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Written by Olin Coles   
Sunday, 08 August 2010

Desktop PC Platform: Fears and Predictions

Benchmark Reviews is a consumer technology website that tests gadgets of all types, but maintains a focus on desktop computer components. We're not alone in this effort, as we've kindly recognized several other websites who do a good job of accomplishing the same mission. To this end, we collectively follow certain market trends more than others. Over the past few years, I've personally watched certain technologies such as mobile devices grow ripe on the vine while others like cellular broadband have withered. Yet, regardless of focus, one particular concept has continually ruled the industry: more for less. To some degree this moniker shaped the birth of desktop PCs, but may also very well become the death of it.

This isn't exactly a new concept, mind you, as it generally parallels Moore's Law. It's only when you target a specific market segment and consider the idea that one popular platform could completely replace another that this concept becomes more interesting. Forty years ago most people couldn't imagine an age where computers could be small enough for personal use. Yet in 1976, Apple and Commodore were doing exactly that with the first consumer PCs. The very next year computer games made their debut for this new PC platform, which subsequently spawned the Atari gaming console. Later on in 1983 the Graphical User Interface (GUI) would arrive on the scene. By some accounts, this was the beginning of the end.

The PC was born from the idea that computer devices could be compact enough to perform work-related tasks in an office or home environment. Sure, gaming was a factor, but arcade consoles and home entertainment systems satisfied this market. There would be times when gaming consoles offered the best experience, and PCs grew to deliver multimedia playback. As the years progressed both platforms evolved, and to a large extent each returned to offer similar functions. For the next decade, gaming consoles learned to deliver productivity tools as well as gaming entertainment and would soon be considered a PC of another flavor. Gaming was the first primary threat to the desktop PC platform, and as consoles evolved to offer better graphics for a reasonable cost this continued to remain a concern.

The early 1990's were an interesting time for personal computers. Gaming consoles created "All your base are belong to us" and countless other popular memories, while dial-up Internet access and Id's Doom video game made desktop PCs a popular choice. Despite their best efforts, the notebook computer, or laptop PC as it was first known, garnered the most attention. Adored for their ability to deliver much of the same functionality as full size desktop PCs from inside a compact profile, laptops were the choice of business professionals everywhere. I personally experienced the dot-com gold rush (and dot-bomb era) working for web-based companies exclusively using notebook computers both in and out of the office. The miniature footprint and mobile computing capabilities soon formed the writing on the wall for desktop PCs.

Enter the year 2010, a time where mobile devices such as the HTC EVO 4G Andriod SmartPhone can nearly replicate the functionality of a personal computer, yet consume much less power and occupy less real-estate. If ever there was a time when more for less was clearly visible within computer technology, that time would be now. Mobile devices cannot replace the processing power of a workstation computer, and most devices aren't capable of delivering the entertainment experience of desktop PCs, but they're hot on the heels of notebooks and netbook devices. NVIDIA's Tegra mobile GPU might have bridged that gap, as I had the honor of playing Quake from a SmartPhone back in 2008, but delays have kept this disruptive technology at bay. Had it been accepted into mainstream production on time, I can only imagine what the average cell phone would be capable of at this point.

So as we move ahead towards the end of the year, and as we will soon be experiencing yet another display of modern innovation at the upcoming 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I can only sit back and wonder what I'll be testing a few years from now. Some of the original players in the hardware review business undoubtedly know this fear, and have witnessed technology shrink from the jumbo full-size tower computers into palm-size versions holding the same potential. Though this article merely becomes the introduction for many subsequent discussions I'll share on the topic, the message is clear: desktop PCs have an expiration date, and that time may not be far off.

Welcome to the new Opinion & Editorials section at Benchmark Reviews. Your input is welcome.


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Comments 

 
# Ancient UbergeekAll_Day_SCI-fi 2010-08-08 19:02
All of these devices are von Neumann machines. Many people still don't have a clue how many different things they can do with them.

