The all-in-one PC form factor is thriving as shoppers move away from the beige boxes of yesteryear.
Back in the day, PC owners could choose any case colour and form factor that they wanted… provided it was a beige tower or desktop. PCs were hulking slabs of ugliness, unworthy of exposure to the human eye, hiding their shame beneath the desk in the study. The PC was all about function over form. Thankfully, we value visual appeal slightly more in the 21st century and the PC has undergone an aesthetic metamorphosis over the last decade. A combination of shrinking technology and the move from the study to the living room has driven these changes, not to mention the realisation that consumers like to spend their hard-earned money on shiny, pretty things.
While many PCs still reside in the humble tower, a growing number are starting to think outside the box, heading into unique new form factors. The all-in-one space in particular is doing exceptionally well, with most major PC brands throwing their hat into the ring. Thank Apple for the explosive popularity of this segment, as the iMac range paved the way for the rest to follow. The concept of an all-in-one PC has always made perfect sense, but it’s only in recent years that components have been small enough, not to mention cool enough, to fit inside the back of a monitor. However, all-in-ones will become the new black of computing in 2012, thanks to a small piece of software known as Windows 8.
The miniaturisation of technology has also enabled us to build PCs small enough to squeeze into the shelf underneath the TV, the perfect place to make the most of the HD decoding features built into today’s GPUs and CPUs. Small form factor (SFF) PCs have been around for a while now, but until recently have had to make do with minimal performance to deliver basic multimedia functionality. However, due to recent product launches from AMD, Intel and Nvidia, this segment will soon bring high performance to bear against the consoles, offering rich gaming experiences without requiring a monolithic tower.
As far as experimental form factors go, we’ve recently started to see systems appear with sleek organic lines that are the antithesis of today’s rectangular towers – expect more of these machines in 2012 as the Xbox 360 and PS3 continue to age. At the other end of the spectrum, we’re seeing more mega cases for the ultra-high-end gamer, packing in more expansion slots for triple- and quad-GPU configurations. Unfortunately, nobody has settled on a good name for these huge boxes yet, with variations being sold as ultra-ATX, XL-ATX and HPTX-compatible cases.
We’ve still got a lot of love for the miniature bar fridge design of the humble PC tower, but it’s inevitable that this form factor is going to die out sooner rather than later. Technology will continue to shrink, while cloud computing will offload the processing to remote data warehouses, making the ubiquitous beige (and now black) block a thing of the past. Over the next two weeks we'll be taking a deeper look at some of these new form factors we’ll be seeing more of in the near future.