These days there are many options available if you’re looking for a computer. Years ago the only option was a tower computer, and then the laptop was introduced, then along came the smaller laptops known as netbooks, then came the tablets. Then it became more complicated as the lines became blurred as Robin Thicke would say. Tablets started to have keyboards that could attach to them. Desktop machines came in smaller boxes until they started to build them in monitors so you just had the keyboard and mouse plug into it and things will no doubt continually evolve as one thing morphs into another. So what’s best for you? I’ll try to explain what’s available and what each does and hopefully you will be able to decide what’s best for you.
The Desktop or Tower PC
This name has developed for a computer that is built into a case of some sort. Shapes and sizes vary enormously. There are the standard ATX and micro ATX sizes that are still quite common, there are also gaming computers which are huge and there are devices that are small boxes about the size if a games console known as mini PC’s.
So what would you want a large personal computer for if you can get it in a small box? Good question, it comes down to two things really performance and the ability to cheaply upgrade and repair.
If your computer comes in a small box and is called a mini PC then the chances are that to enable everything to fit in it, some form of miniaturisation has had to take place and that means that the parts won’t be standard, so for that read expensive and hard to get. Also because of the size you will probably find that performance will suffer in comparison to a large ATX system. The beauty of a larger system is that they have been around for such a long time that the parts are easily available and cheap. Motherboards, processors, memory and drives all fit together and won’t cost the earth. If something goes wrong you can get a standard power supply for about £20 pounds. You won’t get one for that price for your mini PC.
You can also get more power and speed for you money. With a tower you can get the latest and most powerful processors, motherboards and graphic cards and build a system to your specific needs, again with a mini PC you’re stuck with what you get when you bought it.
With a tower system you can just keep upgrading gradually as you want to and never have to get rid of it. You can also build a system from scratch using exactly the components you want. It’s not that hard you can find details here. Also with a tower system the peripherals are separate and again very cheap compared to the same devices on laptops. If you spill your coffee on your laptop keyboard the chances are you’ve caused hundreds of pounds worth of damage. It might not even be cost effective to repair. Do the same to your keyboard that plugs into your tower system and you can get another keyboard for less than ten pounds, even the local supermarkets sell keyboards and mice now and some of those are open twenty four hours so in an emergency you can get one. Same with the screen on your laptop break it and the replacements are over a hundred pounds then there’s the labour cost to fit it. Break your standalone monitor and you can get another for less than half the price of a laptop replacement.
The laptop has the advantage of portability, you can take it with you when you travel, plug it in in your hotel room and with Wi-Fi your up and running. Being portable means you can also save space by using it on your kitchen table so you don’t have to have a dedicated area with a computer bench and the wiring that goes with it.
Incidentally, if you struggle to use the touch pad you can of course use a mouse, to save plugging and unplugging, Logitech make wireless mice with tiny receivers plugged in that you can just leave in a USB port, which make their use more convenient as you can see here. In my opinion a wireless mouse makes a tremendous amount of difference to the usability of a laptop. For the price it’s one of the best upgrades you can get. I don’t know about you but I hate the touch pad on laptops. You can’t copy and paste files properly without proper left and right click buttons oh and I can’t be the only one who’s typed and found I’m typing in the wrong place because my hand has touched it somewhere and the cursor is now somewhere it shouldn’t be. You can put a shortcut on your desktop to turn the touch pad on and off. Try a wireless mouse. I promise you you’ll be very happy with the results!
Netbooks are generally smaller laptops but when a laptop becomes small enough to be called a netbook, I haven’t a clue! When netbooks first appeared I wasn’t too impressed by them to be honest. I was happily using my laptop and netbooks looked too small to use.
