The term "desktop computer" comes from an age when it was considered chic for a computer to be small enough to fit on top of a desk and the term "personal computer" was coming into use, in the late 70's and early 80's. The term desktop computer is used interchangeably with "personal computer", but there are other kinds of computers that are also called "personal computers". At one time, any computer with reasonable processing power was large, heavy, loud, bolted down to the floor and roughly the size of a refridgerator.
As computer hardware has become ever smaller and more integrated, a desktop computer is now considered a large, clunky system compared to today's sleek, slim laptops, efficient notebooks and highly portable tablet PC's (the Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy, HP Touch and others). Today's desktop computers are the upper range of computing power most home and office users have access to directly at their desk. These computers are on utility power, not a battery, so they have the electricity to run faster processors, more memory and disks and operate at higher speeds. As a general rule, a brand new desktop computer will be more powerful and have more storage than any smaller computer such as a laptop, ultrabook, notebook or tablet PC. As a general rule, a desktop computer will get you more computing power for your dollar. Making electronics smaller and portable means greater expense, and lower electrical power usage means slower electronics.
However, having to stay plugged into the wall, and using the latest power-hungry technologies means that a desktop PC is tied to a desk. It's not going anywhere without effort, and it's portable, but only barely, if you have a cart for everything.
Desktop computer manufacturers such as Apple, Asus, Dell, Gateway, HP, Lenovo and others can package more hardware and software together than you can buy on your own, but you get their package, which often includes a vast array of trial-ware and offer-ware and very little software that actually works.
However, there have always been variations to the style and shape of the desktop and the market for PC's has segmented based on what the PC will be used for. As of 2012, the breakdown looks like this:
- Gaming PC's are High-Performance desktops from manufacturers such as AlienWare (now Dell) & CyberPower
- All-in-One PC's where the monitor incorporates the computer and speakers (all in one package). Just about everyone makes these.
- Multi-Media PC's designed for Internet video and connecting to services such as NetFlix, Hulu and others.
- Standard Desktop PC's in AMD and Intel versions. (AMD and Intell make processors).