This used to be a simple answer, one where you could just say to someone “Are you crazy? What a stupid question.” In today’s world it’s not such a simple question anymore, and the decision you make will affect both your productivity and your pocketbook. Let’s take a look at this from a few perspectives.

quad-head MacBook Air (sorta...)
Creative Commons License Blake Patterson via Compfight

First, let’s make sure we all know what is meant by a desktop computer. It’s a computer where it’s pretty much stationary. You can’t take it with you anywhere unless you’re moving somewhere. If you’re not home, it is, whether it’s a traditional tower and monitor or an all-in-one, the new type that often comes with touchscreen capability.

Now that we got that out of the way let’s look at what other options are, and they are many. You can get a laptop, and these days they’re much lighter than in the past with a longer battery life. You can get some kind of tablet, which are mainly things like an iPad or a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4. You can get an eReader with wireless capabilities like the Nook or the Kindle. You can get a smartphone, which actually allows you to pretty much do anything you can on a regular computer. And now there’s Google Glass, but it doesn’t have enough capabilities yet to fully consider it in this discussion.

When it comes to cost, the most economical purchase you can make is with an eReader. They’re relatively small and light, most of them cost less than $175, and you can add more storage to them so that you can handle a lot of files. They even come with office packages and you can download apps that can handle many of the functions you can do on a computer. Where they fail is that they don’t come with any way to access the internet on their own. You have to be in a place that offers wireless access; that might work great in a cafe or hotel but anywhere else and you’ll have to make due with whatever you already have on it.

Depending on brand and age, the other options all initially cost the same. With a traditional desktop, you’ll have to shell out more money for a monitor unless you buy an all-in-one, which suddenly makes it pricier, yet its cost is still lower than any Apple desktop you can think of.

With tablets and smartphones, you normally have to purchase a data plan of some kind and definitely of some duration, but is that really more expensive than what you’d have to pay for internet access at home? If there’s an issue with these items it’s how quickly they become obsolete. It’s possible that someone could make a tablet last 5 years but if something does go wrong they’ll find out quickly that they’re going to struggle to find components for that item, including power cords and batteries even after just six months sometimes. It happened to me so I know personally how this one can impact you.

Laptops are a bit more robust and you get to decide whether you want to purchase a wireless network card so you can access the internet wherever you are or just wait until you’re in an area that has wireless access. What a laptop gives you over the other smaller items is more storage and the ability to add things such as external hardware such as keyboards and the like. This helps to increase one’s productivity and in that regard might be a better option for those who like to work on the go.

What’s the benefit of the desktop then? One, you never have to risk losing it or leaving it somewhere. Two, even if you have to buy a separate monitor, you can now get one as large as 29″, and you can even connect it to most HD TV’s. You can run your desktop with multiple monitors, which many people do these days; can’t do that with anything else. If you have access to higher speeds than traditional, desktops are suited to handle it easily, whereas many laptops and tablets may not have the capacity to take advantage of the faster bandwidth because of the equipment needed for it.

There are more economic factors to consider when making your choices, and some people end up buying all of them for one reason or another. Many schools are requiring kids to have some type of mobile tablet to do their schoolwork. If you have a Nook you can go to the Barnes & Noble store and access books and music for free while in the store. Smartphones are tiny enough to take anywhere and they have cameras; that’s pretty cool and means you don’t have to take anything else with you to capture images.

Thus, we come back to the original question; should you buy a desktop computer? The answer… it depends. If you’re a power user then most definitely. If you just use and create documents, answer email and play a few desktop games, maybe a laptop works better because it’s mobile. If you want something a little smaller and never have a need for productivity that takes a lot of power, a tablet or smartphone can handle your needs. If all you want is entertainment and a few small computer games, an eReader is your best bet, and is always the least expensive option.

For once no definitive answer that covers everyone; what’s your choice?

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