Desktop PCs: Can Less Be More in the Enterprise?

PC makers say desktops will evolve toward a smaller form factor and greater manageability but will remain a corporate staple.

Despite rising sales of notebooks, the desktop PC, which is still the foundation of most companies day-to-day operations, isnt dead yet. But it is changing, PC industry watchers say.

Mainstream desktops have gained processing power, graphics capabilities and storage capacity over the years, while coming down in price. But theyve long held the same basic shapes, appearing most often as mini-towers, and offered much of the same basic functionality for word processing and Web surfing.

PC makers and chipmaker Intel Corp., reacting to pressures from portable PCs in maturing markets such as the U.S., and to customers greater emphasis of factors such as yearly management costs, including electricity, and even acoustics, are designing desktops into smaller, quieter and, they hope, more IT-friendly forms.

"The desktop is alive and its kicking," said Dilip Bhatia, program direction for ThinkCentre desktops at Lenovo Group Ltd. "Granted notebooks are growing faster. But the desktop is still the largest [market] opportunity on a worldwide basis."

Small desktops, such as Lenovos ThinkCentre S Series, are likely to grow in popularity thanks to a combination of factors, including greater interest in them from large businesses and developments such as the advent of less power-hungry chips from Intel.

The chipmaker has also set out to remake desktops by introducing new platforms aimed at businesses and consumers. The business platform, for one, focuses on delivering multicore chips, along with management technologies and communications capabilities, through partnerships with companies such as Skype Technologies S.A. The developments will foster new ways for businesses to use the machines to communicate—and consumers to entertain themselves—the chipmaker hopes.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about Intel adding VOIP and other technologies to PCs.

"It used to be that the tower was the de facto standard, but now small form factors are taking precedence," Bhatia said. "IT managers are saying, We dont need all that expandability as everything [including features such as graphics] is integrated."

The same IT managers are telling companies like Lenovo that theyd like to remove costs of desk-side visits for repairs, which can cost $100 or $200 alone, he said.

Lenovo isnt the only company seeing trends toward smaller desktops with beefier management features. Dell Inc.s customers have also been purchasing smaller machines, such as its OptiPlex SX280 in some cases as well.

"What were seeing happening is, over time, as weve integrated more into the system board–graphics, Ethernet, audio—combined with USB 2.0, you dont necessarily need all the expansion that traditional desktops have provided," Chris Zagorski, senior manager of OptiPlex product marketing at Dell Inc. "So why not shrink the size and use flat panels—use less power?"

Next Page: Business desktops will integrate better management and security.