The different types of home computer

Tuesday, 2 July, 2019

We have to thank the 1980s for many of today’s technological phenomena.

The World Wide Web was invented during the Eighties, as were digital mobile phone networks, and the foundations of satellite and cable TV were established.

However, one of the true unsung heroes of the shoulder-pads-and-yuppies era was the emergence of different types of home computer.

We often think of platform diversity as a modern phenomenon. In actual fact, this trend first arose in the early 1980s when upstart rivals challenged the traditional personal computer.

There was Sir Clive Sinclair’s Spectrum, Alan Sugar’s Amstrad CPC range, imported Commodore C64s and licence-fee funded BBC Micros.

Each new device offered innovative technologies, some of which fared better than others. The Sinclair QL’s microdrive cartridges flopped markedly.

Nonetheless, being able to choose between different types of home computer has become an established aspect of life ever since the home computing wars of the early Eighties.

Choose your weapon

As we approach the 21st century’s third decade, it’s worth considering which types of home computer deserve to be connected to your broadband router.

While some people require a particular system for a specific purpose, we live in an age of hardware diversity, where different devices fulfil widely varying roles…

Desktop PCs.

Despite endless rumours of their demise, Microsoft Windows-powered PCs populate home offices, workplaces and spare rooms across the land.

As an alternative, mini-PCs occupy far less space. However, their specifications are often inferior to standard tower units.

Gaming PCs.

These modified Windows desktop computers pack their cases with souped-up graphics/sound cards and huge amounts of RAM.

Fans of mass-participation online games treasure them, as they can provide pinpoint graphics and minimal latency (the delay between issuing a request online and receiving a response).

Apple Macs.

These days Apple is best known for manufacturing phones and tablets. But its range of Macs remains popular among creatives and free-thinkers.

Apple’s Mac mini and Mac Pro computers represent stylish additions to any workstation. They are expensive compared to similarly-equipped non-Apple machines though.

All-in-one computers.

Apple pioneered one-box computing with the original iMac, and stylish Windows-powered rivals are now challengers in today’s range.

Processors and hardware tend to hide behind an outsized screen, creating a minimalist aesthetic. Again, they’re relatively expensive.


The options above all attach to fixed peripherals via cables, whereas laptops pack everything you need into one portable unit.

Today’s laptops are sleek and sophisticated, with numerous manufacturers in this market. Optional docking stations turn them into quasi-desktop devices, for the best of both worlds.


Google’s double-fisted assault on the operating system market has seen its minimalist Chrome OS competing against Windows and Apple’s iOS.

Chrome lacks the advanced features found on PCs, but it does cost less to buy. Chromebooks tend to be rapid and lightweight laptops, though desktop Chromeboxes also exist.

Linux computers.

Like Chrome, Linux has shelved its niche reputation in recent years – not least since it now underpins the hugely popular Android smartphone OS.

Self-builders often pick Linux as their OS. It’s more flexible than Chrome, Windows or macOS, though you’ll have to pick a specific distro (version) of Linux.


We wouldn’t describe tablets as home computers, but devices like Microsoft’s Surface Pro blur the boundaries.

Effectively a high-end slimline laptop with a detachable screen capable of working as a tablet, these sleek multifunctional devices inevitably command a significant price premium.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!