Is The Desktop Really Dying?

Category: Hardware

We've been hearing the death knell of the desktop for several years, as pundits pontificate about the rise of smartphones, tablets and laptops. But what do real people think, outside the ivory towers and echo chambers? Let's take a look at the numbers…

And the Survey Says...

Desktop PCs are still the best computing platform, according to the latest edition of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Household Appliance and Electronics report. Tablets are rapidly losing their appeal, and laptops are slipping, too.

Overall satisfaction with the three main types of computing platforms declined for the third straight year, dipping 1.7% on ACSI’s scale of 100. The ACSI surveyed 2,945 customers in the second quarter of 2015. The chart below shows the four-year trends of customer satisfaction with desktops, tablets, laptops, and their combined ratings.

Desktop PCs had the highest score in the 2015 survey (81). Tablets tumbled a whopping 6 percent, to 75. Laptops continued a steady long-term decline, tying tablets at 75. “As large-screen smartphones become more popular, they’ve made tablets somewhat redundant—caught in between the mobility of a smartphone and the power and functionality of a desktop,” explained Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder, in a summary of the results.
ACSI 4-year satisfaction trend

That may be true, but when I look at that chart, I see buyer's remorse. I see people buying into the notion that a 10-inch tablet or an 11-inch laptop could do everything they did previously on a 24-inch desktop rig with a real keyboard.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, in other news reports, thinks that tablets will replace desktops “in some homes” (but not his, he adds). If all you do is surf the Web, check email, watch Netflix, and control your Internet-enabled coffeemaker, a tablet may serve just fine.

Let's Get Serious

But for serious work or gaming, there’s nothing like a big screen, full-sized keyboard, high-performance processor, and the myriad of applications available for Windows. Can you connect multiple monitors, a printer, an external hard drive and a mouse to a tablet? Can you manipulate a large document or spreadsheet on a tiny screen?

I think there's zero chance that the tens of millions of desktop computers in corporate settings will be replaced by portable devices. Aside from the productivity and utility concerns mentioned in the previous paragraph, you'd be dealing with a new set of issues, with learning curve, theft and breakage at the top of the list.

Satisfaction with the computing industry overall has declined in every metric that the ACSI measures, a trend that seems more worrisome than competition between the three platform categories. One of the biggest declines – 3 points since 2014 – has been in “ability to keep system crashes to a minimum.” Satisfaction with “processor speed” also fell 3 points, from 82 to 79. An industry that can’t keep these fundamental numbers up is definitely in trouble.

The lowest satisfaction rating by far – 70 out of 100 – went to the computer industry’s call centers, a statistic that should surprise no one. The highest satisfaction rating (84) went to “design in terms of size and visual appeal.” So new toys look pretty even though they crash and tech support is abysmal. Wonderful.

The ACSI survey also rated vendors. Apple has ruled customer satisfaction for over 10 years now; its latest rating is 84. Dell is the only desktop maker that improved over 2014, rising 3 points to 78. Acer took last place with a satisfaction rating of 70. ASUS, Lenovo, Toshiba, and HP all scored in the mid-70s.

The full 2015 ACSI report also covers household appliances, TVs, and DVRs. It’s free to download in exchange for your name and contact info.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Is The Desktop Really Dying?"

(See all 59 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

03 Oct 2015

I do a lot of photo editing so a desktop computer is ideal. I have a tablet for travelling that enables access to cloud computing, but is used mainly for journey planning and email. And a desktop with mouse and keyboard is much more efficient. You don't have to hold on to the device to tap one-handed like you do with phones and tablets. Like printed books, I can't imagine living without my desktop computer. Thanks, Bob, for keeping us aware of the environment we live and work in.

Posted by:

Martin N.
03 Oct 2015

I have a desktop computer which I built, that uses XP, a 17 inch Laptop using Windows 7, a 6 inch Nook Tablet and a 10.1 inch Samsung Tablet.

