A major change has been happening for the average desktop computer system. Here this class of computer isn’t just the large box that sat under the screen or the large tower that sat beside the desk. In some ways, these desktop computers are now being welcomed back in to the main living areas of the house rather than being shut out to the den.
There are two major directions that are being made available for this class of computer.
This style integrates the computer circuitry, the screen and all of the secondary storage in one box about the size of a small flatscreen TV. The keyboard and mouse appear as separate devices that connect to this unit. An example of this style is the Sony VAIO J Series “all-in-one” that I have recently reviewed.
The style was inspired initially by the Apple Macintosh being the most popular of this form factor, but was augmented initially by the “transportable” computers that appeared at various times through the 1980s. Compaq also tried to bring this style in to being in the mid 1990s but with little success.
Some all-in-one variants where the computer circuitry, keyboard and secondary storage may appear but this style has been and could be targeted at the “retro 80s” market. This is because most of the computers that were popular in the early days of hobby and home computing that existed through the late 70s to the late 80s like the Commodore 64, the Apple IIe or the Sinclair ZX computers were based on that design layout even though, in a lot of the early designs, the secondary storage was outside of the system.
Most of these machines now have a touchscreen built in to them so as to make them appeal as interactive terminals. But HP have raised the stakes in this form factor by develop the Z1 which was a high-powered 27” workstation that implements a modular design so that it can be upgraded or repaired more easily.
Low-profile system units
Another direction for the desktop computer is for a traditional “three-piece” system to be equipped with a low-profile system unit. In earlier times a low-profile system unit was a box about the size of a typical video recorder or hi-fi CD player released through the late 80s and was very unreliable due to intense heat build-up.
Now these are units that appear in different sizes ranging from a small book to a loaf of bread to an ordinary two-slice toaster and some may be mistaken for a typical consumer network-attached-storage unit. This may include “pizza-box” designs that are so slim that you don’t know they are there; and the highly-powerful heavy-duty servers that are as big as the classic desktop computer designs.
The common features with these newer desktop-computer designs include a thermal design that relies less on a constantly-running fan to keep the system cool. In some cases, any system cooling fans that are used in these computers may operate in an “on-demand” manner where they come on if the system is running hot. This then leads to a reduced noise output from these computers compared to the traditional desktop computer.
Similarly, some of these computers will even use an outboard power supply that looks like the kind that would come with a laptop computer. Of course these would be designed to work without the use of a cooling fan.
Depending on the configuration, you may have new-design desktop computers that may suit average desktop computing tasks whereas you may have highly-compact systems like the HP Z1 that can perform heavy multimedia, graphics or intense gaming tasks.
On the other hand, most of these systems may not be as adaptable to newer needs as a classic desktop system. This may be due to a lot of the systems being built around integrated rather than standards-driven modular architecture.
Choosing the right form factor for your needs
If you want to place value on a touchscreen on a desktop setup, you could go for a large-screen all-in-one that has this feature. Similarly, the all-in-one can come in handy for a brand-new computer system where you are starting from scratch.
On the other hand, if you have a display type, size or arrangement in mind, you could value a low-profile desktop units. This same situation can come in handy if you have a screen, keyboard and mouse that is still in good order. In some cases, you could easily hide the system unit behind the screen or a peripheral if you don’t like the look of it.
It is also worth knowing that some of the larger low-profile desktop units may have room for expansion with the ability to add one or two expansion cards such as installing a discrete graphics card or upgrade secondary storage to your needs.
The traditional “tower-style” desktop is still a sure bet if you place your emphasis on expandability, ultra performance or a system that has to suit your computing needs exactly. Here, these should be purchased from a quality independent computer store who can build them “to order” or have one or more systems available “off the peg” at a cost-effective price to start from.
At least this the improvements in the new desktop-computer designs have allowed for the desktop computer system to be considered as a system option for most computing tasks in environments where aesthetics or noise issues do matter.