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Is it still worth buying a new PC?

Every so often I get asked the question: Is it worth buying a new PC? Or, alternately, do you think that tablets are taking over personal computers? My answers, most assuredly, are yes to the first, and no to the second.

Tablets outsell PCs

Gartner, a leading market research firm, is predicting a slowdown in traditional PC sales and an increase in tablet and ultramobile sales. No kidding. The growth rate on a mature product that has been around and evolving since the 1970s is slowing, and the growth rate for a product that became popular in 2010 is through the roof? Colour me (not) shocked.

You see it now, with people buying two or more tablets instead of new laptops for use around the house. You know what? I would too, because the tablets are cheaper than the laptops. You mean to tell me you'll get almost twice the utility from two £300 tablets than you would from buying a single £600 laptop? Shocking.

I'm a believer in the tablet form factor. I carry at least one with me every day, but I can't say that it entirely replaces my laptop or desktop PCs. However, I will agree that I will buy more tablets than PCs over the next few years, not just because of the extra portability and added utility, but because tablets slow down sooner because the rate of improvement in tablet performance just outstrips that of PCs.

Developers will develop beyond the capability of today's computers until the ecosystem reaches equilibrium, that's the way it's always been. The A5 processor and 512MB of memory in an iPad 2 now feels slow when surfing some sites and running some of the newest programs in the iTunes store. However, I'm totally fine using a 2011-era PC with a Core i7 processor and 4GB of memory for all my day-to-day tasks, including surfing, email, Word, Excel, and Photoshop. I'm totally going to be able to use this laptop while I watch the three to six generations of tablets that come and go before this PC is obsolete.

People still need keyboards

Take a look at your fellow technophiles the next time you visit Starbucks or on your next flight. Don't be surprised if you see at least a couple of folks with keyboard cases on their iPads or other tablets. While the tablet form factor is great for info retrieval, visual content creation, and multimedia enjoyment, it's still a weak form factor for text generation.

You need a keyboard, preferably one that has tactile feedback (aka keystroke and travel), so you can be sure you've typed those words. Once you add a keyboard case to an iPad or Android tablet, or a keyboard dock to most Windows 8 or RT hybrid tablets, they are effectively notebook PCs. You can argue semantics as concerns the processor, OS, and other components, but it's got a screen that hinges out and a physical keyboard. That's physically identifiable as a laptop.

Heavy lifting

You prize portability above all other factors when using a tablet. But the fact of the matter is that running a multi-thousand cell spreadsheet recalculation, photo/video editing, an incredibly detailed 3D game, or rendering graphics for CAD/CAM projects will demand as much computer power as you can throw at the problem. You need a high-powered laptop or desktop PC for these tasks, period. Tablets trade computing power for battery life and portability. They always will. Things may change in the future, when wireless Internet is reliable, fast, cheap, and everywhere, but until that happens, we'll always need more powerful PCs for real work and hard play.

Are tablet sales going to surpass laptop and desktop PC sales in the next four to five years? Yes. Are tablets going to completely replace all PCs in the same time frame? No. But this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who follows technology.