Smaller, smaller, smaller. That's the rule for electronic components inside a computer.
The first microprocessor chips in 1974-vintage personal computers had 6,000 transistors. Today's Pentium 4 has 42 million.
However, a different rule sometimes seems to cover computers and other gear made with those components:
Bigger, bigger, bigger.
Today's typical personal computer - system unit, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers - has a footprint of almost one square yard. Printer, scanner, fax, and copier hog more desk space.
Thoughts on winning the space battle with your computer gear:
Relocating the computer's box-like system unit can easily reclaim space. People usually put tower-type system units alongside the monitor, and use low-profile units as a base for the monitor. Both can be moved to a more convenient location.
Inexpensive stands are available to hold the unit on the floor, for instance. Pick a location safe from accidental kicks, and impacts with the vacuum cleaner. Think twice about the floor if you have pets that might chew or damage the unit in other ways.
Switching to a flat-panel display, only a few inches deep, opens more desk space than any other step. Prices on flat panels have dropped, but still average about twice the cost of a regular monitor.
Want to replace the printer, scanner, copier, and fax with one machine about the size of a standard printer? Then consider buying a “multi-function device.” These all-in-one machines combine several functions.
One of the newest and smallest is Lexmark's PrintPro ($150), which combines high-quality color printing, copying, and scanning into a single unit about the size of a regular ink jet printer. It was designed for the cramped space in college dorms.
Hewlett-Packard, Epson, Cannon, and Brother are among manufacturers of other quality multi-function devices.
Remember their drawbacks. You may sacrifice a little performance for the all-in-one convenience. And if the machine crashes, you've lost not just the printer, but everything else.
If you're buying a whole new computer with space in mind, consider some possibilities.
One is Apple's iMac, which offers a flat-panel display mounted on an adjustable neck. The neck connects to a system unit about the size of half a basketball. The configuration opens plenty of desk space, and allows the monitor to adjust to your neck and shoulders - rather than the other way around.
Other manufacturers also offer all-in-one PCs.
Switching to a laptop computer is the ultimate in desktop unclutter. The footprint is about the size of a sheet of paper. And you can reduce that to zero by storing the computer in a drawer when not in use.
A basic laptop that costs around $1,000 is fine for most computing work.
The premier laptop category - so-called “desktop replacements” - cost at least twice as much. But they have all the features found on the best desktop computers.