The Resurgence of the Desktop

by Ashar H. Zaidi

Although notebooks have made tremendous headway in the market over the past few years, the trusty old desktop PC may very well be making a solid comeback. The emergence of highly intuitive visual computing usage such as photo and video editing and retouching, interactive simulated environments, online multiplayer games and CPU-intensive applications are renewing interest in the desktop PC.

Additionally, the popularity of digital devices such as cameras, audio players, and Internet trends such as consumer-generated content and faster broadband speeds are contributing to a resurgence of the desktop space as an increasing number of enthusiasts require the best performance, speed and efficiency only offered by a desktop PC.

The days where a single core chip was just used to juggle basic computing tasks such as word processing are over. Today, intelligent multi-core technologies are required to handle more sophisticated tasks such as video processing, rich application multi-tasking and digital content creation.

Consumer generated content:

This desire to create content is strong in ASEAN. Internet users in this region are now increasingly becoming active producers of digital content as well as passive consumers of it.

In the Philippines for instance, 65 per cent of Internet users contribute to blogs, 85 per cent upload photos and 60 per cent of users upload and share videos online.

Pakistan has 17.5 M internet users representing 10.4% of the population; and 55.6% own a mobile phone.

People in Pakistan are active consumers of online content such as videos, blogs and social networks.

  • More than 85% of internet users watch online videos
  • More than 75% read blogs
  • More than 70% are on social networks (Facebook / Orkut)
  • More than 60% share photos

Less than 50% download podcasts and write blogs. It’s this creation of content that drives the demand for more powerful systems. Video aggregator sites such as YouTube now accept feature length high definition movies with an extended file size limit of a massive 1GB.

Facebook, with 300 million worldwide users, receives 850 million photo uploads and 10 million video uploads per month. Also take into consideration the growth in the ‘prosumer’ (producer-consumer) segment. Prosumers edit their own images using software such as Photoshop and Picasa and produce their own videos with Apple’s iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. This is a staggering volume of content being created and shared.

As the quality of user generated content continues to improve and the number of digital content creators increase, so too does the need for faster and more powerful desktop processors.

Umair Mohsin from Pakistan is one of these new content creators. He is a blogger and his blog continues to grow at a rapid pace since its inception six months ago.

“I blog to express myself and reach out to others. I blog because out of the threads of shared thoughts, hopes and feedback, we are developing a sense of understanding of how things work or should work. Each individual piece stands on its own, but collectively we create a better picture and it’s bigger than any tapestry that one of us might weave alone. It’s about connections, digital ones!” says Mohsin.

Technology improvements:

In addition to the many avenues available for content producers to create, upload and share their work, the digital devices that enable them to capture their personal content has also dramatically improved over the past few years. Consumers now have access to 10 megapixel cameras and High Definition (HD) camcorders, all capable of capturing very high resolution images and video.

The files that consumers have become accustomed to working with are now gigabytes in size. Work such as this was squarely in the domain of the professional user not so long ago.

The processing power required to render this kind of work once existed only in high end professional equipment. The difference between a Pentium® 4 chip introduced in 2005 and a Core™ i5 for example is a 6x or more improvement when encoding video clips for web upload1.

Bigger screens:

Over the last five years, wide screens have increased in size. Large 20-inch screen sizes and above has now become the rule rather than the exception. These larger screens again have fed the HD and 3D graphics frenzy that continues to feed the data explosion today.

It’s this constant drive for richer, more immersed environment that continue to drive desktop adoption. Although wide screen laptops have been produced, they reach their limitations because the screen is attached to the unit. Some laptop units have pushed the boundaries with regards to screen size, but the laptops really become desktop replacements and the mobility and space savings are mooted.

Rich application multi-tasking:

While multi-tasking is not a new concept, the demands placed on PCs previously were to multi-task simple documents and spreadsheets – content that was essentially two-dimensional pages of text. Today the multi-tasking effort involves juggling multiple CPU-intensive applications. It’s now possible to edit your latest home movie in Final Cut Pro while creating the DVD cover in Photoshop whilst simultaneously laying down a sound track with Logic Express.

Whilst the applications are significantly more complicated and resource intensive, consumer expectations have remained the same. Users expect to interact with applications and have them respond instantaneously whether they are moving between the pages of a document or the frames of a movie.

Perhaps this is the fundamental point. Usage models have moved away from being more passive and static text driven content that we create in order to print up, to rich digital content such as images and video which we create, upload and share. Our expectations of how these applications respond to our input, however, remain the same. We expect the experience to be seamless, instantaneous and smooth. To meet these expectations, chip vendors have significantly improved the technology and increased the capacity within their offerings.

There are no signs pointing to a slowdown of these trends. It is inevitable that the Internet and power-hungry applications will continue to grow unabated as more people move online. Advancements will also be made to consumer electronic devices that make them capable of producing even higher quality digital content. With each successive improvement, more will be demanded from the humble PC that is the foundry for this content and inevitably the desktop PC will rise to meet these challenges.

Ashar H. Zaidi is the Country Manager for Intel Pakistan. Ashar has over 11 years of experience in IT, technology consulting and startup companies.