A dual-core nettop sounds about optimum to me. One that doesn't use a fan. Fans suck in dust. Sometimes they squeak. I would rather have less power and a machine I could use an not mess with for years.

Yeah they want to convince us that we need more power FOREVER and to constantly upgrade to get it but that is nonsense. What we need is reasonably efficient software not bloatware. I was listening to users complain about useless variations in software in 2001. Would the world come to an end if millions of users just froze on Ubuntu 10.10 and refused to upgrade and just accepted bug fixes?

My Archos PMA400 works damn well at 150 MHz. I would prefer a form factor like the Dr. Eye from Inventec. But it doesn't have a 30 gig SSD. The iPad doean't have a USB port. So many things are screwed up for DUMB reasons.
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# RE: Ancient UbergeekJohn 2010-08-08 20:39
... .... ...... Word.
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Fears and PredictionsRobert17 2010-08-09 03:51
This is a mixed bag commentary. Certainly the "# Tracy" wristwatch is upon us; communications, calculations, even the time is available for a relatively spare amount of pocketchange. Not much is required in the way of scripting algorithms on one of these, not that it can't be done, I guess. With voice recognition technology, translation, and nano-sized chipsets there are pretty much unlimited possibilities with the newest devices. BUT, just as with ham radio, or radidio as a friend used to say, there is a certain gray crowd out there that loves to tinker with these things. I can't imagine tinkering with a smartphone, upgrading the chips and such. Of course they are pretty much disposable after a point. Perhaps there will still be room for us old-timers at the table when it comes to future computers. It's just a matter of the tinker-factor.
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Fears and PredictionsRobert17 2010-08-09 03:53
I guess I should have said "Richard Tracy" wristwatch. HAHAHAHAHA. Your "bleachware" obviously didn't read the Sunday comics back in the 50's and 60's.
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# The mechanic in us all...Olin Coles 2010-08-09 09:30
This is just the entry-piece for future articles based on this topic. Sure, I could have made it much longer, but I think that page-long op-ed articles are sufficient enough to wet the whistle. There's a lot more I plan to discuss, such as the state of overclocking (which ties-in nicely to the desktop demise), as well as the reasons that desktop will survive in limited numbers thanks to the limited 'tweakability' of netbook/notebook/mobile devices. Patience is a virtue.
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Fears and PredictionsCharles 2010-08-10 20:39
I have to disagree. Without software such as games, computers and the internet would not have evolved as rapidly as they did. The computer by itself does not create the desire. Productivity still to this day does not by itself motivate people to purchase personal computers; there are still many people who keep their checkbook in a notebook ledger in the year 2010 who may be able to afford but have no intention of owning a personal computer. To these people, a phone is just a phone and a gaming console is just a gaming console. Video games first, then the internet and all the "desirable information" delivered, and finally videos and social networking have, not driven, allowed computers to continue to become more powerful at a rapid pace. In my world, not many people play games such as Quake on a cell phone; they have skipped the elite and gone straight into specialized culture through accessibility to social networking apps such as Twitter and Facebook. Until the next big thing
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# The Song may change but the melody will remainKenneth 2010-08-12 05:36
I don't think the desktop platform will disappear but it may transform into one of two new newer forms. It could become the high end performer (as you kind of noted in your follow on editorial) where the pc is the equivalent of the turntable vs the CD or the sports car vs the family car. Alternately with the migration to online content and streaming, what used to be the desktop pc could get merged with the home server to become a media center device where it could still provide much of the same functionality as the desktop now. Given people's attention span and mobility, it is no surprise that mobile form factors are expanding. That is not a bad thing and I think the market is still big enough to support mobile and non mobile solutions, even though both are undergoing massive changes right now. Just my take.
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Fears and PredictionsGK 2010-08-12 06:59
The PC wont die. Many people will still want a large screen, decent keyboard, and ability to burn DVDs in a "home" computer. Yes, lots of people will move to a mobile/netbook device, but then when people start experiencing theft, loss, drops-on-concrete, spills etc, they'll realise they can easily lose everything in portable devices, which by their nature are in danger of being lost/stolen/damaged. How many of us have a mobile that has lasted more than 2 years ?? Yes, you can have extenal storange/NAS, but I think most people who can afford it, will still want a "luxury" PC, as well as their mobile device.

