all going to forsake our trusty heavy-weight machines in favour of the racing model. We have a laptop in the house [somewhere] but everything we do is on desktop PC’s, and I don’t think there is anything better for creating and processing documents, spreadsheets, reports, web browsing across a number of sites, and all the other functions mentioned by previous contributors. We don’t have smartphones or tablets because when we are ‘on the move’ [as important people say] we are usually in the company of each other or friends or relatives and it is not appropriate to use a gadget. Likewise, we cannot see that any communication devices have a place in the bedroom or the kitchen or the sitting room. We also think our PC’s should be shut down no later than 7 pm [I probably shouldn’t have written that – I expect somebody’s going to dig up one of my late night posts from a very old conversation; it’ll be the exception that proves the rule!].

It has taken a long time, but I’ve found something where we disagree strongly, John. We don’t turn TVs off at 7 pm, so why turn of our computers?

I would not be without my desktop machine, as I have explained above, but most of the time I use the laptop. At the moment it’s on the kitchen table and I am using it while I am cooking. At night, it just goes to sleep, and thankfully does not snore.

The TV doesn’t go on until 8pm! In between times, we dine.

My last desktop PC stopped working eight years ago. I gave it to a technically minded friend to see if she could get it working and after several false starts where it worked for a couple of hours before crashing, I gave up on it and bought a laptop. This was the best decision I ever made. Instead of being isolated in the study/spare room on the desktop, I could sit anywhere in the house – except the lavatory – and use the laptop. Instead of spending a couple of hours a week on the PC, I now spend more than a couple of hours a day on the laptop. About the only thing I miss the larger screen PC for is large spreadsheets, but as time goes on, my spreadsheets become fewer and smaller.

I only have one laptop, no smart phone or tablet, unlike most of those posting in this discussion. I would not have a smart phone because the screen size would be useless for me. If all of you multi device keepers had to select only one device to keep, which one would you choose?

Desktop, without doubt. Just put it in your living room!

I would go for the laptop too – but swap the TV for a desktop computer.

richard says:
9 April 2013

Err – I have 3 HP server style PC desktops (superb for games) – 9 printers – and 4 HP laptops – I produce 1000s of colour newsletters bi-monthly – design and run websites etc. I only use the Laptops to take to the OAP club I help run to teach those that want to – how to use a computer (I used to teach Information Technology) – and sometimes to show interested parties photographs and websites I have produced. in places where there are no computers – To carry 4 Desktops to the club is a little heavy for my 82 year old frame. The three servers are used in tandem to ensure I have double back-up in case of break-down – So far since using PCs from 1980 (used main-frames before that ) for around 4 hours a day – I have had one very minor breakdown. There is one server on three of the 4 floors of my house (nine rooms) so I have ‘instant access’ – The only problem I’ve ever had was when operating systems were updated and the existing PC could not cope with updated facilities – But as I built computers for sale it was no big deal – until PCs became cheaper to buy than build. I don’t like small screens – I watch TV when I want to – through Virgin On Demand. Desk Tops forever!!

Richard – I used to produce leaflets and newsletters using my own desktop computer and printers. At the start it was very satisfying, though very tedious to fold and staple. Eventually I discovered that it had become much cheaper to get the printing done commercially (assuming use of professional software). I support several local companies, depending on whether it is cards, leaflets, newsletters, booklets, guidebooks, posters or canvas banners.

Desktop PC’s are also a necessity for those who want to hide away from the other half or the rest of the family.

Many desktop/laptop users don’t really need all that power as they do little more than email, shop, download music and skype. That type of user will find that a Tablet or one of the better Smartphones will do all they need and they will enjoy the convenience of being able to move it around with them.

For serious work such as Photoshop, long documents, large spreadsheets, archiving music and movies, then the desktop still has its place at home or at work.

They are two different lifestyles.

