Precisely to meet this type of need, we have created this complete guide to the types of computers on the market today so that the next time we go to a shopping center or contact our trusted IT technician, we will already know which type of computer to buy.
Types and formats of computers
Computers are divided into desktop PCs (also called desktops) or portable PCs (also called laptops or notebooks). Within these two categories there are many other sub-types, which it is better to know in depth before proceeding with any type of purchase.
Types of desktop or desktop computers
Currently, the following types of fixed computers are on sale, i.e. PCs that cannot be easily moved from a desk or from the workstation where they are placed, although there are now exceptions due to the continuous reduction in size and weight (many PCs identified as fixed can be moved easily). The types of desktop computers are:
- Tower PC: these are the most classic desktop computers, in which there is a case to be positioned vertically at the foot of the desk. The Tower PC has the great advantage of being customizable and improved over time easily changing the pieces inside. The defect of desktop PCs is, in addition to the space they occupy, they need to be connected to a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse and often to audio speakers in order to function correctly, often generating a multitude of cables in the back of the desk. Desktop computers can be bought ready-made or by assembling the individual pieces, as also seen in our guide Custom or pre-built PC: which one to choose.
In another article, the list of best branded pre-assembled desktop PCs
- Compact desktop computers or Mini Tower PCs: with these terms we identify fixed PCs of reduced dimensions (with motherboards microATX or smaller), ideal for offices or for use in other locations on your desk. These computers are usually not very powerful but still perform well for general use or office use. Their small size greatly reduces the possibility of subsequent improvements, as they are more compact and more difficult to disassemble. The advantage is that they take up less space and can be moved more easily; sometimes this type of computer does not have a cooling fan and is therefore also very quiet.
In another article, i components for a compact Mini ITX PC
- PC gaming: with this term we often identify Tower PCs (rarely Mini Tower PCs) of very large dimensions in which it is possible to find a dedicated video card, a large amount of RAM memory and an easily "overclockable" processor, so that you can always have the maximum power when we play. To learn more, we send you to read our guide to Most Powerful PC Ever – Better Hardware Parts Today.
- All-in-One Computer: these computers look like monitors without any case next to them, since the motherboard and the main components (CPU, RAM, internal memory and operating system) are present in the body of the same monitor (usually thicker than a normal monitor) . The best computer in this category is without a doubt theApple iMac 5K, available on Amazon for less than € 2500.
- Mini computer or barebones PC: with these names we identify very small fixed computers (they have a compact cubic shape), so light and pocket-sized that they can be carried around. In the past, these computers came with pre-soldered hardware (motherboard, CPU and power supply) to which we only had to add RAM and a hard disk as desired; now they are sold complete with everything and ready to use, as in the case ofApple Mac Mini, available on Amazon for less than € 1500. If we are looking for other less expensive models we can take a look at our guide Mini desktop PC, small and comfortable, portable or TV.
- Raspberry: it is an even smaller and more essential type of mini PC, which looks like a large motherboard little more than a credit card with a CPU, chipset and RAM (pre-soldered) on top to which we can connect a screen, an internal memory (also microSD), a wireless keyboard with touchpad and a Wi-Fi connection module. If we want to learn more, we recommend that you read our guide The Raspberry PI 4, 40 Euros, can become a normal desktop PC.
- TV Box PC: with this acronym we identify small computers to be connected to the TV to watch videos and movies in streaming or to install Android apps (the most popular operating system on these devices). They can also be used as compact PCs, to be placed under the monitor or above the desk, as they take up very little space. On this type of devices we have made an in-depth analysis: how Android TV Box Mini PCs work.
- PC Stick or Pocket PC: with this name we identify the most compact computers currently available. In fact, they present themselves a little bigger than a USB stick but they have a quad-core CPU, a fair amount of RAM, an internal memory and various types of wireless connection, so they can be immediately connected to any HDMI monitor and used as real PCs by connecting a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. On these modern devices we have created the guide PC Stick: how to have a pocket-sized Windows 10 computer.
In addition to these types of PCs we can also find, in a guidebook or on the Internet, in other very little used terms such as Mainframe, Server Farm or simply Server: they identify a series of very powerful computers, intended to provide Internet web services to thousands or millions of users simultaneously; to understand, all Facebook users connect to a large Server Farm, just as Amazon has many Mainframes around the world to store the data of all products on sale and all transactions made.
