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Should You Get a Laptop or Desktop?

With technology moving at extremely quick paces and leading to newer and better hardware, laptops are getting to a point where they are comparable to desktops in their power (at least, for the vast majority of consumers). It has been leading some to choosing to get rid of their desktop and just use a laptop instead, and others (like myself) choose to use a laptop to help supplement the desktop for when I am away from home or am otherwise not able to utilize my desktop. For example, when reformatting, updating, etc. and I still need to work.

Through this article I want to look at the limits that we still see on laptops, and why they are not going to work in all situations. I think too many people are getting caught up in the laptop era and are trading off their desktops, only to find that their laptops can not do everything they need. Hopefully some will find this information to be enlightening!

Laptops Are Small and Compact

A big reason why some people choose to use laptops is because they are small. If you do not have a lot of room, you can still find place for a laptop. Even if it has to sit on your lap (which is part of its name), you can always come up with enough area to fit it at. And when you have to pack it away when you are done with it, you can lay it on its side or flat, so you can always find a spot.

This is a pretty big selling point, because it also ends up offering some more flexibility. For example, if I have to go in to another room I do not want to move my desktop and monitor. Instead, it is much easier to just grab the laptop, unplug it from the wall and take it in there. Not to mention it is only one device, compared to the desktop which includes the desktop, monitor, keyboard, mouse and various wires. It is really just a hassle. Note that this has been somewhat resolved with the addition of all in one computers, where the monitor and computer are just one piece, but then you are still dealing with wires, keyboards and mice. Basically, you are still having to deal with a lot of work.

While not too common, I have also seen people use their laptop as if it were a desktop. They will take a computer desk and add a monitor, keyboard and mouse. The laptop will be hooked up to the monitor and the keyboard and mouse hooked to the laptop. At this point, it is just like a normal computer, but with the option of unplugging the devices real quick and taking off with the laptop itself. This is great for people who work on the computer all day but want to use a single device, rather than going around from one computer to another with a flash drive so that they can transfer their work back and forth.

Laptops Can Be Powerful Too

A big thing that used to hold people back from buying laptops in the past was the fact that they were just too weak. You were not even able to find a laptop that could handle gaming, much less things like development or video editing. Now, all of these things are options. You can find laptops with multiple video cards, SSD hard drives and even massive amounts of RAM. On top of this, there are now laptops that can use multiple CPUs, so all you are really limited to is your imagination (and, to a point, what is available out on the market). As long as you are not planning to try and run a laptop farm or something for rendering 3D, you should be just fine; although there are laptops that would probably work for some light rendering as well.

Now, this is where problems start coming in. Something people often neglect to think about is that laptops are compact. While we do know this, it is not often related to its impact when it comes to the heat. Since laptops are small and are limited in what types of fans they can use (as well as where the hot air is going to be blown), they can overheat if you are not careful. Through general computer usage this is usually not going to be problematic, but if you deal with more hardcore uses you can end up causing some damage to the system. For example, there are people who decide to try and mine Bitcoins using their gaming laptop. This is one of the worst choices you can make with a laptop; you are running the GPU at its full capacity (emitting a ton of heat) for extended periods of time. You can end up melting things and frying the entire laptop. While it might seem like a great way to make money on paper, once you realize you are destroying the system you learn that you are actually losing money from the idea.

A great thing about the power of laptops is that most things that are coming out on desktops are being ported, in some way or another, over to the laptop spectrum as well. A great way to look at it is that the laptops are like a second generation desktop; as the desktop progresses, the laptop does as well. Of course, due to the heat problems and everything the laptop will always be pretty far behind the desktop. The only solution for that would be to find a way to cool off the laptop internals to the same degree we do with desktops. While I have no doubts that we are working our way towards that point, I think it will still be a long time still before we really get efficient.

Swapping Out Parts

Here is an area where desktops win, hands down. When we want to upgrade a desktop, it is easy. You just open the case, unscrew the part that you want to remove, and screw in the new one (in some cases you deal with the wires as well, but you get the point). The same thing happens when something in the computer burns up. It is so simple to remove and replace parts that most people are able to do it with no problems now. Aside from shocking the system due to static electricity or purchasing an incompatible part, the damage that can be done is pretty minimal; everything fits together pretty nicely.

