The evolution of the PC – from bulky desktops to sleek touch screen all-in-ones

The evolution of the PC in little over four decades has been astonishing, taking the market from bulky devices to devices that we could not live without today.

August 20, 2013

By Nitesh Devanand, Dell Consumer Product Specialist at DCC

From room-sized mainframes and the first bulky, expensive Personal Computers (PCs) of the 1970’s to the small, affordable devices of today, from giant CRT screens to thin, elegant touch screens and LED displays, the PC has come a long way since its beginnings. The evolution of the PC in little over four decades has been astonishing, taking the market from bulky devices that offered very limited functionality to devices that we could not live without today. While tablets, ultrabooks and fancy notebooks have stolen most of the headlines, the evolution of the desktop PC from a tower and a large, heavy display screen, to the compact, modern ‘all-in-one’ has been just as impressive. All-in-ones are the future of desktop computing, and offer many advantages and many applications at an affordable price, in a form factor that maximises use of space.

The invention of the PC and its evolution is a long and complex one. According to the Computer History Museum, the title of first ‘desktop’ computer goes to the Kenbak-1, released in 1971, which featured 256 bytes of memory and sold for $750. Only 40 of these devices were ever sold. By the end of the 1970’s the computer started to become more mainstream, with the Commodore PET (which featured up to 8 kilobytes of memory) and the Apple II (which featured a printed circuit motherboard and vastly improved graphics) being released in 1977, and in 1979 Atari introduced both a game console and a home computer. By 1981, IBM had joined the game, fuelling the growth of the personal computer market.

From then on, computers became increasingly powerful and more affordable, with sales growing from 48 000 in 1977 to 125 million in 2001, with annual growth of around 12% ever since. Today, the PC is an integral component of both business and personal life. No longer an incredibly expensive device with limited use that only big business and the wealthy can afford, users today often have multiple devices, from laptops to tablets, smartphones and desktops. The development of ever-smaller and more powerful components for less expense has made computers of all types indispensable in the modern world.

The all-in-one takes desktop computing to new levels, combining the processor and all hardware into the screen, so there is no need for a separate tower and cables connecting the ‘box’ to the peripheral equipment. Although all-in-one computers are not new, and have been around since the late 1990’s (remember Apple’s brightly coloured iMac devices?) they have seen significant development over the past few years, becoming far more popular and commercially available. Today, many manufacturers have their versions of the all-in-one, producing space-saving, powerful computers with maximum aesthetic appeal.

Because all-in-ones combine the hardware into the monitor, many people mistakenly believe that they are less powerful than most desktops. This is no longer the case however, as today’s all-in-ones combine the latest in processor technology along with impressive specs. All-in-ones now also incorporate capacitive touch screens, along with stylish and space-saving design, with only one cord and the option of including a wireless keyboard and mouse, making them ideal for use in a wide variety of business environments as well as for the home user.

The all-in-one is perfect for home users, especially for watching movies and videos, as well as gaming, thanks to the large screens available and powerful specs. The monitors can even be mounted on a wall further maximising space saving, making them ideal in environments where desk space is limited or at a premium.

In the retail environment, these computers are perfect for Point of Sale (PoS), with their optional touch screen functionality, making them even easier and more intuitive to use. They are also perfect to use in information kiosks in shopping centres, at tourist attractions, or even in banks as self help terminals, and can be used for promotional activities since they are easy to move around and set up, with minimal cabling required. They can even be used for entry-level Computer Aided Design (CAD), providing the power and usability necessary for this specialised environment.

Looking back on the evolution of the computer, there is no doubt that technology has come a long way, and continues to grow and change every year. While desktops have been replaced in popularity by notebooks and other more mobile devices, the rise of the all-in-one opens up new markets and new possibilities, and as touch screens and other features become more available, the applications of these devices continue to expand.