back to article Unravelling PC form factors

What difference does the form factor of a PC make? The most critical consideration when buying a business computing device is function: does the device support any necessary applications and software packages in a secure manner, at an acceptable base price and with a reasonable rate of maintenance and IT support. In practice …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Portability... on Earth does a netbook score lower on "portability" than an ultra-portable? I've never seen an ultraportable/subnotebook smaller than my first-gen eeePC!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Noise Level

    Becoming less of an issue these days, as low-power computers are more than capable of running basic office software, but unless it is set as a criteria, the IT department will seek the cheapest kit that meets the spec, and the cheapest kit was frequently noisy.

    (The laziest form of engineering is your basic tower PC with fans always on - why bother linking them to temperature sensors if no one can complain).

    I think that some of the compromises presented are less of an issue than they once were - i.e. the battery penalty for fast CPU and GPU is becoming less of an issue as power management improves, and these devices can idle down to a lower state.

    It's also worth considering that choice of operating system / apps can affect battery-life significantly - i.e. XP/Office 2003 vs Vista/Office 2007 can deliver as much as a 25% difference.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC 11:30

    I find that the ultra portable laptops tend to be designed to packing the bag well as well e.g. smaller power supply etc etc

  4. Colin Millar

    Top down policy? No no no

    What is the biggest threat to any new IT policy? - user resistance.

    If the policy is not driven by the needs of users it is unlikely to meet those needs. What does the web teach us? If your policy gets in the way of users getting business done your policy will be ignored and worked around and you will lose control.

    ITs role should be to interpret the needs of users and express them in a policy but it should be user driven. It is for IT to understand users needs - not the other way round. Every time a support function tail gets to wag the dog we lose focus on what we are trying to achieve - the same is true of IT as it is for beancounters, lawyers and mailroom staff.

    Let the wrath of the sysadmins commence.

  5. Richard Gadsden

    Form factor choices

    I've found that a lot of users don't like carrying a laptop around everywhere - they'd rather have a Blackberry and have desktops in the office and at home.

    The people who want laptops are the ones that travel on trains; the drivers generally prefer being provided with a desktop at home, especially a "nice" (looking) one.

    Of course, the people I'm dealing with are lawyers, who, you'd think, would want a laptop to edit the hundred-page contract that is being negotiated; but, in practice, they don't want to edit live; they want to agree the changes (which you can do with a red biro and a stack of paper) and then get them typed up by someone who understands Word's automatic numbering well enough not to screw the document up - and the correlation of Word skills with legal qualifications is pretty slim.

  6. davenewman

    Car or no car

    A lot of laptops are heavy. Their designers travel everywhere by car, and have never had to walk carrying that weight for miles. They probably live in California.

    Those of us who go everywhere by public transport need really light weight machines: at present that means a netbook or a PDA. Under 1 kg, please. Then everyone can get rid of their cars and save the planet.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Dumbing down?

    For an IT site, this article is pretty dumbed down.

    Surely most users on this site have already worked out who needs a desktop, and who needs a laptop.

    I was hoping to hear about the merits/pitfalls/specs of ATX, BTX, ITX et al.

  8. Bruno Girin

    @AC 12:02

    The EeePC 701 has a power supply that is closer to a mobile phone charger than a standard laptop power supply, in size, shape and weight. So I do agree with AC 11:30 that netbooks should be on the same range of portability as UMPC.

    One thing that is missing from this article is that the type of application will also vary depending on the job of the user, making the breadth of available applications a factor that can vary enormously in importance.

  9. Red Bren

    @Richard Gadsden

    The legal eagles don't want to edit live because they can charge you once for doing the negotiating and charge you again for typing it up.

  10. Stuart

    Missing category

    You left out that all important category “Pocket Juggler” This covers those members of upper management that sit in a locked office all day tossing it off.

    Time for the pub

  11. Warhelmet

    Yes, well...

    My initial thoughts that the article was stating the obvious. On reflection, I've seen plenty of people with the wrong laptop... My employer has a one size fits all approach and equips people with dinky ThinkPads. No use to me - if I couldn't have a pocket rocket desktop replacement I might as well stick with a desktop.

    Oh sure, the right form factor for the job in hand but this does lead to profileration of the numbers of models that need to be supported. I think I'm right in remembering that some vendors produce pretty much identical desktops in different form factors? Is this the case with laptops? I don't think it is. There is no reason why different form factor laptops can't share, say, the same motherboard, or have the same sort of battery connection, etc.. This gets round some of the support issues.

    Something else I've seen is companies handing out laptops when in reality they should have desktops and have proper hot desking. Or dish out USB drives with proper security that they can use if different offices. Another thing is that people don't also make the best use of desktop stuff that they bump into. They don't use external monitors, they don't use keyboards and mice. I don't know about you lot, but certain activities laptops are a bane to productivity.

    I think that docking stations are a waste of time.

    What about tablets?

  12. Russell Howe

    User choice

    In general, your average users don't know what device they want. Give them a choice and they'll have almost no way of reaching a sensible decision - just look at the crap the sales droids on the high street get away with spouting.

