Does a Desktop Computer Really Need a Tower?
All-in-one computers offer many advantages over desktops with towers. They’re compact, sleek, and easier to move. So why do the more traditional models continue to sell in large numbers even today?
- Desktop Computer With a Tower vs. All-in-One
- The Advantages of Desktop Computers With a Tower
- The Disadvantages of Desktop Computers With a Tower
- The Advantages of All-in-One Computers
- The Disadvantages of All-in-One Computers
- Desktop vs. All-in-One: Which One Should You Get?
- Middle Ground Alternatives
- Final Thoughts
A desktop computer doesn’t need a tower to work effectively. However, desktop computers with towers offer many advantages over all-in-one computers, including better performance for the price and greater customizability.
In this article, I’ll go over the pros and cons of each type of device before sharing my recommendations of which one you should get.
As is often the case, you’ll find that it really depends on your individual computing needs and other preferences.
Desktop Computer With a Tower vs. All-in-One
The size of entire rooms and early industrial and scientific computers was often incredibly large. This trend continued into the initial phase of the personal computing revolution. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, components continued to be too large to fit into single self-contained units.
Then in 1988, Apple Computers released the first iMac.
Although their new machine came with a bulky CRT type of monitor (LCD screens weren’t commercially viable yet), it was undoubtedly a fully functional, and extremely capable, all-in-one computer.
Whereas the iMacs PC competitors fitted components into a case or tower separate from the monitor, Apple’s sleek and compact machine folded everything into one device. Besides the screen, it housed a CPU, GPU, RAM, motherboard, disc drive, and PSU, all in one sleek body.
In recent decades, the Apple aesthetic has taken over the world. Today, consumers continue to vote with their wallets for more of the same.
As screens have become thinner and materials stronger and lighter, all-in-one machines have shrunk, further enhancing their appeal.
However, many users, especially businesses, scientists, professionals, and gamers, continue to use desktop computers with towers.
To understand why, let us compare the two devices. By looking at the pros and cons of each, we can zero in on the functions each type of device is best suited for.
The Advantages of Desktop Computers With a Tower
For those looking for the most computing power today, desktop computers with towers still offer the optimum solution.
They’re far more powerful than all-in-one computers at the same price and usually have superior cooling infrastructure.
Along with their greater affordability and customizability, these features are highly appreciated by consumer power users, such as gamers, too.
So, let’s find out why they still hold their own against the futuristic dream machines they’re pitted against.
A great advantage of not having all your components squeezed into one tiny enclosure is that adding and removing individual components remains extremely simple, even for lay users with only basic tools and no technical training.
Compared to users of all-in-one computers, those with desktops with towers can easily customize, upgrade, or repair individual components in their machines.
For instance, they can swap out a short-circuited RAM stick or replace an outdated graphics unit.
Moreover, since displays come as separate units, you don’t need to upgrade your screen whenever you need a new computer.
At the same time, you can upgrade to the latest fancy high-resolution monitor without replacing a perfectly functioning desktop computer if that’s what you want.
Many third-party manufacturers make interchangeable components for desktop PCs, so users are spoiled for choice regarding the range of products available.
They can choose well-matched parts that work efficiently and cost-effectively for their precise needs. Similarly, they can upgrade parts when they want to and perform many repairs themselves.
Many parts of an all-in-one computer must be as small and sleek as possible. This also means that they tend to cost more than similar desktops with towers.
Additionally, since the primary appeal of all-in-ones is their compactness, they’re usually made of the lightest and strongest materials available.
Add to this additional design costs for the slickest new devices, and it is easy to see why all-in-one computers tend to be more expensive than similarly powered desktops with towers.
Superior Cooling Infrastructure
Because room inside the tower is at less of a premium to the space available for all-in-one components, desktops with towers also tend to have better cooling infrastructure.
Unfortunately, it is hard to see how all-in-ones can close the gap in this one area.
Not only do fans, heat sinks, and liquid coolant transportation pipes all take up more room inside a computer, but the open spaces inside a computer tower also allow better air circulation.
Appropriately positioned fans exploit this open space to circulate the hot air inside a case, continuously exchanging it for cooler air outside the cabinet as the computer works.
Sleeker all-in-ones do not have room for larger heat sinks and more fans. They also have very little room for air to flow through their cabinets, cooling down components.
As components heat up, your computer’s performance will drop. Sustained heat for long periods can also permanently damage components.
Superior Performance For the Price
In general, equally capable components tend to cost more if they are smaller in size.
However, unlike all-in-one computers, desktops with towers do not need to prioritize miniaturization in their components. They can aim for higher performance at the same price point.