Types of laptops or notebooks
Next to fixed desktop PCs (even if they are not so fixed anymore) we also find laptops, laptops par excellence with compact hardware, a monitor integrated into the body, an integrated battery to be able to continue working without always being connected to a electric socket and a front webcam, so as to be immediately ready for video calls or streaming video conferences. Among the Laptops the main types are:
- Notebook: Also called laptops or laptops, they are the most popular format. Computers of this type are always a good compromise between hardware power and price thanks to the low energy consumption CPUs, batteries that can last even 4-5 hours and very fast SSD internal memories. The screen sizes range from 12 to 17 inches: obviously it's up to us to choose the most suitable size (usually 15 inches is always a good compromise). To immediately see the best models in circulation, we invite you to read the guide How to choose the new Notebook in 2020.
- Gaming notebook: also called gaming laptops, they are much heavier and more powerful than traditional laptops (even more than 5 KG in weight), but have optimized hardware to run all modern games without particular sacrifices (even if we are far from the levels of a good desktop gaming PC). If we want to focus on one of these models, just read our article Laptops for gaming: which one to choose.
- Ultrabook: with this name we identify thin and very light notebooks (less than 2 KG), with CPUs with very low energy consumption (often do not need a cooling fan), latest generation SSD, autonomy over 7 hours and no DVD player. Laptops become Ultrabooks if they meet some very strict specifications (the name of the original products is associated with ASUS), although now many notebooks carry this name even if they do not meet the original requirements. To see these laptop models up close, we invite you to read the guide Best Ultrabooks and Lighter Laptops.
- MacBook: behind this name we probably find the most beautiful laptops ever made, thanks to the aluminum body that Apple has chosen for this type of computer. In addition to the aesthetic factor, the MacBooks (and the various MacBook Air or MacBook Pro derivations) are very fast and snappy, with a very high autonomy and an Apple eco-system ready to satisfy any need. If we are still undecided about MacBooks, we can clear our minds by reading our in-depth study Is it worth buying a latest generation MacBook?
- Convertible: with this name we identify laptops with a screen that can detach from the keyboard and become a comfortable large tablet, in fact we can also call them 2-in-1 tablet or Tablet PC. Obviously the important feature of these devices is the presence of a touch screen and a removable keyboard; on the performance side, they are presented as "enhanced tablets", even if they are unlikely to offer the power found on other types of notebooks. As for convertible laptops we can find different operating systems: Windows 10, Android is iPadOS (in case you choose an iPad Pro with a dedicated keyboard). To view other convertible notebook models, please read our guide Best 2 in 1 Tablet-PC with removable keyboard.
- Chromebook: these are laptops with an operating system Google Chrome OS, which has the distinction of being super fast, but can only be used if permanently connected to the Internet. This type of PC is perfect for those who need a computer to surf the Internet, to work with, but always using web applications or apps dedicated to the system (the same apps that can be downloaded on the Google Chrome browser). Low price and high performance are the hallmarks of Chromebooks, even if not all the apps we are used to on Windows 10 are present (we will almost always have to look for replacements). To learn more we can also read the guide How is the Chromebook and why it can replace any computer.
A long time ago netbooks were very popular, but now this type of devices have been completely replaced by Tablet PCs (in fact their natural evolution).
Behind the simple term computer hides a great variety of types and forms that a novice user is unlikely to recognize at first glance or at first reading. By reading this guide we will be able to fill this gap and learn all the types of computers that you can buy (with their strengths and weaknesses), so that we can always choose the one that suits our needs.
Other terms with which some special types of computers are identified, on which we do not elaborate, are:
- Workstation, which is a more powerful desktop PC, with lots of memory and a great processor, ideal for graphics programs and 3D games.
- Server, a computer specialized to host one or more services, which can be used on the network by other PCs (for example a webserver is a computer on which a website is located or a NAS which is a file server).
- Mainframe is Super Computer, are terms used to classify particularly powerful corporate servers.
If you need to buy a new computer urgently, we suggest you also read our guides Better to take a desktop PC or a laptop? is Things to know before buying a new computer, so you can get other good advice before buying any type of PC.