I was given a netbook to fix.it was one of the Asus ones and when I looked at buying the parts it was going to be prohibitively expensive so I looked at eBay for some faulty Asus netbooks and managed to get three broken ones for a reasonable price. Not only did I manage to repair the faulty one but with what was left over I managed to build another working one for myself! It didn’t take long before it became my main portable machine and my laptop didn’t get much of I look in after. The smaller screen and keyboard didn’t in practice make much of a difference in use but the size and weight of carrying it around did! Suddenly my laptop and bag seemed huge and heavy. So I was converted.
My advice if you are undecided between a laptop of a netbook would be to use them both for a while if that’s possible, see if you can borrow one or the other from a friend for a day or two or if that’s not possible go to your local Curry’s or PC world and give each of them a decent try out before you decide.
I didn’t have much use for a tablet or so I thought, not until I got a smart phone, a windows 8 HTC 8X, after a few hours of use I loved the phone, I couldn’t believe how useful it was in terms of things that I could only previously do on a computer. Internet browsing and checking emails were suddenly easier to do on my phone. If only the screen were bigger. It was about that time that I started to see the attraction of tablets. Being able to do things by touching the screen seemed a lot more intuitive than using a mouse.
I went out and bought a seven inch tablet running Android. It was a similar size to my kindle but a bit heavier. Getting use to the Android system didn’t really become an issue either, it’s not really too dissimilar from Windows 8 on my phone. The larger screen of the tablet though does make a difference. There’s less scrolling about to do things, but it’s just as easy browsing and checking emails by touching the screen. I use my tablet more then I use my netbook and desktop PC but I still do things on my desktop PC that I couldn’t do at all on my netbook such as designing circuit board layouts and music production. There’s just not enough screen space, but for loads of other normal stuff the tablet suffices. It has totally taken over when it comes to reading things. the kindle software on my tablet makes it better than using my kindle which is slow by comparison when it comes to navigating and turning pages. Reading PDF’s was also something that my kindle wasn’t too good at so I used to have to read them on my netbook which didn’t make it too comfortable to read lengthy documents but with the tablet reading PDF’s is now a breeze.
My next computer purchase will probably be a larger tablet, either an 8” or 9” screen, as long as it’s not too weighty.
This is an area that it’s difficult to categorise because of the things that are being produced. One of the main areas that’s changing is that of the laptop and tablet.
Take a tablet, turn it sideways and put a computer keyboard by the side of it. You basically have the hardware of a laptop. With tablets having Bluetooth you could just get a Bluetooth keyboard and pair it with your tablet. They don’t even have to be physically connected or even next to each other! The only thing a laptop has over a tablet is the keyboard. So with a tablet and portable Bluetooth keyboard you just about get the best of both worlds.
Then look at the latest laptops running Windows 8 and having touchscreens. The touchscreen is basically acting as a tablet. What about the ones with detachable keyboards that leave the screen on its own, like a tablet. Then you’ve got the screens with click on keyboards that are cropping up more and more on TV commercials. The lines are getting more blurred. What is a tablet with an add on keyboard or a laptop with touchscreen and detachable keyboard?
The other area that is changing is that of the desktop PC, in order to reduce the size of the main box manufactures brought out small form PC’s where everything was miniaturised into a chocolate box size case that went on your desk. With further miniaturisation occurring the box has been made so small that it can be built into the back of a monitor, so you just effectively plug your keyboard and mouse into a monitor. Sometimes the box containing the PC slots onto the back of the monitor. It’s all about eradicating the box. The major drawback, again for me is that of upgrading or repair, it’s either not possible or prohibitively expensive
At the moment, it’s a case of horses for courses. There isn’t really one thing that is going to be the best for everyone. That is the reason for this article is to show you the possibilities so you can see which suits you and your needs. Ideally for me it’s a matter of using most of these devices for whatever is best for that application. For some serious uses you are going to be using a tower system for quite a while yet. The power and screen size just can’t be equalled if you’re doing some serious digital picture editing or music production, but for convenience and portability a tablet and portable wireless keyboard and mouse take some beating.
Based in Wigston Magna and Blaby, Leicestershire.
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