The computer of tomorrow will face more competition than ever to win a place on your desk. But that doesn’t mean the traditional PC will wither away into irrelevance – far from it.

Computers are shaping up to become ever more specialised, but the traditional desktop system will be with us for years to come, according to senior executives at companies such as Microsoft, Intel and AMD.

Eight-core processors, huge hard drives, the prospect of external graphics cards and bigger, more affordable displays are on the horizon. While some of the most tantalising elements are way off, some are closer than you might think. Laptops with detachable mini displays, for instance, are just around the corner.

Form follows function

PCs are already evolving at their fastest ever rate. Only a few years ago radical designs such as entertainment PCs (see page 92) and pint-size Shuttle systems would never have left the lab. From Acer’s 20.1in, 7.85kg ‘laptop’ to Dell’s XPS M2010 – a 20.1in laptop/desktop hybrid (see picture, right)– oddball systems are becoming less, well, odd.

But Dell’s chief technology officer, Kevin Kettler, says that, while designs such as the M2010 are interesting, they aren’t the future. In emerging markets such as China and India, demand for inexpensive PCs will stay strong.

Despite efforts such as Intel's Viiv initiative, which seeks to standardise media-PC components, few observers are overly bullish about standalone entertainment systems.

"The next couple of generations of wireless [standards] will allow you to access any type of media, anywhere in the house," said Kettler.
Steve Kleynhans, vice-president of client computing at analysis firm Gartner, says that mobile PCs will continue along the two current primary design trends. That is, ultraportables under 1.8kg, or hefty 15in-17in desktop-replacement laptops with weights pushing 3.6kg-4.5kg.

Intel’s fourth-generation Centrino laptop platform will be available in early 2007 and will include several gigabytes of fast Nand flash memory. This is expected to make booting up and loading applications even faster.

And don't forget the dazzle: Windows Vista's SideShow technology will allow laptop makers to include a display on the lid of the notebook (see picture, above), much the same as the external display on a clamshell mobile phone. You’ll be able to check for unread emails without having to open the lid. PortalPlayer's Preface technology, set for launch in the first half of 2007, will work alongside SideShow to provide a detachable display for use independent of the laptop. In the next few years, fanciful designs will rule. Jerry Bautista, director of technology management at Intel’s Microprocessor Technology Labs, thinks chips could even be built into furniture or even woven into fabric.

Read more: the future of technology revealed