HOME Technology Nov 2009
Beyond the desktop
Redefining the humble PC

The consumer desktop PC is in the process of being rescued from dinosaur status as it takes a more complimentary role in the growing network of digital appliances around the home and office.

In a digitally literate household with school-aged children one PC was never going to be enough to avoid conflicts between gamers, downloaders, social networkers, emailers, photographers and those with homework commitments.

Internet safety advice to keep family computers in full parental view has contributed to the ongoing design challenge. More aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sensitive units that take up less space, make less noise and gobble up less power are rapidly replacing grey and beige towers.

And the flow on effect of producing lighter, smarter, faster and more integrated chipsets for notebooks has meant more features can be squeezed into a casing that looks equally at home on the office desk as in the lounge or the kitchen.

The power units are smaller, the floppy disc drive has gone, along with separate CD/DVD writers; hard disk size and graphics and video cards have shrunk, and peripheral possibilities have expanded with USB ports and SD card slots.

PC sales were in a major slump well before the recession hit but the experts see signs of recovery and sales figures show a gradual upward swing of the curve on analystís graphs.

Overall the consumer desktop market slumped by about 28 percent in the year to June with a number of vendors making losses. The entire market would still be struggling in quicksand if it hadnít been for relatively buoyant notebook and netbook sales.

According to market analyst IDC, Hewlett-Packard holds its number-one position by a considerable margin with Acer in second spot, followed by Dell, Apple and Lenovo.

The industry is hoping Microsoftís new Windows 7 operating system will kick start PC sales again after the long slow down. At the very least itís hoped XP owners will consider both a software and hardware swap-out before they get left too far behind and Vista users will now have a good reason to upgrade.

All together now

While the role of the PC as a home media centre or hub is still being redefined, other niches are opening up including the bench-top all-in-one, as a new class of computer. Apple's original iMac certainly set the tone with everything bundled into a single colourful transparent case.

Now HP, Dell and Acer, with its eMachine, are delivering models that look more like space age TV sets, integrating all the processing power behind a widescreen display unit.

Touchscreen is also making a big impression Asus Eee Top offers everything you could want from a PC at a fraction of the size behind a 15.6" touch panel and Dell's Studio One unit has a 19" screen with prices around $1500-$2000.

HP offers the TouchSmart300 and TouchSmart600 all-in-one dual core models with optional 20 or 23-inch full HD touch sensitive widescreen, wireless keyboard and wifi networking. The touchscreen enables you to rotate and zoom in on images, access multimedia files and navigate the web using two fingers.

These all-in-one units are being marketed as secondary home devices for functional areas of the home like the kitchen, where you might want to bookmark recipe sites, check your social networking status, tap up your email, or find a Google map for instructions to your next appointment.

These major shifts in the look and feel, signal a new era of innovations that are taking the once mundane desktop PC into new territory with greater appeal to a wider range of users.

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