Researchers: Smaller Desktops to Dominate

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2006-04-12 Print this article Print

News Analysis: Small form factor PCs—deskbound PCs that are smaller and quieter than today's minitowers—will take over the market as the decade draws on, IDC predicts.

The minitower, the most common type of desktop PC seen today, is a dying breed, researchers say.

After several fits and starts in the past, the minitower is expected to cede its most favored status to small PCs during this decade, based on changes in technology as well as buyers' tastes as the PC market matures.

In the first major shift since minitowers themselves came to dominate the desktop space, the less obtrusive small form factor desktop is expected to gain the upper hand in as soon as three years in some markets, said a recent forecast by researcher IDC.

Small form factor machines will gain favor with corporations, and consumers to a lesser extent, according to IDC, as, in addition to taking up less space, they generally produce less heat and noise than minitowers, in part by using more power-efficient processors.

However, some view the shift as having more to do with the dominance of notebook PCs—shipments of which are also increasing—than changing winds in the desktop space.

"The person who used to buy a big tower, because they wanted a lot of functionality in it, is the notebook buyer now. People left on desktops value small" size, said Howard Locker, an architect for desktop and notebook product design at Lenovo Group in Raleigh, N.C. "I think, in the future, desktops [shipments] will be half the size [that they currently are]. Notebooks will be 75 percent [of total computer shipments], desktops 25—and the majority of them small."

Indeed, the transition to small machines has already begun. Most computer makers, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, offer at least one small desktop to their business customers. The trend is picking up steam, said Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC, in San Mateo, Calif.

"Now, instead of just a single alternative [size for desktops] there's a bunch. There's small form factor, there's ultra-small form factor, there's all-in-one, [and for consumers] there's living room PCs and there's blade desktops" for corporations, Shim said.

Given the trends, IDC predicted that small form factor machines will dominate the desktop market in the United States as early as 2009.

Is smaller better for enterprise PCs? Click here to read more.

The shift comes as U.S. corporations are beginning to seek smaller desktop machines for advantages such as reductions in heat and noise. Consumers tend to choose their machines for price and appearance, but value these considerations as well. But neither group is likely to pay extra or to want to give up a lot of performance.

As a result, technology is expected to become a major player in the acceleration of small form factor shipments. More powerful processors will play a major role—dual-core chips that lend greater performance, but use less energy, are the main driver.

Thanks to design work on smaller PC platforms by Intel and others in the industry, PC manufacturers will be able to pair the dual-core chips with standard parts such as add-in cards and hard drives, which helps to keep costs low.

"The crossover from minitowers to small form factor desktops will happen in 2008 and 2009, driven by [the U.S.] commercial market," IDC's Shim said.

During 2005, about 31 million minitowers were shipped in the United States, representing 77 percent of U.S. desktop shipments. Small form factor machines saw shipments of about 5 million units or about 12 percent of the market. But by 2009, minitower shipments will fall to roughly a third of their 2005 numbers, meaning that only about 11 million of the machines will ship, IDC predicted, while small form factor machines, gaining the upper hand, will jump to about 15 million units or 42 percent of shipments.

The remainder of the U.S. desktop market in 2009 will be populated by a mix of ultrasmall desktops (even smaller than small form factor) such as the Apple Computer Mac Mini—about 4 million ultrasmall machines will ship in 2009, according to IDC, compared with less than a million in 2005—as well as towers, all-in-one desktops and living room PCs.

Read the full story on eWEEK.com: Researchers: Smaller Desktops to Dominate

John G. Spooner John G. Spooner, a senior writer for eWeek, chronicles the PC industry, in addition to covering semiconductors and, on occasion, automotive technology. Prior to joining eWeek in 2005, Mr. Spooner spent more than four years as a staff writer for CNET News.com, where he covered computer hardware. He has also worked as a staff writer for ZDNET News.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.