With all the excitement, and sales revenue, being generated by portable devices such as smart phones, tablet computers, digital media players, and laptop computers, it's difficult to avoid feeling at times that the desktop personal computer is a dinosaur.
After all, most desktop PCs are big, heavy, and not very mobile. Will they eventually go extinct? Are we headed toward a "post PC era"?
The headlines are ominous. The world's largest desktop PC maker, Hewlett Packard, recently announced the layoffs of more than 27,000 workers. Dell, another major manufacturer, had weak second-quarter earnings. Meanwhile, Apple, maker of leading products in the smart phone, tablet, and digital media player spaces, is enjoying booming earnings.
Some pundits are predicting that even in business settings, where desktop PC sales remain strong, lower-cost "thin clients" and laptops will ultimately predominate.
Thin clients are a what's-old-is-new-again concept, similar to the underpowered computing devices that connected to powerful mainframe PCs widespread in the 1970s and earlier. Today, they rely the "cloud," either Internet-based server computers or in-house corporate servers, to provide them with programs running within web browsers as well as with storage space.
But concerns remain about the reliability and security of the cloud. Without local programs and storage, if your Internet or network connection goes down, you're left with "Does not compute."
Further, the majority of those devices taking market share away from desktop PCs are largely consuming tools, used mostly for such activities as listening to music and participating in conversations. Desktop PCs are both consuming and producing tools, far superior for writing a report, producing a presentation, and crunching out a spreadsheet.
I just looked at one of the latest and greatest desktop PCs, from market leader Hewlett Packard (HP). As with just about every other new desktop PC I've used, its leaps and bounds are more powerful and impressive than its predecessors of just three or four years earlier, which is a common period of time people go before replacing one PC for a newer one.
The unit I looked at was an HP Pavilion HPE h8-1050 Desktop PC, since replaced with an only slightly different HP Pavilion HPE h8-1220 Desktop PC. The specifications alone are mindboggling, at least to a computer geek.
It comes with a quad-core Intel processor, 10 gigabytes of memory, and a 1.5 terabyte hard drive, with a terabyte roughly being a trillion bytes. One-and-a-half trillion bytes translates into approximately 1 million books, 750,000 photos, 3,000 hours of CD-quality audio, and 500 DVD-quality films.
The unit also comes with a CD/DVD drive, eight USB ports, a memory card reader, wired and wireless networking, a wireless keyboard and mouse, a TV tuner, and a remote to control the playing of video and audio.
A PC like this shouts for a large monitor, so I had paired with it an HP 2511x. This 25-inch LED monitor sports a resolution of 1920 x 1080.
In recent years, PC makers have been scrimping on the software included, and this unit is no exception. Along with the 64-bit Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium Edition, the only major program it comes with is Microsoft Office Starter 2010 Edition. The latter includes reduced-functionality, ad-supported versions of Word and Excel, with the ads largely beckoning you to pay for one of the more complete versions of Office.
HP is a "good guy" US company headquartered in Palo Alto, CA, with a storied history, having been founded in a one-car garage in 1939. Along with PCs, it's also well known for its printers as well as its networking and storage products, and its target market ranges from households to multinational corporations.
HP earned a second-place finish among PC makers in the American Customer Satisfaction Index's latest customer-satisfaction survey for desktop PCs (www.theacsi.org). Apple came out on top, as it has in the past, though its products remain more expensive than the industry norm. Tied for third were Dell and Acer.
The HP unit I looked at represents a continuation of the tradition of desktop personal computers providing remarkable versatility and flexibility. You won't be able to carry it around with you. But sitting in a comfy ergonomic chair in a space you've dedicated to your PC, you can use it for a wide range of productivity, communication, and entertainment purposes.
Changes are inevitable. The next version of Microsoft Windows, Windows 8, which is expected out later this year, has an interface designed more for tablet computers than desktop PCs, a concern for many desktop PC aficionados.
Reid Goldsborough is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania.