Category Archives: Design

5 ideas to make desktop PCs better

While mobile may get all the attention nowadays, it’s pretty clear desktop PCs have still a place in our lives. Mobile devices are very convenient. They are with us at all times. They are powerful, convenient and smart. But they have their drawbacks: they rely on batteries, they need to fit in our hands, they have limited connectors…

What makes PCs still relevant? As a working tool, desktop PCs offer a way to assemble a full working environment, filled with lots of input and output devices (like large screens, full keyboards, drawing tablets, etc.), fast storage, all kinds of accessories, scalability and lots of power at our disposal.

But PCs still have room for improvement. Here are five ideas to make them better (some takes from their mobile cousins):

Integrated UPS
It’s very strange that PC don’t bring this feature from factory. All electronic gadgets should have some sort of preservation instinct, like animals that are constantly searching for food to survive. But our “smart” computers are unable to preserve their information in the case of a blackout (unless you provide them with an UPS). Mobile devices have batteries, and they promptly warn you when they’re running out of juice. If you don’t plug them in shortly, they block, save and shutdown to preserve themselves. PCs should do something similar: if for any reason the energy flow is cut, they should warn you so¬†you have time to save your work. If you don’t comply, they should save their current state and shutdown without any assistance.

Better auto-diagnosis
In the same auto-preservation vein, PCs should implement smarter parts, able to detect and warn the system if anything is about to fail (or has failed). Hard drives have S.M.A.R.T., but you rarely see a hard drive or OS warning you that a hard disk is about to fail. And, unless the PSU fails, there should be an easy way to detect a faulty part on a PC. RAM is one of the parts that can bring a lot of trouble to your PC if something fails, and it’s usually user-serviceable. There should be an easy way to know if something’s wrong with your RAM, to be able to change the faulty module and resume working as soon as possible.

Instant-on system
It’s every PC user’s dream since the first OS booting screen appeared: to be able to turn on your PC at the push of a button without delay from a cold start. Yes, there’s been a lot of advancements in the past regarding different “off” states like hibernation and sleep modes. But there should be a way to automatically turn on a PC evenf from a complete “off” state. It would be great if the only boot screen you would see is the one after a new OS is installed on a fresh hard disk. From then on, it’s just push the button, see the desktop. Maybe MRAM (Magnetoresistive RAM) is the key to this feature. The truth is it’s taking too long to get there.

Better virtualization
PCs are very versatile devices. You can use a PC for all kinds of purposes: music composing, gaming, app development, etc. So, you end up installing a lot of apps, drivers, etc. in your machine. Some of these pieces of software might end up colliding, making your system unstable, forcing reboots, etc. The solution to this problem is virtualization. You create a new virtual machine, install something there and if you run into problems, you just disregard that machine, create a new one and start-over withour complications. This feature should come from factory, and should be made easier to use. Just create a new “realm” (like, a “gaming realm”), open it, and install the apropriate apps there. Create as many “realms” as needed, and in case one of them runs into problems, you just need to re-create that realm, and not re-install all your apps (or system) again.

Reasonable miniaturization and quieter machines
Mobiles (and specially Apple with their latests PCs) have showed us that you can fit a lot of power into a small pack. Also, if correctly designed, PCs can be as quiet as a mouse fart. All of this without sacrificing power or losing I/O connectors. PCs should follow this path, and embrace it with enthusiasm. The days of big, ugly boxes is over. Something like Apple’s latest Mac Pro, that can nicely fit on top of your desk to please the eye, yet features a lot of power inside, is the way to go. I hope we may see more PCs like this in the future.

So, maybe there are more things that can be made to improve the desktop experience. A lot can be made also on the software/OS side. But I think these 5 tip may greatly improve our computing experience a great deal. If you have other ideas I’d be glad to hear them. Hit me on Twitter at @damianvila.