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PCs for 2012: A diverse mix

Taking into account all of the announcements from IFA in Berlin last week and from Computex in Taiwan back in June, the rest of this year promises to be a diverse one when it comes to PCs. The success of tablets, especially Apple's iPad, and Microsoft's response in the form of Windows 8 has led PC makers to become more creative in their designs.

Let's consider the PC choices we will have at the close of 2012. As always, we'll be able to choose between a desktop or a notebook. Regular desktops are still around, as are slim variants, but most of the desktop excitement seems to be around all-in-one designs, which include the monitor.

Notebooks will come in a variety of screen sizes, ranging from 10in up to 18in. Some will be of regular thickness but many will be quite thin, including Apple's MacBook Air and new ultrabooks running Intel chips. Some will have touchscreens. Some will be hybrid designs – machines that double as tablets and notebooks – taking a variety of approaches. Most will run Intel or AMD chips, but some will now run ARM-based processors and Windows RT.

In short, there will be a lot of options. At IFA, it seems like every vendor introduced an all-in-one design, a member of the ultrabook family, and at least one hybrid design.

The hybrids continue to be the most interesting to me. As we saw at Computex, there are a number of competing ideas for creating a device that can act as both a tablet and as a notebook. We saw these for Windows 8 (typically using Intel CPUs) and Windows RT (with a couple of different ARM-based processors).

The most popular combination seems to be a tablet with a snap-in keyboard that turns it into a notebook. Or is it a notebook with a pull-out display that turns it into a tablet? It's all a matter of perspective…

The most fascinating designs of this kind of hybrid included Acer's Iconia W5 with a 10.1in display, the Asus Vivo Tab (11.6in) and Vivo Tab RT (10.1in with Windows RT), the Dell XPS 10 (10in with Windows RT), and the Samsung Ativ SmartPC and SmartPC Pro (both with 11.6in displays, the former with an Atom processor, the latter powered by a Core i5). This is the Pro model:

The Dell XPS Duo 12 has a hinge that flips around to turn the notebook into a tablet (similar to the Atom-based Inspiron Duo it introduced a couple of years ago):

The Sony Vaio Duo 11 has an 11in screen and a sliding hinge:

A similar design is seen on the Toshiba Satellite U925t, which has a 12.5in touchscreen.

Asus was also showing its Taichi, with a unique dual-sided display which folds over to become a tablet, or lets you view different information on each side of the display.

Of course, just about every vendor was also showing off thin notebooks, with new lines of laptops from Acer, Lenovo, and HP looking particularly interesting. (HP's in part because the TouchSmart Ultrabook 4 includes a 14in touchscreen, still in a thin package).

It's still unclear whether people will embrace contemporary hybrid designs, or prefer to have separate tablets and notebooks which can be optimised for specific uses (as opposed to what Apple CEO Tim Cook called a combination of a toaster and refrigerator). However, they've certainly injected a sense of freshness into the PC design mix, and all this diversity can only be a good thing.

Michael J. Miller is Chief Information Officer at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Mr. Miller, who was editor-in-chief at PC Magazine from 1991-2005, authors this blog for PC Magazine to share his thoughts on PC-related products. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are disclaimed. Mr. Miller works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.