/ 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?


I use a laptop most of the time, but my desktop computer (iMac) certainly has its uses. It’s used for financial records and other documents that I am not going to use outside the house and as a repository for old files that are taking up unnecessary space on my laptop. It is invaluable when I am producing a document and need to consult websites and other documents, so I can read and write at the same time.

I have an older iMac that gets taken to events attended by a charity, to display slideshows. It has a big bright display and is ideal for the purpose. There’s no need for a keyboard, just the computer, power lead and mouse.

I have an even older (2002) iMac, also an all-in-one desktop computer, that lives in a cupboard and comes out when I need to find an old photograph. I really should transfer them, but they are nicely organised and I have not managed to work out how to transfer the images, keep the structure and avoid changing dates.

Another reason I hold on to old computers is that some software does not run on newer operating systems or hardware. For example, I have numerous files produced in Freehand that I may need to open and tweak. If it’s something I know I will use regularly I will spend time on doing a conversion to current software and correct the inevitable problems, but it’s usually much easier to go back to the old computer.

I go back to the old computers if I want to see emails before 2009. That does not happen often but can be invaluable.

I’m sitting here 2 desktops up and running and not a laptop or tablet in sight.

How many have Which? Conversation up on them? 😉

Just one, but not all the time.

I got rid of my desktop very recently, and I can’t say I miss it! I just removed the hard drive and then put it up on freecycle. The guy who came to pick it up was delighted, so I can assure you that even if some people no longer use them, there are lots of people who would be really pleased to have even a simple old desktop like mine (I think it was about 7 years old!). The main reason I’d taken so long to get rid of it is that I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I was really pleased to find a way to dispose of it without just throwing it out.

stanley says:
5 April 2013

I have an old desktop also printer I tried giving them to a charity they did not want them.
I removed the hard drive. It worked perfectly. Can you please tell me what is freecycle?


To check there is the facility in your area.

The reason that most charities do not accept electrical goods is because they have a responsibility to make sure that they are electrically safe. I have a friend who works for a charity doing this work (PAT testing) and has to reject quite a lot of donations because they are dangerous, even if they could be fixed by fitting new cables or attending to other problems.

A charity is probably not going to be interested in having a computer without a hard drive, so Freecycle or similar is probably the best option.

My old desk-top broke down recently and I was without it for several weeks and had to “Try” to do everything on my nice new all singing all dancing laptop…
I was not a Happy Bunny, it just could not cope with all the heavy traffic…
It’s great for all web cruising etc etc, but try to do anything that needs extra and it falls away drastically…

John Mackay says:
23 May 2013

I use a dual screen desktop PC with 3 hard drives, only a gigabyte of storage on a Raid system but enough for my needs, mainly editing video. Windows XP Pro. So my mouse happily moves across 2 screens and the timeline extends across the two screens – I can see twice as much and that makes it almost twice as fast.
So I bought a laptop and 2 lots of video editing software so I could do simple jobs. An i5 processor and 640 Gb, 6Gb Ram. It runs fast enough but it isn’t any good for serious extended use and it will not handle my serious editing software. It is OK for mail and casual home use, that’s all. Mindows 7 is a pain in the butt too.
(I am writing this on my PC)

mackay video says:
8 April 2014

I use Windows XP Pro and it works extremely well. Quad Core, raid, and three hard drives handle my work requirements. I have a Laptop with Windows 7 and a Google Tablet and neither of these remotely approach the old XP. They are entirely useless for a serious user and will not work with my video editing software.
I film and produce Videos and have to edit these using fairly sophisticated software. Then I use Photoshop for the graphics and photo editing. DTP is also a requirement as I produce DVD case Inserts. Like many other video pros I will stop using a PC when I have to change hardware. That’ll be another serious user moving to Apple Mac.

Just increased desktop ram to max 4gb, and bought a new 24 ” screen.
Lovely for my large Excel spreadsheets.
Would love to buy a thin, SSD Ultrabook but cannot justify it !
If I was still working I would buy a tablet for emails etc, whilst on the move ( i.e better than the pesky small screen on the smart phone .)

Anna says:
5 April 2013

I would never give up my pc, I love photography and have bought a new 24″ monitor as well. Two laptops lie unused.

