Twenty years ago, buying a new computer almost invariably meant investing in one of the many identikit PC towers on the market.
These beige boxes provided an object lesson in monotony, populating computer stores like the rows of identikit tower blocks in the photograph accompanying this article.
With most PC towers occupying comparable dimensions and offering similar functionality, the main differentiating factor was often their logos.
Today, it’s possible to purchase computers whose primary components are built into their monitors, integrated into keyboards or nestled inside stylish countertop shells.
Yet there are plenty of traditional towers still on sale from market-leading brands including Dell, Lenovo and HP.
So what goes on inside these bulky plastic boxes?
Historically, computers were large because their components were, too.
A CD or DVD drive inevitably had a minimum width that dictated the device’s overall dimensions.
The same was true of Zip and floppy drives, while cooling fans tended to be pretty big, too. Hard discs were weighty objects encased in metal, and motherboards could be sizeable.
It was also customary to space components out, preventing each one from causing the others to overheat.
Here in 2020, diminishing component dimensions mean these towers don’t need to be as big as they once were. Many have significant amounts of empty space inside.
Yet old habits die hard.
Desks often feature dedicated housings for towers. Larger cases offer more room for terabyte hard drives and advanced graphics cards. Plus, some towers benefit from rakish, angular designs.
You can choose from asymmetric, lozenge-shaped and exoskeletal desktop computers, some of which are finished in cool aluminium or have a perforated side for optimal heat dispersal.
Recurring design elements include backlit fans, LED lighting strips and translucent windows reminiscent of the iconic iMac G3 series.
Appealing to a core audience
Gamers and programmers are particularly keen on high-end specifications, and there’s still a degree of residual snobbery about how this hardware should be presented.
A well-spaced tower additionally offers the enthusiast space to tinker, which is pretty much impossible with a laptop or all-in-one device.
Being able to upgrade individual components represents one of the main attractions of a desktop PC, improving its performance while extending its lifespan to a decade or longer.
Easy access to the screws holding tower components in place beats having to remove one piece of hardware to access another, which might be necessary in a smaller unit.
The more disposable nature of sealed-unit machines doesn’t sit comfortably with people who think nothing of installing extra RAM, or overclocking their CPU for faster performance.
In summary, PC towers don’t need to be as big and bulky as they used to be.
But their enduring popularity means there’s no reason to consign them to the history books just yet.