A Smartphone or Mini iPad screen is too small for most of my online activity, that is why I use a Laptop. A Smartphone is suitable if you spend all your time on social network sites, but that is not what I do. I am considering buying a 9-10 inch Tablet because of it’s portability and the long battery life.

i have an ageing desk top pc and am thinking of replacing it but the choice of possible options is too confusing so i’ll probably just keep this one until it breaks too badly to fix. but there is another option. do i buy some off the shelf parts and just replace the guts of my pc and my old style 19″ monitor. its 19 inches from from front to back nearly too. all that would probably be about the same as buying a whole new machine anyway……..oh the confusion 🙁

What forces many to replace or upgrade computers is new software or peripherals that will not run properly or at all on old hardware. You were probably right to stick to your old CRT monitor because what is available nowadays is cheaper and much better than the early flat-screen monitors. I would buy a new keyboard soon, because it would be good to be able to do some capital letters. 🙂

If your current system is working well and you are happy with the performance, stick with it. We throw away or ‘recycle’ far too many working items today when using them for longer is much better for the environment. In the meantime, visit the high street or retail park and check out what is new in computers, both desktop, laptop and tablets. When your system finally breaks down or becomes too slow, you will then know the specification you are aiming to get or in the case of your screen, upgrade to. Seeing up to date products may whet your appetite to upgrade your current system or even buy a whole new one. A new monitorwill free up space on your desk and stop you getting a hernia. Which? Computing may be able to advise on upgrading rather than buying a new system.

After all that, I have to confess that I replaced two working CRT TV’s for freeview flatscreen ones, but in my defence it was because I did not wish to have freeview boxes attached. One went to relatives in France as a second TV and is still working well, the other to the ‘recycling’ centre. I’m sure hundreds and thousands of other working TV’s went the same way.

Good luck with your decision and don;t worry about the caps.

As well as reclaiming important desktop space, another advantage of updating from CRT to flat screen display is power and heat saving. Modern displays use 10% of the power of a CRT and produce practically no heat. CRTs are also prone to slow picture degradation that you may not have noticed: sometimes in as little as three years the quality may be significantly poorer.

The same for TVs too: a modern 40″ TV may use less than a quarter of the power of an old 24″ CRT TV.

Gerard Phelan says:
14 April 2013

My 10 year old PC has been dying for years, but being a Desktop I can get the vacuum cleaner nozzle in to clear to the dust and painstakingly apply a artists brush to stroke the tiny dust caked fans and reseat all the plug-in boards and connectors. Try that with a laptop.

However what was once fast is no longer so and I will be replacing with a new DESKTOP, probably a custom build. Why?

I want the computing power to run voice recognition, film editing, photo editing, large Access databases and Excel Spreadsheets, write newsletters using Desktop Publishing and benefit from dual hard disc drives for secure storage and an SSD for speed. Oh and a 27″ high definition monitor on a fully adjustable stand.

Sure you could do this with a (large and expensive) laptop, but you would need to buy a business model that includes a docking station connector in the base in order to have the separate keyboard, mouse and monitor that ergonomic (DSE) guidelines say you must have.

Perhaps I am a Luddite? I appear to be in good company here, but I have also have a ASUS Transformer Infinity (NOT Which? reviewed). This demonstrates the disaster area that is the modern tablet environment, in which even “simple” viewing of the BBC web site is impossible, unless you install unofficial software to make the videos work and where the ‘oh so pretty’ “Apps” include fewer features and options than version 1.0 of most PC (Desktop) software.

Gerald – I suspect that the dust in the fans,etc. might be because the computer is on or near the floor. If you can avoid this you might never need to get out the vacuum again.

Gerard Phelan says:
17 April 2013

Not so, my desktop computer lives on the top of my desk!

However it would probably be true to say that investment in a cleaner (person not machine) would reduce the amount of dust in the atmosphere.

Of course the logical solution would be to have a filter on the main fan. One that could be removed for cleaning without opening the case, of course.

I love the flexibility of my iPad on the move and for casual and immediate access. When I’m away from home, I can do 90% of what I need to on my iPad alone – and for many tasks its much better than a laptop, MacBook or PC e.g. instant on, auto change from portrait to landcsape, reading a newspaper or magazine, notetaking during meetings with auto synchronisation to the cloud, scanning RSS feeds, accessing and playing podcasts, TV and radio catchup or even live, rapid access to cloud or downloaded documents e.g. meeting Agendas and reports. The major limitations are storage, a primitive filing system, simple applications and limited screen size.