At the same time, they have plenty of room inside their towers for many more components than would fit into even the most advanced all-in-one.
For instance, it is not uncommon for power users to have 32 GB of RAM or more in their PCs. Similarly, many users might use more than one graphics card to speed up their processing tasks.
It would be hard to fit many of these components inside an all-in-one computer.
Finally, additional room inside towers allows desktop users to add more fans and superior cooling infrastructure, allowing them to run their computers harder for longer.
For all these reasons, desktops with towers offer superior computing performance for the price. They may be the only choice users have at the highest performance levels.
Better Suited For Gaming
While you can game on an all-in-one computer, it isn’t ideal. The cooling falls short way too often and is typically way too pricey to purchase a capable enough model.
With a tower system, you are free to upgrade the motherboard, CPU, RAM, storage, and graphics card with not too much effort.
With better capable hardware and superior cooling, it leaves the tower computer reigning supreme for gamers every time.
Easier to maintain
A tower case usually has some air filtration to help keep dust out of it. This means you can get away with cleaning it out a little longer.
Once you remove the tower case lid, you can easily work with a brush and compressed air.
You can even take certain components out, like the graphics card, and service it on a bench if you please.
The Disadvantages of Desktop Computers With a Tower
For all their advantages, desktops with towers have obvious drawbacks. They’re big, bulky, and not the most pleasing objects to look at in some cases.
So, let’s look at the biggest drawbacks of using desktops with towers.
Requires Coordinating Multiple Purchases
The most obvious disadvantage of using a desktop with a separate tower is that you’ll need to purchase multiple devices to put together a fully functional computer.
Besides the tower, you’ll need to buy a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse.
Moreover, all of these devices will need to be compatible, with all the necessary input and output connections that entails.
While this is not extremely complicated, complete novices would much rather purchase a device they can plug in and use out of the box.
Purchasing is further complicated if you’re not buying a preassembled tower. In this case, you will need to purchase each of the individual components inside the tower yourself.
You’ll need to ensure you get the best parts for the money you have to spend and your needs. As with peripherals, all components will also need to be compatible with each other.
Many users would much rather avoid going through product reviews to pick CPUs, graphics cards, motherboards, hard drives, RAM, fans, and cases.
Others, look at assembling PCs as a hobby, a way to understand their machines better.
Occupies More Space
One of the factors driving the increasing popularity of all-in-one computers is their smaller profile.
Desktops with towers are, by contrast, bulkier. They occupy more space on top of and sometimes even under your desk.
Also, since the monitor and tower are separated, more wires are required to connect the devices.
Computers With Towers Are Less Aesthetically Pleasing For Some
Desktop PCs with cabinets occupy more room and have more wires. They do not prioritize compactness and are marked by a more early industrial design style.
Many users think this makes them look uglier than all-in-ones’ more minimal and futuristic designs. It can quite often affect the spousal acceptance factor.
However, a gaming enthusiast, for example, can appreciate a well-crafted showpiece that only a tower computer can deliver.
Moving Involves More Effort
Desktops with cabinets have more modules and cables. Each of these must be packed carefully and unpacked at its final destination.
In the interim, individual parts can get damaged or misplaced, either of which would make the computer temporarily dysfunctional.
They’re also larger and heavier than all-in-ones. So they’ll need more and larger boxes to pack and be heavier to carry and move.
While all-in-ones may not be as portable as laptops and tablets, they’re certainly easier to move than desktops with towers.
The Advantages of All-in-One Computers
The advantages and disadvantages of cabinet-housed and all-in-one computers mirror each other, so you should already have a good idea of the pros and cons of all-in-ones.
To cover any remaining gaps, let’s quickly recap.
Everything You Need in a Single Purchase
Unlike cabinet-housed computers, all-in-ones make purchasing a computer simple. They’re akin to buying a laptop in this regard.
You pick and pay for a device and end up with a box that includes everything you need to get started, including a mouse and keyboard in many cases.
With a few simplified models to choose from, you do not need to compare various components and check to see if they’re all compatible. Likewise, you will not need to purchase a monitor separately.
Many casual and light users find the convenience of buying an all-in-one irresistible.
There’s nothing they find more taxing than going through specification lists for dozens of different electronic products and trying to figure out what each item represents.
If you’re one of these people, you’ll certainly appreciate the benefits of owning an all-in-one computer.
Compact Design and Sleek Aesthetic
Many users have become accustomed to sleek, self-contained devices with little external cabling.
Such designs also invite little attention to their functioning, and users would like to keep it this way.
It Is Easier To Move Around
Finally, because they’re light and compact, all-in-one computers are easier to move than desktops with cabinets.