30 or 40 years ago it was unthinkable that families would have 3 or 4 cars - why would you when one car was enough for a family. The same will happen with computers. We will each have our own netbook/PDA, and we`ll have a larger/luxury PC/Media Centre etc at home.

And havent PC shipments beeing gowing lately?
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# What does dying mean anywayCharles 2010-08-12 07:13
While there are certain size limitations, the profile of a desktop PC is starting to change and will change. To say that the desktop will die implies that it will go the way of the telegraph which is a misnomer.

One major upcoming advancement that will change things is cloud computing. Cloud computing will use broadband access to coordinate data transfer between the server where it is processed and the desktop which will simply be a dumb terminal with very stripped down performance requirements.

According to Moore's law and Kurzweil's law of accelerated returns, by the time that cloud computing matures into the mainstream, the next big thing will be there to take over. Families won't need 3-4 "cars" and internet bandwidth will be the new gasoline.

PC shipments have stayed the same with some decrease. Due to constant product placement and advertising, Mac notebooks are on the rise.
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# RE: What does dying mean anywayOlin Coles 2010-08-12 07:22
I'm not claiming that there won?t be people interested in the desktop platform amidst mobile growth. Manufacturers are at risk, and as more of them close their doors they'll take consumers availability down with them.
As for PC shipments, while they did rise this past quarter over the previous, they've still been suffering a major decline for more than three years now. Notebook sales surpassed desktop sales in late 2008.
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Fears and PredictionsGK 2010-08-12 07:59
I think the only question is how much market share will the desktop lose.

I dont think anyone believes desktops will completely dissapear, or that they will remain as strong as they are today.

I think we`ll see desktop lose 1/4 to 1/3 (20-30%) of it`s market share over the next 5 years. Cant see it losing anywhere near 40-50% though, that would be crazy.

But if the market size keeps growing, we may not actually see a volume reduction at all. Lets hope.
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Fears and PredictionsJuan 2010-08-12 18:55
i have the best watercooled pc in my country... one of the best in the world... it will last more than any laptop...
no laptop can work 100% @ 24*7*365.
no laptop has 8TB of storage..
no laptop, etc...
but the ipad will become the standard pc for all other people in the world.
the ipad will kill the atom mini laptops.
the atom mini laptops will go first, no doubt.
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# Desktop GuyPaul Parkinson 2010-08-12 20:06
There still a health market around the world for desktop computer. Products like the HTC are not creation devices but are more consuming devices. And yes while some professionals will use a laptop to do creation work there are large application areas where mobility is not a valued feature. And personally the reliability of a laptop or other portable device is not the same as a desktop which means more cost.

The PC market fractured a while ago into sub categories and will continue to fracture with the evolution of new devices and different form factors. And while the once all pervasive desktop is not the king of the categories it is not dead. Unit volumes will go up this year approx 3-4%.
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Fears and PredictionsDoug 2010-08-13 00:15
I could care less how small things get, as long as I get more power until I don't have wait times between rendering images in photoshop, zipping, ripping, flipping, converting, loading, and so on.

It would be nice to have my full tower rig, an OC 3.8Ghz 920 with a pair of GTX 295s, two DVD light scribes, a multicard reader, etc all wrapped up in my cell phone. Then I could just plug in my three monitors using one cable in the back of my phone, and we'd be set. Well, hell yes! Who wouldn't want that?

