The Eternal Question: Desktop or Laptop?
If you're contemplating the purchase of a new personal computer, you are undoubtedly faced with the question that computer purchasers have had to confront from the time that the very first cinder block-like portable computers first came onto the market in the long forgotten bad old days of DOS: Is my next PC a Desktop or a Laptop? There are a lot of variables in the use of a personal computer and you should start by asking yourself these four key questions:
- Will the PC always be on one desk, or does it need to be carried around to different locations? (Advantage-Laptop)
- Do you want to use this PC in outdoor locations where there is no easily accessible AC power? (Advantage-Laptop)
- Do you like to select the exact components in your PC and install them yourself? (Advantage-Desktop)
- Are you on a tight budget? (Advantage-Desktop)
Once you've identified your needs, you are well on the way to determining whether there is a Desktop or a Laptop in your future.
Cost and upgrade choice are extremely critical function and ones where Desktops have the unquestioned advantage. If you compare a typical Desktop with a 17 inch flatscreen to a similar Laptop, the portable unit will be two or even three times more expensive. The miniaturization of the various components utilized in the Laptop manufacturing process is expensive and Laptop owners pay for that portability privilege. Desktops use standardized modular parts and it is very easy to swap out video cards or other internal devices in just a few minutes and with little if any experience. In contrast, Laptops need to be opened up by a certified technician who then has only an extremely limited array of options in the choice of parts to substitute or upgrade, mostly restricted to the modules specifically designed by the manufacturer to fit in that particular Laptop. While Desktops can be cobbled together from lists of universally installable computer hardware, Laptops are limited to the extreme. If you want more hard drive space, for example, you can easily plunk in an additional unit into your Desktop case, while you will have to completely replace the hard drive in your Laptop with a new and larger capacity unit. Not only will you waste the original hard drive as it can't be reused, but the cost of Laptop 2.5 inch hard drives is significantly higher than the Desktop 3.5 inch versions.
Space and portability are the Laptop's key advantages. You can just pick up a Laptop, stick it under your arm, head out to the local park, sit under a tree and work, play, websurf, or anything else that you like to do. Most laptops will let you work for about two hours without any AC power connection, so they are great to use on an airplane, in a car, or anywhere else you are travelling. WiFi Hotspots have proliferated so you will likely find that wherever it is that you want to use your Laptop, you will find a nearby location where you can get fast, reliable Internet access. The portability can be a drawback as all you need to do is get up and go to get more cream for your coffee and find that your Laptop has been pinched. Laptops are very easy to steal and thieves are always on the lookout for inattentive Laptop owners. Another portability disadvantage is that Laptops require repairs much more often than Desktops because people toss them around, drop them, and generally use them more like footballs than the sensitive electronic equipment they are.
If you like a lot of monitor real estate, then you pretty well are stuck with Desktops. Although some Laptops will have screens as large as 17 inches and there are even some behemoth 19 and 20 inch models on the market, most Laptops are in the 14 to 15 inch range which is pretty small to spend too much time working away. I am currently salivating over a ViewSonic's 28" VX2835wm widescreen which will give me a full 27.5" diagonal of viewable area and am contemplating whether I can hold off on it until the end of the year when I finally take the plunge for an all new Nehalem-based system or if I should just plunk it onto Old Faithful and start delighting my eyes sooner. Needless to say, such gargantuan monitor options are simply not available on Laptops and even if you want to take advantage of a 19 inch screen on a portable, you'd better start saving your nickels as the very large screen monitors are extremely expensive, not to mention that the portability of a huge screen Laptop suffers in comparison to its more normal brethren.
All of these factors are important but to me personally, the biggest advantage Desktops have over Laptops are ergonomic. I have had a bad back and neck since I was knee high to a grasshopper and my Desktop is set up to keep my posture in a perfectly comfortable position at all times. My monitor is well elevated and at eye level, my keyboard height allows my forearms to be in a relaxed position, and the rest of the ergonomic setup is carefully designed so that I can spend my usual 12 hour days in front of my PC with little if any physical strain or stress. The basic design of Laptops calls for the monitor to be attached to the keyboard and thus either places the screen too low where I have to look down (and throw out my neck) or I have to set up the laptop so high that I have to reach up (and throw out my back).
Although I have a nice HP Laptop, I mostly use it only when I'm staying in a hotel overnight and absolutely have to check my email. The rest of the time it just sits on my desk, alone and dejected. However, that is just my own personal preference and there are millions of people around the world who swear by their Laptops and would never dream to be chained to a Desktop. As in virtually every other aspect of consumer technology, it's always Different Strokes For Different Folks!