The computer gets 70% of my usage, even though it is running XP. I use the computer for everything at home. I run two monitors and it and I are one. I can't imagine not having a desktop computer. Since support is nonexistant for XP, I will be replacing it sometime in the next year or so. I am mainly waiting for Windows 10 to get sorted out.

The Samsung Tablet gets 20% of my usage. When I leave the house it goes with me. It is a very valuable resource, and has my calendar, and numerous documents that I often refer to, plus a few ebooks. I depend on it so much I would be lost without it. I would use it even more if it weren't restricted by the on screen keyboard. I also have a bluetooth keyboard but it is too small so I never use it. It is convenient to use it to surf the web and do google searches when needed. To be real useful it would need a usb port to use a portable HD or to us to transfer documents and files. Even with those restrictions, it is my second love, and I depend on it a lot. The touch screen is great.

The Toshiba laptop gets 5% of my usage. It is just too big and heavy to lug around a lot, and as someone else stated I don't like the keyboard and I hate the touch pad for the mouse, so I use a nano wireless mouse. I primarily use it from time to time to handle projects I take home from work. Sometimes weeks go by with my even turning it on.

The original 6" Nook was good when I bought it but is more of a joke now, and I only use it as the ocasional ereader. I use about 5% of the time.

The bottom line is my Desktop computer and 10 inch tablet are essential for my needs and if anything happened to either one, they would get replaced immediately. If something would happen to the Nook, I would replace it with a $100 or so android tablet. I would also replace the Laptop because it is nice to have it available from time to time, however I wouldn't consider the replacement of the Nook or laptop replacement to be a top priority. There would be no hurry.

Posted by:

Bob P
03 Oct 2015

I use nothing but a desktop PC with a 21 inch Samsung screen and a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard. I don't like tablets with the endless finger pushing around the screen and do not like laptop keyboards.
The laptop has on thing over a desktop and one thing only - it's portable. It's inferior in every other department. The market has been pushing them because they are disposable, making sure most repairs are not worth the money and into the bin they go - can I buy another one please?

Posted by:

03 Oct 2015

My desktop lives in a room of its own; it's there when I want it and that's all I ask.

Posted by:

Eli Marcus
03 Oct 2015

Hi Bob, it seems like the industry and the media are constantly bemoaning the death of this or the drop in popularity of that. What I see is simply more diversity - more choices that consumers have today in the computing devices they can buy and use. (reminds of the debate on audio records, CDs, etc - more than 30 years after the CD arrived - LPs are still being produced, and phono turntables are a growing industry again)
I admit that I personally don't like smartphones at all as a computing device - I find them awkward and annoying, and most of the time, I find myself worrying about whether the battery will hold out a full day... I've tried tablets from time to time, and they are "cute" and convenient to carry around, but I don't think one can do any serious writing or other work on them.
The laptop has only been in my life for about 9 years, and I still use it at work (high tech) like a desktop device - attached to a docking station that allows me to connect 2-3 monitor screens, a proper keyboard and a quality mouse, as well as medium quality speakers. The advantage of the laptop to me is that I can undock it, take it with me into a meeting, or put it in my shoulder bag and take it home so that I may occasionally connect to work from out of the office. I like the portability/mobility of the laptop and the fact that all the basic components are housed in one compact package. On the other hand, the old desktop configuration is much cheaper to buy, easier to upgrade or fix when a component malfunctions, and you can easily hold multiple hard drives in the desktop case if you need them for various reasons.