When we get back over to the laptops, things change considerably. Unlike the desktop where you can pretty much go straight to the part you need to remove, with laptops you sometimes have to remove many other parts just to get there. It is a lot like a car, where getting to the part can be a hassle, and then putting it all back together can be its own challenge. On top of this, laptop parts are different than desktop ones since they have to be created a bit different. They are smaller, emit less heat and often draw less power (since a desktop is always plugged in and a laptop runs off the battery when you are traveling with it). Even if you are able to work on a desktop computer, you may not be able to do the same with laptops. And even if you can, finding the parts you need can be tough. Overall, laptops are just not user friendly for repairs and upgrades. You will usually just be recommended to upgrade to a whole new laptop, rather than a new video card or motherboard and CPU.

This also leads to another interesting area, which is that we can build completely new desktops by using just a couple parts from the old one. For example, a single chassis can be used for many different builds. You can also keep moving your hard drive(s) and DvD burner to each new computer, rather than buying replacement ones. These things alone can account for half the price of a custom build. With laptops, it is an all or nothing deal; you either keep the laptop or get rid of it and buy an entirely new one. There is no middle ground.

Power Usage

Laptops use much less power than their desktop counter parts. Desktops are just flat out power hogs, whereas laptops are made more efficient so that when they are running off batteries they are not always dying. This difference is massive when it comes to power bills, where the desktops will pull around 5x (or more) power. Desktops can also be made more efficient when it comes to power usage, although this is not usually done by default; you have to go through there and change up the power settings on your own to make it better. For most of us, this is not worth doing since we want the most power possible out of our systems. For others who use their computers more passively, this could be of a great benefit. Not to mention it helps be more green!

The Costs

If we want to get a decent gaming computer that can handle all of the latest and greatest games, it should be doable for under $500 (and this includes all of the costs, from the case to the hard drive and video card to everything else). This much will give a pretty good gaming system, lacking just one thing: the fact that it can not play everything at a good frame rate on the highest possible settings. But for a budget gaming system, this is a welcome sacrifice.

When it comes to laptops, you can expect to shell out a minimum of twice that for a system that ends up still being weaker. Gaming laptops are just expensive, and if you compare them to much cheaper desktops you will come back depressed. Even when using similar CPU speeds, RAM amounts and video card types, the difference between the laptop and desktop is as clear as night and day due to how they are built and changes in the hardware and what they focus on (power vs speed).

You can also start with a cheaper budget computer and slowly upgrade it to turn it in to a gaming system over time. You could buy a part every month or two, for example, until you have it built up and ready to go. With laptops, this is not an option. You either have to buy the system all at once or wait until you can. The only real alternative here is to buy a cheaper laptop and try to sell it later (or use it for casual usage) after you have enough for the gaming laptop. These situations are all less than preferable though.

Longevity

A big problem with people who game is that technology is still moving way too fast. A top of the line computer today will be obsolete within a year or two. The same goes for laptops, although in the gaming area they fall behind significantly faster. On top of this, computer parts die off and you have to replace them. As stated, laptops are ridiculously difficult to replace parts in. As a result, you could have a video card die in a desktop and just buy another to swap it out with. If this happened with a laptop, you may have to pay someone a lot of money to do it for you, or you may not even be able to do it at all. This increases the cost of ownership of laptops considerably, and I think is something people should seriously take in to consideration prior to deciding to go all out in their decision. While the cost right now is bad enough, the future costs can be even greater.

Screens and You

Probably among my greatest pet peeves with laptops is how their screens look. Compared to a normal monitor, it is pretty obvious which one is of higher quality. Laptop screens just never look right to me, and when gaming they are clearly slower at updating the pixel changes. I feel much more comfortable when dealing with real computer monitors, although laptops generally rely on their built in monitors. You can, however, get around this by hooking up a real computer monitor to the laptop. But that also increases the costs of ownership since you are buying more hardware just so that you can have the normal desktop feel. Not to mention you can not use these external monitors when you are sitting on a couch or elsewhere; instead, you have to use the laptop monitors.

