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Different Types of Computers

Although all computers consist of pretty much the same components and work in pretty much the same way, there are several different types to choose from. You can go with a traditional desktop computer, a smaller, more portable laptop model, a touchscreen tablet—or one that combines some or all these features.

Let’s look at the different types of computers you can choose from.

Traditional Desktop PCs

A desktop PC is one with a separate monitor that’s designed to sit on your desktop, along with a separate keyboard and mouse. This was the original PC form factor, and it’s still preferred by some old-school users.

A desktop PC is stationary; you can’t take it with you. It sits on your desktop, perfect for doing the requisite office work.

A traditional desktop system, like the one shown in Figure 1.7, has a separate system unit that sits either on the floor or beside the monitor. This type of system takes up more space than any other type of system but is the most expandable. Gamers, in particular, like desktop systems that so they can swap graphics and sound boards in and out.

Figure 1.7

Figure 1.7 A traditional desktop PC system unit, complete with monitor, keyboard, mouse, and separate system unit.

All-in-One Desktops

An all-in-one desktop builds the system unit into the monitor for a more compact system, like the one shown in Figure 1.8. Some of these all-in-one PCs feature touchscreen monitors, so you can control them by tapping and swiping the monitor screen.

Figure 1.8

Figure 1.8 An all-in-one desktop system, with the system unit and speakers built into the monitor.

Many users like the easier setup (no system unit or speakers to connect) and smaller space requirements of all-in-one systems. The drawbacks to these all-in-one desktops are that you can’t upgrade internal components, and if one component goes bad, the whole system is out of commission. It’s a lot easier to replace a single component in a traditional desktop than the entire system of an all-in-one!

Laptop PCs

A laptop PC, sometimes called a notebook PC, combines a monitor, keyboard, and system unit in a single, compact case. This type of portable PC, like the one shown in Figure 1.9, can operate via normal electrical power or via a built-in battery, so you can take the laptop with you and use it just about anywhere you go.

Figure 1.9

Figure 1.9 A traditional laptop PC with 15.6-inch screen.

Just as there are several types of desktop PCs, there are several types of laptops, including the following:

  • Traditional laptops: These units have screens that run in the 14" to 16" range (15.6" is common) and include decent-sized hard drives (500GB and up). These are typically the least expensive laptops because there’s a lot of competition; this category is the most popular.

  • Desktop-replacement laptops: These are larger laptops, with screens in the 17" range. They’re not only bigger; they’re also heavier, and the batteries don’t last as long. As such, these laptops really aren’t designed for true portable use; instead, they’re replacements for traditional desktop PCs. Plus, these desktop-replacement models typically cost a bit more than traditional laptops.

  • Ultrabooks: An ultrabook is a smaller, thinner, and lighter laptop PC. Most ultrabooks have screens in the 10" to 14" range and use solid-state flash storage instead of hard disk storage. All this makes an ultrabook very fast and very easy to carry around without necessarily sacrificing computing power and functionality. However, all this new technology means ultrabooks cost a bit more than more traditional laptops.

With all these choices available, which type of laptop should you buy? It all depends.

Most users choose traditional laptops because they do everything you need them to do at a reasonable price. If you need more computing power but don’t plan on taking your PC out of the house, then a desktop-replacement model might make sense. If you’re a die-hard road warrior who likes to travel light, consider a more expensive but lighter-weight ultrabook.

Tablet PCs

A tablet PC is a self-contained computer you can hold in one hand. Think of a tablet as the real-world equivalent of one of those communication pads you see on Star Trek; it doesn’t have a separate keyboard, so you operate it by tapping and swiping the screen with your fingers.

No question about it, the most popular tablet today is the Apple iPad; no other model comes close in terms of number of users. The iPad runs Apple’s iPadOS operating system, which is similar to the iOS engine behind the company’s iPhones. Also popular are tablets that run Google’s Android operating system.

The iPadOS/iOS and Android operating systems, however, are both incompatible with the billion or so computers that run the Windows operating system. If you want a Windows-compatible tablet, the most popular (and often only) choice is the Microsoft Surface, shown in Figure 1.10.

Figure 1.10

Figure 1.10 Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet computer, complete with optional external keyboard.

Tablets are great for consuming media and information, and they’re pretty good for web-based tasks, but they’re not that great if you have to get serious work done; the lack of a true keyboard is a killer when you need to type long pieces of text and enter a lot of numbers. Still, a Windows tablet can easily supplement a more traditional PC for many types of tasks and is a strong competitor to Apple’s iPad.

2-in-1 PCs

A 2-in-1 PC is the newest type of personal computer, a blend of the ultrabook and tablet form factors—literally. Think of a 2-in-1 PC as an ultrabook with a touchscreen, or a tablet with a keyboard.

Most 2-in-1 PCs, like the one in Figure 1.11, come with a swivel or fully removable keyboard, so you can type if you need to or get rid of the keyboard and use the touchscreen display as you would a tablet. Windows 11 is optimized for this new type of PC; depending on how you’re using the device, you’ll either see the traditional Windows desktop or the newer touch interface.

Figure 1.11

Figure 1.11 A 2-in-1 PC that folds from one form factor to another.

With a 2-in-1 PC, you use it like a touchscreen tablet when you watch movies or browse the Web and like a laptop PC when you have office work to do. For many users, it’s the best of both worlds.

Which Type of PC Should You Choose?

Which type of PC is best for you? It depends on how you think you’ll use your new computer:

  • If all you plan to do is check your Facebook feed, watch streaming videos, and maybe send the occasional email, then you don’t really need a full keyboard and can make do with a tablet or 2-in-1 PC.

  • If you need to do more serious work, then a desktop, all-in-one, or laptop PC, complete with keyboard and mouse, is a must.

  • If you plan to do all your computing in one spot, such as your home office, then a traditional desktop or all-in-one PC can do the job.

  • If you want more flexibility—and the ability to take your computer with you—then a laptop or 2-in-1 model is a necessity.

As you can see, there are a lot of choices, and even within these general types, more specific considerations to make. The price depends a lot on the amount of hard disk storage you get, the size of the display, the amount of internal memory, the speed of the microprocessor, and other technical details. And don’t forget the design; make sure you choose a model with the style and functionality you can live with.

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