In a world of look-alike PCs, manufacturers are aiming to differentiate their computers more than ever with features such as antimicrobial keyboards to facial recognition security, as well as colorful shapes and designs.
Buyers have an array of options, from all-in-one desktops that eliminate the standard rectangular, gray or silver CPU boxes, to laptops with Blu-ray players and widescreens.
In the United States, the laptop market continues to grow and dominate over desktops, with notebook computers representing about two-thirds of all sales, said Steve Baker, NPD Group’s vice president of industry analysis.
“The last time desktops were ahead was in 2004, when the market was 55 percent desktops, 45 percent laptops,” he said.
“As the prices come down on portable computers, they become more within reach, and because of people’s mobile lifestyles, you’re definitely starting to see a bias toward them,” said John New, Dell’s senior manager of global product marketing.
A no-frills laptop – one with a 15.4-inch screen, 2-gigabytes of memory and a 160-gigabyte hard drive – can cost anywhere between $450 and $600, depending on rebates and other special offers.
Many desktop models, without monitors, start in the same price range, and cost even less in some cases.
Desktops are still a good option for those who want a larger screen at home, especially for playing video games, or for those who prefer an upgradeable computer with a large hard drive of 250 and 500 gigabytes to house a family’s music, photos, videos and documents.
Some desktops are starting to resemble laptops in terms of being thinner and taking up less space on home office shelves and desks, especially all-in-one units inspired by Apple’s iMac. And some notebook computers are providing the same kind of functionality as desktops, with large screens and hard drives, although mobility is not among their strengths.
“The one-size-fits-all metaphor of computers is definitely long-gone,” said Stephen DeWitt, HP’s senior vice president for the Americas region, Personal Systems Group.
A good example of that is HP’s Pavilion HDX Entertainment notebook PC with a 20.1-inch diagonal display, built-in HDTV tuner and four Altec Lansing speakers. The computer, which starts at $1,400 and weighs 15.3 pounds, and is being purchased by some as a desktop replacement. At that weight, it’s not the kind of notebook that can easily be carried in a backpack or briefcase.
DeWitt calls it a “home theater laptop,” and said “there is a class of customer that wants that kind of system,” just as “there is a class of customer that wants to watch movies on a 2-inch screen,” meaning portable media players or cell phones.
Meanwhile, Dell’s Studio Hybrid desktop computer, which starts at $499 (without a monitor), is about 6-1/2 pounds, and its curved design and small footprint makes it look more like a portable external hard drive than a CPU.
The Studio Hybrid is about 80 percent smaller than “the typical desktop minitower,” and uses up to 70 percent less energy, Dell says. The computer can be situated horizontally or vertically, and there are several colors of “sleeves,” from red to bamboo, that are available to further personalize the unit.
Multiple color choices area also available for Dell’s laptop line, including “espresso brown” and “flamingo pink,” as well as notebooks that come with cover designs imprinted on them. HP, too, has a number of such offerings.
“Because people are more accustomed to personal computers being part of their day-to-day life, they are getting a lot more personal in the sense that the system you choose can sort of represent who you are,” said New of Dell.