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Should I Buy a Laptop or Desktop Computer?

Should I Buy a Laptop or Desktop Computer?

Jul 11, 2012

“I’ve noticed that laptop computers have become a lot more affordable than they were when I last bought a computer. I think that I’d like my next computer to be a laptop. Is this a good choice, and is there any reason why I should consider buying a desktop computer instead?”

There are actually several compelling reasons for buying a laptop computer instead of a desktop, but the same is also true of desktop computers. Because this is a complex decision and no single computer is the right one for all types of customers, I’d like to present the primary reasons for buying laptops as well as desktops in this two-part article.

Why You Should Buy a Laptop Computer

Buy Laptop ComputerLaptop computers have reached price ranges that few would have thought possible several years ago. As laptops have become more affordable, many people have begun to purchase them instead of desktop computers. Laptops have begun to outsell desktops in recent years, and with good reason; a laptop can run almost all of the same software as a desktop computer and can go anywhere with its owner. There are several reasons why you should follow the crowd and choose a laptop as your next computer.

Pictured: Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook with second-generation Intel Core i5 processor, $699 at the time of writing.

Portability

You can use a laptop computer virtually anywhere. A laptop enables you to use the same computer at work and at home, take notes electronically at a lecture or library, or even use your computer outside or on your living room couch – something that would never be possible with a desktop. The freedom of owning a laptop and being able to use your computer without being confined to a desk is difficult to imagine until you have experienced it for the first time.

Power Savings

Rising fuel costs have caused household utility bills to skyrocket, forcing most people to become more conscious of their power usage. The power consumption of a laptop computer is as little as one quarter of a desktop computer’s usage. Purchasing a laptop can therefore contribute to a reduced monthly power bill – particularly if you keep your computer on at all times or have a household with multiple computers. Many companies also have recycling programs, allowing you to dispose of your laptop in an environmentally conscious fashion when you are done using it.

Flexibility

Laptop computers have never been more flexible than they are now. Except in 3D games, a mainstream laptop offers performance comparable to a desktop computer. In addition, many laptops have HDMI or DVI ports for easy connection to a large television or monitor and built-in Bluetooth for wireless keyboard and mouse support. When connected to these peripherals, a laptop computer can provide much the same experience as a desktop computer while retaining the ability to be easily disconnected and used outside the home.

Connectivity

All current laptops include built-in adapters for connecting to wireless access points. Many laptops also have the ability to connect to cellular networks. You can therefore use a laptop to connect to the Internet from nearly anywhere. Although you can add a wireless card to a desktop computer, there is typically little need to do so because desktop computers are not portable. Most desktop computers connect to the Internet via Ethernet networks instead.

Battery Power

Depending on the size of its battery and efficiency of its internal components, a typical laptop computer can run on battery power for between five and ten hours. Some laptops have the ability to use a standard battery and internal “slice” battery simultaneously for more than 30 hours of total runtime. While it would be impossible to use a desktop computer in a situation where power is not available, you can work or entertain yourself for several hours with a laptop, even during a power outage or in a remote area.

Why You Should Buy a Desktop Computer

Buy Desktop ComputerLaptop computers get the majority of the public’s attention these days; few retailers put a desktop computer on the front page of their weekly sales flyers, and some brick-and-mortar stores no longer stock desktops at all, making them available only as special orders. However, whether you are looking for something to edit your family videos on, store your MP3 collection or play the latest 3D games, nothing provides quite as much bang for your buck as a desktop computer. In fact, there are several reasons why the next computer you buy should be a desktop.

Pictured: Dell XPS X8300 Desktop with second-generation Intel Core i7 processor, $849 at the time of writing.

Cost and Power

Laptop and desktop computers do not use exactly the same components. This is particularly true of processors. Processors for laptop computers are engineered for maximum efficiency and conservation of battery life, which is not necessary for desktop processors. Because of the added development effort needed to build laptop components, a laptop computer tends to cost more than a desktop if the two are of equivalent power. Therefore, a desktop computer at any price point tends to be a more powerful computer than a laptop at the same price point.

Easy to Upgrade

A desktop computer has no permanent components. If you are unhappy with the performance of any component, you can remove it and replace it with something else. Many desktop computers have at least four RAM slots and bays for several hard drives and optical drives. If your computer does not support the processor you want to install, you can replace the main system board with one that has the desired CPU socket. A desktop computer can easily have more than ten terabytes of storage space with the addition of multiple hard drives, while a laptop computer can typically contain only one hard drive. As of late 2011, no laptop hard drive has a capacity exceeding one terabyte. Once the components in a laptop computer become so obsolete that current software no longer runs, there are few options except to purchase a new computer. This never happens with a desktop computer, since a desktop can always be upgraded. An added benefit is the fact that desktop computer components tend to be comparably inexpensive to purchase.

Difficult to Steal

Because laptop computers are small, light and valuable, they are prime targets for theft. If you own a laptop, you must take care not to leave it unattended when you take it out of your home. Once a laptop is stolen, the chance of recovery is very poor. Desktop computers are typically very difficult to move; even if a thief decided to steal a desktop computer’s chassis and leave the other peripherals, he would still be faced with the problem of concealing a large, heavy item. Desktops are therefore much safer to use in environments such as college dormitories, where people may enter and exit regularly.

Easy Cooling

Because of the large amount of open space inside a typical desktop computer chassis, desktops tend to be very easy to keep cool. A properly assembled desktop computer in an air-conditioned room should never experience overheating issues, even during extended sessions of gaming or content creation. A laptop computer is a compromise between the conflicting desires for computing power and thin, attractive design. As a result, high-performance laptop computers frequently encounter heat-related issues, especially as they get older and dust begins to build up.

Gaming Performance

A computer’s video card is the primary factor determining its performance in games. Although great advances have been made in video adapter technology for laptop computers, a laptop cannot hold a desktop-class video card. Some desktop computers even have slots for multiple video cards. Only a desktop computer has the ability to play current games at acceptable framerates on a large monitor. If you want a computer that can provide a great gaming experience, a desktop computer is the only logical choice.