The Desktop Computer Was in Decline. The Pandemic Made It Worse.
Roopinder Tara posted on November 04, 2020 |
Desktop PCs and workstations declined 26% in Q3.
(Stock image.)
Apple comes in fourth for the top PC vendors. (Stock image.)

The pandemic, as terrible as it has been to so many (over 47 million cases worldwide and over 1.2 million deaths as of the time of this writing), has nonetheless helped accelerate the rise of certain technologies (cloud, remote collaboration, digitalization, robotics, etc.) and also helped quicken the demise of others. One technology that may have been hanging on well past its prime is the desktop computer.

Lenovo is still on top with 11.4% in growth in shipments in Q3. (Picture courtesy of Canalys Market Pulse.)
Lenovo is still on top with 11.4% in growth in shipments in Q3. (Picture courtesy of Canalys Market Pulse.)

The IBM PC became the beige fixture on the engineer’s desk starting in the mid-1980s, liberating us from mainframes, minicomputers and the queue to a workstation that cost the company a king’s ransom. Since then, many engineers have traded in their desktop computers for more portable models. Mobile workstations with 17-inch screens and GPUs have made compute-intensive tasks like simulation possible in transit or at home. The engineer can now take his or her work anywhere—this of special importance as their workplace is denied as a consequence of COVID-19.

Although the total number of computing devices has increased during COVID-19, much of this increase is due to schools outfitting their students with Chromebooks. Sales of Chromebooks were up 90 percent last quarter, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, sales of desktop PCs and workstations declined 26 percent.

It’s no wonder. Engineers sent home with their hulking workstations may not have had a ready space to accommodate it. If they did, they may have discovered that their aging desktop didn’t cut it, says IDC’s Jitesh Ubrami. There was no camera for Zoom or Team meetings. It was a time (an excuse perhaps) to get a sleek new high-performance notebook or mobile workstation, making shuttling between counters, dining tables and makeshift offices possible for whatever reasons family dynamics dictate.

A high-performing notebook or mobile workstation with a docking station capability and a couple of monitors will make dropping off the desktop at the e-waste center not a tearful separation—as this author discovered years ago. However, we concede the cost of such a setup comes at a premium over a new generic desktop PC.

Global notebook shipments reached almost 64 million units, the most in 9 years, according to Canalys Market Pulse. Sales of notebooks during the pandemic would have been even higher had it not been for the shortages that developed, notes the Wall Street Journal.

Chief beneficiaries in the increased sales of computer have been Lenovo, HP, Apple and Acer. Lenovo is in first place in units shipped, with 19.3 million in the third quarter, followed by HP (18.7 units) and Dell. In fourth place—but closing fast—is Apple, with a 39 percent, the biggest increase by any major vendor, according to Gartner. Apple, never foremost in consideration by engineers, has possibly the best tablet, the iPad Pro, which this year comes with a trick keyboard and a touchpad, blurring the lines between notebook and tablet.

While HP matched leader Lenovo’s growth (both had an over 11percent increase in shipments for the quarter), Dell’s shipments dropped 0.8 percent.

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