Peter says:
5 April 2013

You can’t beat a proper desktop PC, with a decent keyboard and screen, for “office” functions such as word processing and spreadsheeting. I find it easier to use for most other functions too. I do have a laptop, but only ever use it if away from home. As soon as I get back, everything gets copied to my desktop and the laptop goes back in the drawer!

I couldn’t work without a desktop with a large screen. I also own an iPad and iPhone which are very useful devices, but each for their purpose. For everyday office use I could not cope with using sucha a small screen on any device.

I rather think it is the laptop which has had its day. Netbooks became obsolete following the introduction of tablets, and i rather think laptops will go the same way.

A smartphone, a tablet and a large screen desktop are the perfect combination right now.

roger says:
4 May 2013

If a large screen is needed, just hook up laptop to your HDTV. Now you can toss out the desktop, 24 inch screen and all its rat’s nest of associated wires for the 50 inch TV. 🙂 When phones/tablets get more powerful, then you can toss the laptop too if you wish. Just Miracast the tablet/phone screen wirelessly to the TV and use a Bluetooth keyboard.

So what happens when the wife wants to watch Corrie, the kids want to play Bioshock and you want to surf the Internet? It’s not a good idea.

A good 10″ Tablet coupled with a Bluetooth Keyboard (such as the Microsoft Bluetooth 6000) make a good surfing/email PC already. You can even do limited photo editing with one of the online graphics tools. But they are still someway from totally replacing a PC (or Laptop).

I have a macbook, and iPad. Both are useful for light browsing while in bed or watching the tv, but for serious work my iMac is the computer of choice and I couldn’t contemplate using anything else for photo editing and video creation, working on complex spreadsheets, internet shopping and on-line banking, money management or when (frequently) needing several documents open at the same time. My next computer will definitely be another iMac and I have my eyes on the 27″ model.

Speedy says:
5 April 2013

There is no conceivable way I would give up my desktop PC. I own an iPad but that is OK for some of the lesser tasks, like web surfing and email. But there is no way it can compete with my desktop. I use my desktop PC for video, photo and music editing, and I’m a gamer as well. My desktop is a high end water-cooled contraption, there is no laptop or tablet that comes close to it. For some reason people tend to think of computers as communicating devices these days, and if all you want to do is surf the web and email, a tablet is sufficient for these tasks, but for us folk that use our computers for more creative computing, a laptop or tablet just doesn’t cut the ice.

RPB says:
5 April 2013

Our house has an iMac, PC, laptop and iPad. The one which really doesn’t get used much these days is the laptop, having been largely replaced by the iPad. But I love the iMac, and can’t imagine replacing its 24 inch screen with anything less any time soon.

Gwilym says:
5 April 2013

Like someone said:
A tablet will do everything a PC/desktop will do.

I guess you don’t make much use of a computer when you are out and about.

I have got a colouring set.

Well, I have a Psion organiser. Should I hold on to it as an antique of the future.

Still use my desktop every day. I do have a laptop but rarely use it (bit of a waste on money really!). My desktop is connected to my TV to stream media when needed and as a second display when required.

Still use a desktop.
A proper monitor, keyboard and mouse make for far more comfortable computer use.

I have a nice Shuttle unused in the corner( very small nice looking PC) and used to use it for iPlayer on the TV, but its graphics can no longer keep up with the latest Flash upgrades required for the latest iPlayer upgrades.

It really depends if you are a serious computer user using CAD, spreadsheets, mapping and photo-editing, or whether you use it as a glorified TV for simple e-mail, web-browsing and films. For the latter a tablet or laptop is fine, but for the former imho there is no substitute for a big screen and a proper keyboard and mouse. I re-discover this every time I am obliged to use a laptop.

I guess most people only really need a media toy. One irony is that you have to pay more for a laptop for less performance compared to a desktop.

Owen says:
6 April 2013

Desktops will continue to exist for those whose sight is less than perfect as well as those who have serious computing needs.eg for large spreadsheets and long documents.

I have a respectable desktop computer with a 24 inch screen and a 15 inch laptop. I can only afford one copy of Adobe CS and other expensive software packages. Until a couple of years ago, this software was on the desktop computer and I had cheaper software such as Microsoft Office on both machines.