This may not mean as much to some people as it does for others. The only real way to know is to check them out yourself. Most stores that sell laptops have some on display that you can mess with and play some games on. This will allow you to see the difference in how the laptop monitors work vs how the larger computer monitors work. From here, you can decide if the laptop monitor is going to work for you, and whether or not you could handle staring at it for long periods of time (if you happen to work on the computer).

Convertibles - A New Age

While convertible laptops are not really a new thing (they have been out for years now), they are starting to gain some traction in our now touchy feely world. If you are not familiar with what a convertible laptop is, it means that when you open the screen up you can flip it around and lay it back down, effectively turning the laptop in to a tablet. From here you use it just like tables, with a touch screen that you can do things on using your finger or a special pen. I would argue that this is even better than tablets, though, because you can swap between the two formats as often as you want.

For example, when I was in school I would use the tablet part for reading my books or skipping through notes I took while in class. When I was actually in class taking notes, I would usually go with the normal laptop format (if I was typing). In some classes, though, like Physics, I found that the convertible function was invaluable, being that I could still hand write my notes. This was especially important when it came to custom drawings and other notes that would just be too difficult to type out using the keyboard.

I think this function is important to understand because, for students, it can be a great asset. While we often see people running around with their laptops for taking notes, many do not realize the sheer potential of having something you can draw on as well. If nothing else, view it as being like a tablet laptop!

But What About Writing Tablets?

When we talk about writing tablets, we are not talking about the computers themselves, but rather things like the Bamboo pads. These are devices that plug in to any computer and allow you to draw on the screen (essentially the pad is your drawing surface and it pushes what you are doing on it to the screen for you to view). While this is a good alternative to getting a convertible laptop, you have to consider a couple of things:

  • Having this drawing tablet means you have yet another item to carry around. Do you really want to do this, when you probably already have a lot of things you are dragging with you everywhere you go?
  • You can only draw on the pad itself, rather than the screen. As you get more and more used to it, it becomes a lot easier, but I still think drawing on the screen is the easiest because it is more natural; it is just like drawing on a piece of paper that is standing in front of you
  • You have to find room on your desk to place it. This increases the amount of area you have taken up, and it can cause problems. The convertible laptop takes up only the same space as a normal one, so you do not need to keep shifting things back and forth to make room for books and papers

Battery Operated

If you do a lot of work on the computer, laptops are an awesome hedge against something you may not think of: power outages. When the power goes out, the computer powers off (since it has no power). If you were on a laptop when this happened, though, it would switch over to drawing power from the battery instead of the wall. In return, you now have power even when the power is out due to storms or other reasons. This can be invaluable at times, and can really save a lot of headache down the road.

There is a desktop version of this as well, called a UPS (Uninterrupted Power Source). It is pretty much just a very large battery that charges when there is power and allows you to draw its power when it goes out. The problem here is that they have very limited amounts of power in them, so you may only have a few minutes to run your computer off of it before it dies. Laptops, however, can run for hours off of the battery when they are still in great condition (or fairly new). If you are doing some work that has a deadline, for example, this could let you continue your work without any fear of missing that deadline.

Conclusion

Choosing between a laptop and a desktop for computing can be tough. We all have different things we plan to use our computers for, and our decisions directly impact how viable each option is. For people who do a lot of rendering, for example, laptops are pretty much out of the question. The same would go for people that are interested in taking part in crypto currency mining. On the other hand, more casual computer users can get by with whichever system, depending on how they feel about them. Business people that use their computers all the time for work would be better off with a laptop. And people who want to upgrade their systems to the latest and greatest hardware are better off with a desktop.

Essentially there is no right or wrong choice. Which system type is better for you depends on your own specific situation, feelings and budget. With that said, I hope that this article has helped you come up with some things to ask yourself, and has better explained what things you need to take in to consideration before you make your purchase. And keep in mind that there is nothing to keep you from owning both!

Computers | Hardware


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