Image: Apple iMac
Apple
Apple today updated its all-in-one iMac line. The current iMac line accounts for 20 percent of desktop PC sales, according to sales tracker NPD.
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By Wilson Rothman
msnbc.com
updated 7/27/2010 7:03:28 PM ET 2010-07-27T23:03:28

When I woke up this morning, for one second, I wanted an iMac. The new ones, announced today, have smokin' quad-core chips, gigabyte ATI graphics cards, terabyte internal drives and other equally impressive-sounding jargon. But then I remembered they can't go anywhere. OK, there are some nuts who bring iMacs to coffee shops for the free Wi-Fi, but laptops rule, right?

It's true that 75 to 80 percent of computer sales these days are laptops. But nearly 90 percent of American homes still have a trusty desktop PC, compared to just 50 percent with laptops, says sales-tracking firm NPD. How can that be?

The thing is, most households treat a desktop computer like they treat a big-screen TV, says NPD tech-industry analyst Stephen Baker. It's up for grabs, and everyone shares it.

The desktop is where the family photos are kept, where music lives. It's more comfortable for older buyers who prefer larger screens and full-size keyboards. Parents like being able to keep tabs on the online activities of young kids. And enthusiasts who edit video or play games get more power per dollar in a desktop.

But like the TV, not everyone wants the same thing. "When people want to split off, there tends to be more than one TV to satisfy them," says Baker. Ditto for laptops. "Homes are much more likely to have multiple laptops than multiple desktops."

Desktops are enjoying a brief sales renaissance, thanks mostly to the rejoiced arrival of Windows 7 after the harsh Vista years. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Desktops also helped along by Apple's iMac, which currently accounts for 20 percent of desktop sales. During the back-to-school season, laptop sales go up, while during the holidays, desktops see a bit of an increase.

The fact remains, laptops continue to gain while desktops continue to age, despite these occasional surges. Nearly half of the Windows desktops found in homes are four years old or older. By comparison, only 18 percent of laptops are less than a year old.

In time, the number of desktops actually used in American homes will slip, but that will require tens of millions of desktops to die — and not be replaced. When will desktops die out? Let's just say don't hold your breath. "It takes a long time for an install base to change over," says Baker. "It won't be anytime soon."

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