You need a new computer but should it be in the form of a desktop, all-in-one, notebook, ultrabook, or tablet? Today computers come in many shapes and sizes. In fact, most computers sold today are not in the form of the traditional desktop. We will discuss the practical differences between the various kinds available and provide tips on what to look for in your next device. This information will enable you to choose the right device for your requirements. Let’s start by listing off the various kinds of computers available today.
- Desktop – The traditional computer tower. Usually sold without a monitor, keyboard, or mouse. For use in a permanent location.
- All-in-one Desktop – Large 21-27 inch touch-screens with the computer built into the screen to save space. For use in a permanent location.
- Notebook – Mobile version of the desktop, with all the components of a desktop built into one package. 14-17inch screens.
- Ultrabook – Slimmer more energy efficient version of the notebook with greater battery life. 12-15inch screens.
- Tablet – Miniature computer all built into a touch screen 7-12 inches in size. Uses on-screen keyboard, with physical keyboards sold separately. Relies on WiFi or cellular data for internet (no Ethernet). Greater battery life than ultrabooks.
Note: Some ultrabooks have touch-screens and fold to produce tablet-like functionality. These are considered convertible ultrabooks, not tablets. Tablets have physically removable keyboards with all computer components contained within the screen portion of the device.
We will expand on the practical use of each kind and why someone might prefer one over another in the following sections. We will conclude with some shopping tips.
The traditional desktop market has been diminishing with the rise of mobile computing. They may not have the streamlined aesthetics and design of mobile options, however, desktops are still home to the most affordable performance you can get. It’s not unusual for people to spend upwards of $800 on a smartphone today. That’s quite remarkable considering a good professional grade desktop can be found for about $800.
Desktops are usually sold without a screen and may or may not include a keyboard and mouse. Other items like a monitor, speakers, and webcam must be purchased separately. These items are called peripherals. Because it comes with no peripherals, you have the freedom to choose your own. When upgrading down the road, you can decide to keep your existing peripherals. Keeping peripherals separate can actually save money in the long run because peripherals rarely need replacing. In the event a peripheral needs replacing, it’s much simpler. Imagine replacing a dead keyboard on a notebook. Desktops are easier to repair and upgrade. Parts are more affordable and easier to find.
Desktops are ideal for the performance oriented buyer who isn’t looking for portability. It’s great for someone who might already have a notebook but needs something more powerful to do real work on for extended periods of time. For professionals who work all day on their computers and need lasting performance, a desktop is the best option. However, sometimes less is more. For browsing the web and checking email, you really don’t need the power of a desktop.
The all-in-one desktop was inspired by the success of Apple’s iMac line of computers. The only similarity between the traditional desktop and the all-in-one desktop is the fact they are both not portable. Desktop components are too large and produce too much heat to build them into the screen. So they borrowed the components found in current notebook computers. This means all-in-one desktops perform more like notebooks. Their primary selling feature is the attractive streamlined design that saves space and helps to de-clutter. Displays are large and stunning, with built in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, speakers, webcam, and microphone. Most models have touch-screens with wireless keyboard and mouse.
These desktops are ideal for people who need a desktop but are short on space. Or they simply want to de-clutter and value aesthetics and efficiency over raw performance. However, a notebook can actually be more affordable and meet the same performance and space saving requirements.
Notebook performance has improved greatly over the last decade. They are slimmer, lighter, and more powerful than ever. They offer the convenience of having all the peripherals you need built-in, including a keyboard and mouse. Modern notebooks can last 3-6 hours or more on a single charge. They have video and audio outputs to connect external monitors and/or speakers. This means you’re not forced to use the internal peripherals. You can optionally connect a notebook to a traditional desktop monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers. Some models come with docking stations (sold separately) to quickly connect to all your peripherals. This is ideal for people who frequently move in and out of the office and prefer to keep all their work on one computer. Notebooks are ideal for the following:
- Professionals who need a mobile workstation when they are away from the office
- Students on the go
- Families looking for a 2nd computer at home
- Anyone requiring a mobile workstation away from their primary desktop
Notebooks are ideal for working on the go for extended periods of time. Screen sizes range from 14-17 inches, with 15 inches being the most common. Prices are higher than a similarly performing desktop. This is due to the high cost of miniaturizing electronic components. Although higher end notebooks can handle demanding 3D workloads, they will cost a premium over a similarly performing desktop.
The ultrabook was inspired by Apple’s Macbook Air lineup. It fills the gap between a tablet and a notebook. Ultrabooks use a more energy efficient version of current notebook components. This enables them to be slimmer, lighter, and provide improved battery life at the cost of performance. The main selling feature is the slimmer more streamlined design. Many models have 12-15inch touch screens. Some fold to hide the keyboard to produce a tablet-like experience. These are known as convertible ultrabooks.
Ultrabooks are ideal for people who value aesthetics, portability, and efficiency over raw performance. It’s great for those looking for a tablet-like experience but need to run full desktop applications not available in the app store (Android, iOS, or Windows RT). The performance oriented buyer who needs portability is better served with a notebook.
The tablet, inspired by Apple’s iPad, is a handheld mobile entertainment device. It’s basically a larger version of a smartphone without the phone part. Tablets usually have stunning screens and are ideal for watching movies, playing games, viewing photos, or reading books. Most have 7-10inch touch screens with optional keyboards sold separately. Tablets use smartphone components but with much larger batteries. As a result, battery life can reach far beyond that of ultrabooks or smartphones. Because tablets are so easy to use, they make ideal gifts for any age. It’s great for those who want the touch-screen experience on a larger scale. Tablets can be a great learning tool for children.
Like smartphones, tablets use a specialized operating system with a closed ecosystem of applications. You can only run applications that are available in the app store. This means you cannot run the same desktop applications found on Windows or Mac OSX. Tablets are not ideal for doing actual work. Most find that even with the detachable keyboards sold separately, they are just too small to work on for extended periods. If you already have a modern smartphone, you won’t find a tablet does anything your phone doesn’t already do. If your considering a tablet primarily for reading books, you’re better off buying an e-reader like the Amazon Kindle.
Note: Some larger Windows tablets run the full Windows 10 operating system. These are currently the only tablets that run full desktop applications.
Beware of buying based on brand loyalty or perception. What separates a good computer from a better one are the components inside, not the label outside. All the major brands have low-end and high-end models with good and not so good components. The performance and features of each component can change drastically from one generation to the next. It takes a professional to properly identify and compare these components.
You want the most up to date computer for the best value, but manufacturers are always cutting costs on the parts you don’t see. It’s best to consult with a professional who takes the time to fully understand your requirements. This can not only ensure you get something that meets your expectations, but can also save you from spending more than you need. Shopping for a new computer, transferring all your data and programs, and learning to use the new computer can be a painstaking process. We are here to make it easy. We are experts offering full IT services in the Calgary area. Call us today for a free consultation.