They have fewer individual modules and cables. Often, they’ll fit in just one box and can be carried by a single person.
The Disadvantages of All-in-One Computers
While all-in-one computers have their advantages, they’re far from perfect. Many people continue to use systems with cabinets for these reasons.
Difficult To Modify
Their compact design makes all-in-one computers harder to customize, upgrade, and repair.
Their interior components are not always easily accessible, and even when they are, they may be firmly soldered in place.
For these reasons, modifying an all-in-one computer usually requires calling an authorized technician.
It will also likely cost you more because you have a limited choice of parts and become locked into the manufacturer’s ecosystem once you commit to a device.
Along with laptops, small form factor PCs, tablets, and smartphones, the parts that go into an all-in-one computer are among the smallest electronic components of their capability that can be manufactured cost-effectively at scale.
This means that they have to make some major trade-offs in the process.
The most significant compromise more compact computers make is trading higher miniaturization costs.
That’s why you will almost always find a more powerful cabinet-housed computer for the same price as a given all-in-one.
Heats Up Faster
The compactness of all-in-ones means they have less room for fans, heat, sinks, and liquid coolers. They also have less room for air to circulate through the computer and cool its components.
Consequently, all-in-one computers tend to heat up faster than desktops with towers. Greater heat build-up, in turn, puts them at higher risk for heat damage and slows them down as well.
Greater repair costs
Because an all-in-one has a monitor built into the one unit with the computer components, they require a custom design to get everything to fit nicely together.
Custom parts mean specific part replacements every time something needs replacing.
This means that if the monitor goes faulty, it renders the whole system useless, and you cannot simply replace the monitor with a new one.
So, it will have to go into a repair specialist, and the panel will need replacing, assuming they are still obtainable, and you then receive your all-in-one back with a heft repair bill. And let’s hope the repair job was carried out properly and will remain reliable.
In many ways, I think you’re better off using an Intel NUC PC, or a Mac Mini with a separate monitor of your choice to allow for some repairability rather than an all-in-one.
Desktop vs. All-in-One: Which One Should You Get?
There are excellent models of desktop computers available today, with cabinets and without. The choice of which type of computer works best for you depends on your personality, the type of work you do, and your budget.
An all-in-one computer is usually the best option for those who:
- Do not do heavy computing tasks like gaming, video editing, or cryptocurrency mining.
- Don’t know much about computers and aren’t interested in getting started.
- Prefer minimal design and dislike clutter.
- Are not very price conscious.
On the other hand, you may prefer a computer with a roomy cabinet if:
- You are a power user.
- You’re knowledgeable about computers, or are you interested in learning?
- Are budget conscious.
- You think that you will be upgrading individual components soon or down the road.
Either way, you can’t go very wrong, as there are plenty of great options to choose from in both departments.
Middle Ground Alternatives
Other desktop options are available that offer alternatives over tower cases. They cannot provide the power that the hardware in tower cases offers, but some of them can deliver performance to get many types of work done and run some good game titles.
Mini computers can be supplied as barebone or complete, and are extremely compact, like the Mac Mini or Intel NUC.
They aren’t powerhouses but can still provide enough computing power to small office users and general use cases.
These computers offer some desirable features that towers do, like keeping the computer side of things separate from the monitor allowing for better upgradability or repair options.
They should have standardized SODIMM RAM to allow for easy replacement or upgradability and M.2 SSD slots for good performance storage and expandability.
While the upgrade side of things is lacking, and you won’t get high-end performance, it is still a choice for those who only need simple work carried out and don’t want to spend much on a system.
Small Form Factor Cases Like Mini ITX
These slim cases are great alternatives when you still require solid performance while maintaining a clutter-free environment, but still giving you upgrade options.
I recommend avoiding small form factor computers that have customized motherboards or other hardware built into them.
Aiming for small form factor cases that house standard-sized small form factor motherboards, like a mini-ITX, for example, is the better choice.
This way, you can upgrade any component easily without staying with original equipment manufactured parts.
Many of these types of cases support expansion cards like dual bay PCIe graphics cards which can deliver outstanding gaming or workstation performance in one small unit.
Just make sure that the cooling is correctly configured, and this type of solution is a great alternative to a full desktop tower case over other products that save space.
If you follow these guidelines, all the components inside it should be upgradable, offering the best trade-off for customization, performance, and space.
A computer can work perfectly well without a large case. However, a full-sized case provides room for more powerful components.
It also has more space for air to circulate through a computer, cooling it, and is often cheaper than a more compact design.
The full-sized desktop components that can be installed in a tower case will always offer superior performance.
It will be up to you as to what you need and how much you are willing to spend.