Without a doubt though, I still find some tasks are still much better, more simply and much faster on my desktop PC or MacBook e.g. complex video editing; secure creation, handling and backup of complex documents, finance systems, complex spreadsheets or presentations, sophisticated calendar applications, large dual monitors.I won’t be giving up either my PC or my MacBook any time soon … but the iPad stays too … and the smartphone … and the 7″ Android Tablet to cover the apps which aren’t supported on an iPad :).

Leo the great says:
7 April 2014

I nate tha PC are becoming obsolete just because people dont like to use them despite being more advanced than that consumerist b******t tablets and smarthpones are, if anything, those are obsolete technology in a new presentation, my leisure hobbies include drawing, making flash animations, playing high end videogames and editing bizarre videos for youtube, thisis why I need a powerfull machine, unfortunately normal people just want to read facebook, watch pics of chads and bimbos, chat and watching movies, maybe playing those PRIMITIVE 2d games on their way to job, this is not technological obsolence, is socialobsolence, one would say, well, that I need to wait for a tablet powerfull enough but that will be unlikely, because there is no demand for such stuff, tech is now stagnated and consumerist, thank you steve jobs you f*****g r****d.

jozo says:
5 August 2014

I consider myself a tech geek and have the following setup. galaxy s4, nexus 7 hd, and a 11.6 inch chromebook, then a laptop, which is hooked up to dual 24″ screens docked with a keyboard and mouse. To me it is the perfect setup, if you need more video power… then I could see getting a desktop but with an ssd and 8gb of ram it does everything I want and fast, plus I can undock when needed. The screen space and full keyboard and mouse are the key to productivity, I prefer the docked laptop over the desktop though as I can still well…use it as a 15″ laptop the few times I can’t do something on another device.

A high-end laptop with docked everything sounds like a great solution if money is no object and absolute top performance is not required. I guess that for most people, though, while a laptop will supply adequate performance, the extra bang per buck from a desktop would bring a significant.saving in bucks!

I found my desktop PC just fine until I broke my hip, and found sitting at a desk was not helping my recovery. I bought a 10″ tablet with HD screen which I can use everywhere (in bed, on the sofa, in the kitchen, in the car. I also bought a case/keyboard dock for the tablet, which made it even more convenient at times.

All great, except that now, after some months, I can happily sit at a desk again and find it such a joy to use the desktop again with its full-size HD screen, proper keyboard and mouse. I thought I’d fully adapted to the tablet, but it is not a substitute, even efficient for e-mail processing. This despite the fact that the tablet has a noticeably faster processor than my ageing compact desktop.

Next purchase for me will certainly be a new desktop, probably one with a separate compact case rather than an all-in-one (which I find to be a bit of a ‘stereogram’ concept, to use an audio analogy)

Andrew C says:
19 October 2014

Hi, can you help? I have an old Dell Inspiron 530 desktop. I use it to store my cds, financial records and photos and play spotify on it. Its hooked up to my hifi and TV. It has lots of storage but is just incredibly slow. I am not sure whether to transfer everything somewhere else and ditch it or get someone around to get it to zip along (I’ve tried all the usual – deleting temp files and files from recycle bin and defraging it). Really I turn it on very infrequently (usually to download bank statements once a quarter) so I am reluctant to spend £600 on a replacement. I have what looks like the usual array of laptops, ipads etc but have always thought of the desktop as holding this space. am I really out of date and missing something? I would appreciate comments!

Adding more RAM can sometimes help and can be a cheap upgrade especially if you can do it yourself. If you add to what you have, they must be in matched pairs or you can probably get 1 large one. Taking a photo of your RAM can help you decide what you need.

It might depend on your motherboard though.
A G33M02 looks like it can have 4GB RAM max, a G33M03 8GB RAM max.

It is quite easy and lots of help is available on the internet. Just make sure you discharge any static electricity before you touch anything inside.

Does depend on your spec though. Just do a search for Dell Insprion 530 upgrade.

Laptops and ipads do specific things well but try to work outside their lilted envelope and they are hopeless and frustrating. Laptops in my experience never stay fast running for long and the inability on Ipads and the like to transfer large images or vidoos means that they are a non-starter for me until such time as they leave their controlling Never Never Land get into the real world. Cloud storage? No thank you. How many times have I used their predecessors only to have them go out of business and give me v little time to retrieve my files. I have numerous hard drives inc’SSDs holding my files. Not possible with ipads.