I decided to move the expensive software to the laptop, which means I can use it anywhere. The screen is much smaller, but for what I do it has proved to be a very sensible decision. I far prefer the trackpad on my MacBook Pro to any mouse, though will use a mouse for some tasks in Photoshop and Illustrator, for example.

Yes I will use the desktop computer for a large spreadsheet or for any purpose where I need the large screen or work with two word processing files side-by-side, but the laptop does fine for the vast majority of what I do.

John Mackay says:
23 May 2013

Have a word with Adobe and see if the licence allows your CS to be used on a PC and laptop. Or maybe your old copy of Photoshop 7.

Thanks for the suggestion, John. It won’t work, unfortunately. Not only does a licence cover only one computer but in order to switch computer you have to de-register it on one machine and then re-register it on another. I have read that if you keep doing this, you will have to contact Adobe to be able to continue to use it.

You cannot split the components of Adobe CS across two computers. I would be happy to use InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator on my desktop computer, but since I want to be able to update a website (using Dreamweaver) when I am away from home, everything has to be on my laptop.

Many games are still best played on desktop machines. For example I use mine for Flight Sim X.
I also prefer the search engines you seem to get on a computer. BBC for instance seem to have more info than when logged into it on a phone or tablet.

Yes – some websites have simplified websites for mobile devices, which is useful for those who have a phone with a smaller screen.

I have room for both in my life, but then I use my computers for work as well as domestic purposes.

My laptop is there for when I travel way from home, or need to use my person software packages for work. But because I can sit in any room of the house, I also tend to use my laptop for email and web browsing.

My desktop PC has a 24” monitor and large hard disk. I use it for video editing, which is impossible on a laptop unless you spend megabucks. I also favour it when working all day on a document, project or tax return. The ability to independently adjust the monitor and keyboard position means my posture is better.

There are many problems with laptops (and laptop substitutes) compared to desktops that the average consumer does not consider:

They are expensive for what they are in terms of performance.

Because laptops are designed to be portable, they are flimsy and because they are both portable and flimsy they tend to get broken easily. This is usually fatal, or at least uneconomic to repair, unless you are capable of fixing it yourself and have all the necessary skill and patience.

For instance, simply tripping over the power lead cracked the power jack on my Sony laptop. I was quoted £££’s to repair this and the laptop nearly went into the skip. However, hours of searching the Internet finally threw up the correct replacement part for £15. This then required literally hours of painstaking disassembly and reassembly of the laptop to fit and a number of specialist tools most people just wouldn’t have at home.

There are few things you can do to enhance the specification and performance of a laptop, so it tends to become obsolete much more quickly than a desktop, which has a number of separate components that can be upgraded.

And you can almost guarantee the lithium battery will fail within 2-4 years. I’ve just spent £150 replacing mine and had the devil’s own job to source a Sony OEM battery, even though the laptop is less than 4 years old. Many “genuine” Sony replacements on sale on the Internet are fakes or cheap copies which could be a fire hazard or just fail to work properly.

So overall, laptops are more expensive and less environmentally “friendly” (if such a thing can be said of any computer) than a desktop. Unless you need portability or have very limited space at home, a desktop computer is better value and will have a lower total cost of ownership.

I endorse what Em has to say about laptops being flimsy and difficult to repair cost effectively. I have looked at damaged laptops for family and friends and they are usually difficult and expensive to repair. Em has described a typical problem. Cracked screens are another issue, though enthusiasts can replace them for a fraction of the cost of a professional repair.

Battery replacement adds to the cost of running a laptop though the fact that it is being uncommon to see laptop users with the once obligatory power supply plugged in, is evidence of improvement and the fact that portability is the main reason why laptops are selling so well.

I don’t know about Sony batteries for Sony laptops, but there have been serious incidents with them in other manufacturer’s products. I have seen a top of the range laptop destroyed by a burst battery.

There is usually little you can do to upgrade them, so typically a laptop has a shorter useful life than a desktop machine. To get good value for money, they need to be well used unless you buy a cheap one – which is almost guaranteed to disappoint.

There is a lot to be said for a desktop computer if you are on a tight budget.

Kate says:
7 April 2013

I have an iPhone, Macbook & desktop with 24 inch screen. I use my desktop most – it’s the screen size that’s the main reason. A slow-growing cataract makes the laptop a struggle. The phone is great for when out & about.