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Is it time to proclaim the death of the desktop computer? Add to ...

It used to be that choosing a new computer was determined mostly by budget. In 2007, the average business laptop cost about $1,100, and a desktop about $700, according to IDC Canada. Mobility came at a premium, so companies deployed judiciously, based on need.

That's no longer true – the price gap has fallen to a mere $50. And, says Tim Brunt, IDC senior analyst for personal computing and technology: “It’s easy to justify $50.”

That’s reflected in sales figures, with the desktop/laptop split changing from roughly 50-50 to 32 per cent desktops and 68 per cent laptops.

If price isn’t the driver in picking a form factor, we wondered what is, and tossed the question to business people on the Web. Interestingly enough, those who responded were virtually unanimous in their criteria.

As laptops have dropped in price, the notion of buying one has become more enticing for business and consumer alike. Here are four situations in which a laptop is really the best choice:

  • The first is obvious: For mobility, a laptop is practically the only choice.
  • When space is at a premium, a laptop can be tucked into spots where a desktop would be impractical.
  • Laptops let employees do extra work from home, rather than sitting in the office until all hours. From a quality-of-life (and sometimes personal safety) point of view, this can make overtime more palatable. From the employer’s point of view, productivity increases.
  • Telecommuting is difficult without a laptop. The employee would require a computer at home and another at work, doubling the cost, and might run into trouble keeping the two machines in sync.

Mr. Brunt says the newly minted ultrabook – thin and light premium laptops touted by many vendors at the recent Consumer Electronics Show – could catch on if prices drop as significantly as manufacturers say they will.

“It could be a hot market,” he says. “Eighty per cent of the current market is under $1,000, so if they get to under $700, close to $500, it will be a big market.”

That said, buying a desktop computer is still the choice of many. Here are five situations in which a desktop is best:

  • Applications need specialized hardware such as large monitors, high-powered CPUs and hardware add-ons. A suitably configured laptop may be difficult to find, expensive and decidedly non-portable.
  • When a computer needs to be available on the network all the time, day or night, a desktop is the system of choice. Laptops have a habit of wandering off with their users and going offline when the user is on the move.
  • Desktops are, on the whole, easier to upgrade. They have space for extra memory and extra drives and additional components that can’t be squeezed into a laptop. While today’s laptops are often generously configured, the form factor means there is limited room for expansion.
  • Desktops last longer. Since they don't move around, they're not prone to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (or clumsy users), so, as long as they have sufficient power for the job, they're apt to remain in service, perhaps with an occasional memory uplift or a new power supply (both cheap upgrades). A 10-year-old desktop isn't a novelty; a 10-year-old laptop is a miracle.
  • Desktops, several users pointed out, are not as enticing to thieves. Burglars tend to grab easily transportable items.

Buying the proper desktop can be a challenge, however, says Mr. Brunt. Many small businesses are purchasing through retail outlets, where they find laptops galore, but only a desktop or two, sitting in a corner.

But one thing is certain: The desktop is not dead.

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