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Laptop or Desktop: Which is Right for You?

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 2/22/2010

Laptops and Desktops are fundamentally different types of computers, and choosing between them can be difficult. Do you want the fastest computer possible, or the easiest to carry? This article poses a few questions any buyer should consider before laying down their cash.

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    A New Market

    It wasn't terribly long ago that laptops were considered a professional or luxury item, suitable only for executives, travelers, and college students with rich parents. For most, laptops were too expensive to consider, and their relatively poor performance also made the option less attractive to home users.

    But the computer industry never stands still. Today, laptops are affordable to anyone who can purchase a desktop computer - in fact, the cheapest netbooks cost less than even budget-priced desktop PCs. Performance has also increased, while the minimum requirements for the programs used most often used have done so more slowly. As a result, most laptops available today provide performance which is more than adequate for word processing, web browsing, and other basic tasks. Even more complex programs like Photoshop, or games like The Sims, can run on many laptops.

    Because of these improvements, many people in the market for a new PC often find themselves wondering if they should purchase a new desktop or a new laptop. It is a difficult decision to make, because even though both will run the same programs, there are many obvious differences between the two platforms. So, which is right for you?

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    How Important Is Mobility?

    We'll start with the obvious difference. A desktop is tied to a desk; a laptop, on the other hand, is very portable. Today's smallest netbooks are so tiny that they can fit into a purse, or even a large pocket on a pair of cargo pants. This sort of mobility means that, with the right laptop, you can literally sit down and start working wherever you want, whenever you want. Even the largest laptop computers can fit easily into a backpack.

    That said, mobility is only useful if you actually use your computer on the go. If you're the kind of person who likes to work at a desk in the privacy of your own home, than you may not use that portability much.

    When trying to choose between a desktop and a laptop, think about how you've traditionally used your computer. It may be difficult to decide how you might use the mobility of a laptop if you've never purchased one before, but it helps to think of other activities you can do virtually anywhere, and where you choose to do them. For example, if you're the kind of person who likes to curl up on your couch to read your favorite book, than a desktop might make the most sense. But if you find that you prefer to read your favorite book at a coffee shop, then you'd probably be better of buying a laptop.

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    Laptop or Desktop? Which Computer is Right for You?Both Laptops and Desktops are great purchases, and can be had for cheaper now than ever before. As a result, the question becomes this: in the Laptop vs. Desktop debate, why choose?Laptop, Desktop, shopping
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    What Programs Do You Use?

    mini-Laptop-Sony-Vaio-Vgn The programs that you make use of regularly are an important factor when deciding between Laptops and Desktops. Laptops have made great strides in terms of performance, and it is very simple to find a Laptop that can handle every-day tasks with ease.

    However, most of the performance gains for laptops have been related to the processors that are available and the amount of RAM shipped with systems. Discrete graphics solutions, on the other hand, are still uncommon in laptops, and even in those laptops which do include them, they are often extremely underpowered compared to what can be found in desktops. As a result, laptops are still a poor choice for gamers, or for people who need a GPU for use in professional programs. Gaming laptops do exist, and have in fact been heavily marketed recently, but they are only useful for playing with relatively simple graphics, such as Half-Life 2. Anyone looking to play Crysis on a laptop will be disappointed.

    Laptops also have limited screen real-estate. This means that if you use programs that work best with large or multiple screens, or if you like to multi-task many different programs at one time, you may be disappointed by how the smaller screen of a laptop limits your productivity.

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    Are You A Value Hunter?

    While it is true that laptops are very easy to afford, they still do not, and probably never will, give you quite as much power for your 41wugJu148L. PC dollar as a desktop. Laptops are not as easy to build as desktops, which follow a well established format and can use larger, hotter parts. Laptops are naturally more cramped than desktops, due to their smaller size, and that means they have a harder time getting rid of heat. They also have to be as energy efficient as possible, as they are often made to run on batteries. Finally, the technology which allows a very small computer to run at acceptable temperatures isn't cheap, so a laptop will always be somewhat more expensive than any equally powerful desktop.

    Of course, value can't be measured simply by the computer's specifications and the price tag. People who are always on the go will obviously not be getting the most out of their money if they buy a desktop, because they'd never have time to use it. The opposite applies for people who need very powerful computers - while they could buy a laptop, it probably wouldn't be fast enough to provide an enjoyable experience.

    It is also worth remembering that while you can build your own desktop PC eith parts from different manufacturers, doing the same isn't possible with a laptop. As a result you can save money by building a desktop the meets your specific needs.

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    Why Choose?

    There is a third option in the Laptop Vs. Desktop debate.

    Buy both.

    With today's amazingly low prices, it is entirely possible to build a nice desktop and purchase a decent laptop for around a thousand dollars. Considering that even relatively low-end PCs can easily run the basic office and web-browsing programs most of us spend our days using, buying both is an attractive possibility. It provides flexibility, allowing you to work seriously at your home office with a comfortable mouse, in front of a large, bright monitor, but also giving you the choice of going somewhere public to enjoy some fresh air.

    If you do decide to purchase both a laptop and a desktop, it would probably be wise to purchase both computers with the same operating system. Since you might be purchasing relatively entry-level computers, going with Windows XP would be ideal, although it is becoming hard to find with new computers and will eventually be virtually extinct. Mac OS X would also be a good choice, but Mac computers are expensive, making it less likely you'd want to purchase both.

    If you can't purchase both at once, but you decide you want both, think about staggering your purchases. You could buy a desktop now, and buy a laptop six months or a year from now. Or buy a laptop, so you have mobility and can make due on your desk, then a nicer screen, keyboard, mouse and speakers you can plug into the laptop. That way, when you buy a desktop PC, you already have the peripherals. By that time, the laptop may not be that powerful, but it will still be a good mobile solution for day-to-day, and you have the desktop to run your more demading programs.