San Jose Mercury News

By Troy Wolverton


Tech pundits ó yours truly included ó have lately been proclaiming the end of the PC era. The venerable computer is being supplanted by smart phones and tablets, and may soon be further challenged by ďsmartĒ TVs and refrigerators.


Yet when I recently decided that my aging Apple iBook computer had finally outlived its usefulness, I didnít replace it with one of those new-wave computing devices. Nope, I went old school ó I bought an iMac, which looks snazzy but is really an old-fashioned desktop computer.


That purchase is decidedly against the grain. PCís in general are falling out of fashion. Last year, U.S. PC sales plunged 5 percent, according to research group IDC, as growing numbers of consumers purchased tablets or smart phones instead.


Desktops in particular have been out of vogue since at least 2009, when notebooks started outselling them. Last year, notebooks made up nearly 60 percent of all PC sales, according to IDC.


Still, when I weighed everything ó and believe me, I agonized over the decision ó a desktop seemed the best choice. Because I wanted something not only for the basics ó surfing the Web, checking email and writing stories ó but also for editing video and managing my vast picture and music libraries.


You can now do many of those tasks on post-PC devices. But I never seriously considered replacing my notebook with a tablet or smart phone. Theyíre still too limited ó and Iím still too wedded to the old PC world.


One problem with smaller devices is that they arenít great for writing, even if you can connect them to a full keyboard. Appleís iPhone and iPad, for example, wonít connect to a mouse. You have to use their touch screens as pointing devices, which makes for an awkward experience. And while some Android devices, such as Motorolaís Atrix, will connect to a mouse, they typically feel sluggish when trying to mimic a PC.


Also, if I have a lot of data stored on a PC, it can be difficult to get access with another kind of device.


Iíve uploaded all of my music to the Apple and Google servers on the cloud. I write nearly all of my columns on Google Docs. Iíve moved a big chunk of my photo library to Googleís Picasa. And Iíve uploaded a smattering of videos to YouTube. But the vast majority of my digital pictures are still stored on hard drives in my house. So, too, are the bulk of the stories and other documents Iíve written in years past, and nearly all of the videos Iíve ever shot or bought.


I may eventually move all that data to the Internet, but Iím almost certainly going to need a PC to do it.


But why, you might ask, did I buy a desktop rather than a laptop?


The traditional argument in favor of a desktop is that you get more ó a faster processor, a bigger hard drive, a larger screen ó for less. With a laptop, you trade those advantages for mobility, the ability to take your computer to your couch, the coffee shop or on a plane.


My last two personal computers were laptops, and Iíve loved having a mobile computer. But I quickly maxed out the hard drive on my iBook with photos, music and videos, so I had to move content to an external hard drive. My first external drive had to be plugged into a wall outlet, which restricted my laptopís portability.


I eventually replaced that drive with a more mobile one that drew power from the computer. But it was still awkward having to tote around two different pieces of equipment whenever I wanted to take my computer off my desk.


One solution would have been to buy a network-attached drive. But connecting to such a drive over Wi-Fi is much slower than connecting to one attached via a USB cable. I was worried not only that it would take a long time to move my data to a networked drive, but also that doing things like editing video stored on it would be a frustrating experience. And the types of network drives I was interested in ó ones that include multiple drive slots for redundant backups ó can cost as much as a midrange computer.


So I ended up with a desktop. My iMac has a 2.8 GHz processor and 2 terabyte hard drive, neither of which is available on a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. In fact, the biggest hard drive I could have gotten on a Mac laptop was one with 750 gigabytes of storage. Considering I already have about 250 gigabytes of pictures alone, I almost certainly would have filled that up right away.


Although I debated what features to get, and whether to buy a desktop or laptop, I didnít seriously consider getting anything but a Mac. I switched to a Mac 6 years ago when I bought my iBook and have never regretted that decision. I still use a PC at the office, so Iím familiar with Windows, but Iíve generally found my Mac to be much easier to use, far more reliable and a lot more fun.


My iMac cost me more than $1,500, a lot more than a run-of-the-mill Windows desktop, but I was buying a machine I plan to hold on to for years. And maybe by the time I replace it, I truly will be ready to enter the post-PC era.