China saves the desktop PC, for now

If you believe 'industry insiders' and the NYT

EVERY COUPLE OF years the death of the desktop PC is announced and we’re told that notebooks are set to replace the humble desktop as not only are they getting faster but they look so much better, use less power and of course they’re much more desirable than a desktop PC. However, the New York Times Bits blog talked to a few technology companies at CES about the desktop PC and according to them, it’ll still be around, for now.

One of the main reasons that the desktop PC will stick around, at least if you’re to believe our friend Richard Brown at VIA, is the Chinese market. As China is still only on the verge of getting computers into people’s homes, a desktop system offers the lowest overall cost. However, with netbooks being as cheap as they are these days, we can’t really see there being that much in that argument anymore. Of course there are some advantages of a desktop PC over a netbook, such as the option to choose your own screen and the ability to easily upgrade it over the years.

There are of course many other emerging markets in Asia, but with the exception of India which seems to be more interested in a mobile internet and computing experience, China is by far the largest market for computers. Richard Brown is also quoted as saying that VIA is seeing companies going back to desktops. This sort of makes sense when you consider the extra cost laptops can incur for a business. The biggest cost is of course lost or stolen machines, but notebook batteries are also expensive to replace. On top of that repairs are not nearly as easy or affordable with notebooks as on a desktop system. Add it all up and desktop PCs are starting to look quite attractive in the office again.

Pat Moorhead, AMD’s VP also got to voice his views on the matter and he is suggesting that we’ll see more people getting desktops again simply because they’ve gotten smaller. Well, they haven’t just gotten smaller; you can get really tiny desktop systems these days, so small in fact that you can hang them off the back of your display. This ties in to a degree with companies going back to using desktops, as a modern desktop computer doesn’t really use up a lot of space, which was one of the reasons why many businesses went with notebooks over desktops in the first place.

The new breed of small form factor desktop PCs are also a lot more power efficient, and in fact some of the latest models use less power than a couple of years old notebook. These tiny PCs might not offer as much computational power as some of their larger siblings, but as we’ve seen from CES, the mini-ITX motherboard form factor has had a renaissance. This time around the motherboards accept the latest generation of desktop processors, which wasn’t usually the case in the past.

The writer of the New York Times piece is also suggesting that “people in the middle of America, who tend to buy more desktops than people on the coasts” are the ones who are likely to snap up the new smaller generation of desktop computers. We’re not sure desktop PCs are sold just to people living in a specific geographic area and he seems to oversimplify things a little bit too much.

Our take on the desktop PC is that we’ll most likely see a split this year with the two main categories being small form factor devices and high-end desktop systems with all the trimmings. On the small form factor side of things many of the devices might not even be x86 based, as ARM seems to be taking on the entry level of the PC market. CES brought a wealth of new connected devices, many of which are much more than basic computers were a few years ago. Take something like the Boxee Box for example, it’s based on Nvidia’s Tegra 2 which sports two ARM Cortex A9 cores and although this is a media centric device, it can do most things that a desktop PC can.

So ok, it might not be a PC in the traditional way, but there’s no denying that this is the way the entry level market is heading, no matter what the x86 camp thinks about it. On the other hand, we have crazy things like the new dual socket motherboard from EVGA which has stirred up quite some commotion on the interweb, although it’s most likely going to be priced well out of most people’s budget. Yet there’s a huge interest in a product that most people can only aspire to own, but this is part of what drives the market.

No, we don’t think the desktop market is going to die anytime soon, but it has already started to change. Just look at how many motherboard makers there are today compared to 4-5 years ago. Some of the brands that we never expected to disappear are no longer with us, but in their place we have several new players doing devices that we could never have imagined before. At the higher end of the market we no longer just have the gamers that are helping push the industry along, but these days we also have overclockers, folders, crunchers and what not.

This is the beauty of the computer industry, as soon as a company comes up with something new, there will be aspects of the how the technology is being used by the consumer market that was never even thought about by the developers. This alone is reason enough for the desktop PC to stay with us for quite some time. That said, in exactly what form, we don’t know.S|A

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