Posted by:

03 Oct 2015

Best of both worlds! Get yourself a loaded, small gaming laptop (portability but still a workable keyboard) with a top line CPU ( unless you like to wait a lot), arm it with a SSD (moderate size - don't break the bank) and, lots of RAM. Get a monitor that will fit your desk and a USB or BT mouse. A USB CD/DVD deck will let you install or watch/listen to your favorites. A cloud or Wi-Fi connected memory bank (1 or 2 TB should suffice) and there you are!
When you are "on the go" disconnect the monitor and mouse and walk away with all your "smarts"

Posted by:

03 Oct 2015

Add another voice to the choir. I have a desktop, laptop, and a tablet, and the desktop is the clear winner. The tablets are only good if you go cellular or have an abundance of wi-fi to connect (and despite what others believe, hot spots are actually pretty rare, not to mention the security concerns). Desktop units won't be going away for some time to come (although they are indeed getting danged small in physical size).

Desktops are dead! Long live the desktops!

Posted by:

03 Oct 2015

Computing devices don't need to be so competitive, in a household. We have a 3U rack with a NAS connected to it to feed the whole house that also has an HTPC, a laptop, a tablet and a smartphone. They really don't fight and they have no jealousy tendency. But they all know that a new Z170MotherBoard and a 6th Gen. Intel i7-6700K is happening this month and will probably be the last of a desktop before they become wall-mount appliances that are hidden behind screens that are embedded in the walls but always watching and listening!

Posted by:

John R
05 Oct 2015

Satisfaction rates? My television is showing a streaming movie and I am downloading a huge program in the background while I have several documents open for working calculations on a spreadsheet that I am updating. I stop to answer an IM while trying to edit a photo to insert into my spreadsheet. When I have a computer that I have the confidence and trust in, that will perform all of those tasks without slowing down and or failing, that will be the day the PC has truly arrived. I do not see that coming to a home near me, not soon, but not in my life time. That would require a full blown server and workstation and I’m pretty sure there are only a few of them around that can do that. Even some of those will fail because the electronic digital systems are built upon a corrupted foundation. If anything else we own and use worked as poorly as computers, computer operating systems and computer programs, we would be carrying pitch forks and torches looking to get justice. Imagine your refrigerator or television failing even a small percentage of times your PC fails. The industry has us distracted by new and different, but it’s all doomed to fail. Heck, we can’t even trust our cellular telephones, but now they fail at a much higher data rate than to old clunkers of 3 months ago. Those of you with set-top boxes know about failure rates. Of course it is all built on the same foundation. It really becomes exasperating paying out more and more money, hoping I’ll get what I am paying for. It never happens. Ideally, the industry as a whole should be required to provide what we pay for 99% of the time over six months and failing that reduce their respective rates by 5% every six month when they don’t. They can fight with each other about who is at fault and charge us less until they deliver. Since we keep buying and paying they have no incentive to get it right? Whose fault is that?

Posted by:

05 Oct 2015

This year's biggest regret--building a laptop!! The regret will linger because my budget does not allow for regrets. I miss my DELL--it served me faithfully. After six months, I still have trouble "driving" a Lenovo Ultrabook. This was an expensive lesson that I will have to live with for a long time.

Posted by:

Frank Lobach
05 Oct 2015

I will never choose other than a desk top, hate the touch screens,touch mouse cursors,the little screens,and why would I want to take a computer out everywhere all the time,I need a life too.Love my multiple screens to allow more display areas.
Then I walk away when finished doing what I need to do.

Posted by:

05 Oct 2015

I have a smartphone I use for my business with my client information on it. I have a Kindle in the dining/family room I use to lookup recipes and read books. I have two laptops with an extra monitor I use for school and work. The Windows 7 is for school because some school software won't run on Windows 10 yet. The Windows 10 is because I need to learn it to support my clients.) I have a netbook acting primarily as a printer server and a 7" android tablet next to my bed to watch a bit of Netflix or read a book at bed time.

Posted by:

05 Oct 2015

This article was well received by me. All I've ever owned is a desktop and I browse, pay bills, communicate with family,friends and post and tweet. I can save all I want and need to do on a computer for when I get home. Thanks for the encouraging words.