But how far out are we from getting i980 power out of a package the size of a cell phone? I'd say 20 years until we hit a physical (physics) limit, if there is one, to how small things can actually be.
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Fears and PredictionsDontFearTehRPR. 2010-08-16 19:03
"one cable in the back of my phone" --> Look for Light Peak port on phones 2012~2013 (and on home PC's before then). Hopefully they'll have one wire to your 24"+ monitor from your phone, then from the monitor to a wire goes to your full-size keyboard, mouse, the charger for your cellphone, 10~20 Mbps symmetrical broadband, 3D webcam (two cameras approx 3" apart like your eyes are 3" apart), printer/scanner, and an "archival" SSD or HDD: so as soon as you plug in your cellphone, it automatically "pushes" all changes you've made to the data on your cellphone's sdXc drive when you were "on the road," and in case you or your kids lose your phone there's always a copy kept at home on this "archival" drive (and sdXc --300Mbps, not so much the "104" speed which was just released-- will be fast enough not to seem "laggy" even if you keep data encrypted in case someone steals your phone... erp, sorry "mobile PC" ;-P ).
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# continued...DontFearTehRPR. 2010-08-16 19:10
i.e. these things are ~2 years away, not 20 years, Doug. It won't replace a CAD workstation, video-editing, or do the latest games in 3D, but a 2GHz smartphone is good enough to replace half the desktops in my home...

...now if they just get a folding oled (7" display which collapses to the size of a RaZR or RiZR, and you only use part of the display when the phone is in your pocket & you're checking the time or something else real quick...but if you sit down in a cafe & unfold the screen, it realizes you want to use the full display area), it'll truly replace the netbooks/UMPC's when its diplay is a more usable size (or some phones already have a 1080p DLP projector). ...and if they get voice-to-voice real-time translation (google's working on that for circa 2013, with voice-recognition integral, so 99% of your text is no longer inputted with the tiny #%#$% keyboard, unless you're in a "quiet area"), I'll be golden.
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# RE: Desktop PC Platform: Fears and PredictionsJim Atchue 2010-08-16 19:27
When I can model a 10 million poly scene on an HTC EVO 4G call me, until then it's all bull.
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# Desktop PC is nearly deadOlin Coles 2011-08-31 11:05
As if I needed proof of being correct in my prediction last year, HP/Compaq has decided to exit the PC industry. venturebeat.com/2011/08/31/benioff-hp-cheer/
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# RE: Desktop PC is nearly deadDavid Ramsey 2011-08-31 11:08
Yeah, but at least they're making ONE LAST RUN OF TOUCHPADS: ##pcworld.com/article/239224/touchpad_fire_sale_r edux_what_we_know_so _far.html
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# RE: RE: Desktop PC is nearly deadOlin Coles 2011-08-31 11:12
Touchpads are not desktop PCs, but as you point out even they are a form factor on the chopping block.
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# Looks like I called it...Olin Coles 2012-05-23 15:05
Hewlett-Packard plans to cut 27,000 jobs as the growing popularity of smartphones, the iPad and other mobile devices makes it tougher for the company to sell personal computers.

usatoday.com/tech/news/story/2012-05-23/HP-layoffs/55172146/1
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# RE: Looks like I called it...David Ramsey 2012-05-23 16:35
Well, that's their excuse. I suspect the real reason is that there's little to distinguish an HP Windows PC from any other commodity Windows PC. Grafting an indifferently-designed touch shell onto Windows 7 just doesn't do it any more (especially when improved versions of said shell can't be retrofitted to previous touch-enabled models).

Commodities sell on price, so people will buy the cheapest Win 7 box, and that ain't HP. Boutique vendors seems to be doing better, but as HP's disastrous acquisition and subsequent destruction of Voodoo PC showed, they have no idea how to compete in that market (and it's probably too small for them anyway).
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# RE: RE: Looks like I called it...Doug Dallam 2012-05-23 20:28
David that sounds pretty good to me. They needed to go the route Dell did or Gateway with the corporate market. Either that, or E-machines for the masses. As you pointed out, they did neither.
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