    What users do tend to know are things like:

    That laptop's too heavy

    That laptop's battery doesn't last long enough

    I can't read the screen - everything's too small

    I want to watch DVDs

    That box takes too much space on my desk

    I need 8 monitors

    I need to run the Fubar application (which after investigation only works on Win3.11 with a mono video mode => "I need a dedicated PC or VM software so I can use Fubar")

    I need Office 2007 (=> over a gig or two of RAM and XP or Vista)

    By all means talk to the users - there's no point providing kit which isn't up to the task, but whatever you do, don't give them a choice! Find out what they need, decide whether there's anything left in the budget to provide any more than that, and if so, decide what nice-to-have's you can get with the space cash. Things which actually make a difference to productivity (a second screen, something which reduces the time they spend talking to support, something which makes things faster, some time spend customising the software build to work better, some time re-engineering thing to be more impervious to malware and so reducing downtime, whatever).

    Just remember that choices are bad, mmkay? (so long as you can make a better choice than they can - I know people where the users actually do know more than the people making choices for them, which is of course painful)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Same job, different requirements

    I worked for a software house in a European city that was acquired by a US multinational. At some point in the 2 year transition (Borg-ification) the developers desktops were replaced with the corporate standard laptops.

    It seems that the US based developers all drove to work on a large campus, and laptops worked for them because they could attend meetings, and carrying the laptop home in the car wasn't a big deal. The European developers typically took the bus or walked to work, often went to a pub or restaurant after work, and all worked in the same office. If they needed to work at night or the weekends, it was usually more convenient for them to come into the office than to work from "home" which was often a "bedsit" or shared apartment without broadband (not because they didn't want it, but because they couldn't get it!)

    Desktops, with bigger monitors and more RAM, would have been far better fits for the European developers needs than the laptops that worked so well for the US based developers. The only time the laptops were an advantage were the (rare) occasions when a developer had to travel to the US - and it probably would have made sense to just provide a couple of "travel laptops" for those occasions.

    So even though someone had actually looked at the needs of their users, they ended up imposing that template on a group of users who did a similar job, but whose needs were actually quite different.

  14. Dom

    Docking stations

    No mention of docking stations that I can see. My laptop's got a 22 inch screen and a full width IBM Model M keyboard... when it's "at home". On the road, it's a 12 inch screen.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    The problem we've had with trying to eliminate docks / bricks is that we invariably wind-up with users complaining they want external keyboards, rats, monitors, &c. -- and that they can't be arsed to (dis)connect them every time they leave their offices.

    Then we get people screaming up their management chain that they simply MUST have a desktop AND a laptop, so they don't have to bother. Their management chain screams to ours, and suddenly we have orders to purchase a bunch of shiny new desktops which the little darlings will use along with their mobiles and laptops. Then comes a never-ending of complaints and support requests that it's much too difficult to keep everything synchronised between all the above and isn't that something we're supposed to take care of for them?

    I rarely order full-fledged docks anymore (when they're available) but the bricks (port replicators) are a godsend. Both for our budget and for our sanity's sake.

    [Paris, because she'd demand a desktop, laptop, BlackBerry and dedicated IT staff just to type things in for her.]

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    form factor in home

    were a bunch of geeks living together. so we have a variety of tools.


    We have 3 myth boxes running under various tV's all are silent based on small boxes. All the TV's are CRT based although we have talked about upgrading our main myth box to HD s soon as the new happauge HD box comes out in the UK. At some point we expect to upgrade to using LED backed LCD's as screens but not now.


    we are running a bunch of wifi systems currently a fon router plus a B wifi unit for nintendo ds use, a G unit for day to day use and a N unit for shipping data to two of the Myth boxes .


    were currnetly only running about 3TB's of data. Currently our nas is actually handled by a raid 6 box running slackware but we are thinking about switching to a synology box, and moving that box to mail handling and possibly doing some local caching of sites Welso have a pile of usb hard drives, sticks, and sdcards hanging of a couple of 8 way USB units

    We currently use a cable modem but were interested in sky broadband as backup option. We currently use vonage because we have got round to switching over to a sip system


    were currently running 4 main laptops 9consisting ofa an IBM r40, a x61, a Hp 17" unit and a vaio X505) around the house, plus a computer dedicated to encoding, another handling downloads, another acting as desktop, all switched via a 4 port KVM. We also have a TV edit suite running a video toaster v. 4 and a Pinnacle editing suite running on G5 dual head.


    two main kyocera printers one colour and one mono, plus photo printer and a all in one printer


    obviously we also have an a couple of Xbox's, ps2's and ds's. our singular major lack right now is not PC gaming unit which I'm planning to build fairly soon around a 4 core/radeon box

    Future plans include buying some external camera's, probably a synology box, as mentioned a gaming rig, hopefully plastic logic will bring out something cool, and at least one tablet

    this might seem like a lot of kit, by the standards of my community this is actually very normal, I have friends with a lot more kit, friends whose storage is more in the 10+ TB range

  17. Andy

    just as well posted as AC 20:03

    as if i knew where you lived i'd knock your house over and setup stall at a car boot.


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