Posted by:

05 Oct 2015

Hi Bob, I've had a desktop since the mid-80s (upgraded regularly) and I had a laptop for my work (also upgraded regularly) from 2002 through 2014 (retirement). During the times I was deciding on when to upgrade my home PC, I considered going to a laptop but always stayed with the desktop because my laptop experience for work convinced me I still wanted capabilities at home that laptops just couldn't offer. Now that I'm retired I don't miss the laptop at all.

Posted by:

08 Oct 2015

Another issue is ergonomics. A tablet or smart phone is an ergonomic nightmare. A laptop is almost as bad.

Look up a drawing or photograph of an ergonomically-correct computer and user. The right height for the top of the display is the height of the user's eyes. The right height for the keyboard is at about the user's elbows, and that keyboard should be split like an upside down fan with a small space between the 6 and 7 keys, a larger space between the B and N keys.

Compare that to a laptop where the keyboard is attached to the screen or a table where you type directly on the screen. That position is totally unnatural. The 20-somethings now who use only a table computer now will have serious neck pain by the time they are 70.

Posted by:

08 Oct 2015

In 1998 I purchased my first desktop computer, fast forward to today, my current one is used about 5% of the time. My 5.5" phone gets the most use, followed by my 10.1" tablet. I`ll also bet I`m the youngster here at 51. Most desktop users today are either elderly, gamers, or business users. Seriously, who "surfs" the net anymore? Maybe newbies, the rest of us have moved on.

Posted by:

Gilbert Jones
10 Oct 2015

I have been using computers since the mid 1990`s and I ONLY use my Windows 10 desktop these a matter of fact,it is now the only computer I own...I have owned laptops and tablets....and hated them all...laptops due to the heat they put out as well as their inherent sluggishness....and tablets due to the fact that I do NOT like touch screen devices....I know there are workarounds to these problems and I know each device has its fans and devotees,but as for me,if I am going to be using a computer,give me a big honking desktop every time such as my HP ENVY...and Apple,you can keep your proprietary products.

Posted by:

James Donahue
12 Oct 2015

I am a retired but still active writer. I have used the full sized keyboard all of my life and can't get used to the small desktop keyboard. As my vision weakens with age I like the large screen. I would never consider a smartphone or anything smaller than a desktop.

Posted by:

Bobo Boofis
13 Oct 2015

I have a desktop that I built myself in 2011. I keep it running lightning fast with routine maintenance and upgrades such as more memory and recently a new solid state hard drive. The speed with which everything works is 100 times better than my tablet or smart phone. I recently purchased a laptop with a solid state hard drive and use it when away from home.
I like the technology of my tablet and smart phone but they cannot replace or compare to either my desktop or laptop.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2016

I work in IT, and would find my job very difficult to do without a desk computer, which is still my primary workhorse. I should say that it is a HP laptop, but connected to a docking station and 2 21" monitors, keyboard & mouse. Having all that screen room is very important when looking at any code, and I can't imagine our finance dept using tablets to navigate 10 Excel spreadsheets at once. Now, this is not to say that a tablet could not BE the PC. I see that as a strong possibility. When your "phone" becomes your computer, and it is just dropped into a docking station connected to your monitors/keyboard... sounds great!

Our house has two laptops, two tablets, two cell phones, and my one PC. It's my second IT job. Of those, the two tablets, which I bought my wife, and she bought me, have slowly gravitated into the possession of our children, since we don't use them. I find them to be slower, and since I have been typing and using a keyboard and a mouse for over 20 years, I find that the touch and screen typing slows me down, and frustrates me. However, I attempted to use my tablet wholeheartedly when I got it. So much so, that when I came to work, I would try to swipe things on my screen. I do see the benefits of the touch screen, it is a far more natural motion. Typing on a touch screen is not though. Just hurts your fingers after awhile.

Honestly though my main computer at home, for most communication, research, etc is my phone. Quick access, I use it all the time, so familiarity is strong. I probably could use it as a PC, it's fast, has HDMI out, bluetooth... Unfortunately it's a Blackberry, so software is the issue here.

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