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Desktop vs. Notebook: Which is Best for You?

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 3/15/2010

In one corner we have the desktop. With its high performance, the desktop can provide a knock-out punch for most applications. In the other we have the notebook, which can use its mobility to duck and weave all day. Which is best for you? Let's find out.

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    Desktop vs Notebook

    Do I buy a desktop, or should I buy a notebook? This is one of the most common consumer questions today. Almost everyone needs - or wants - a PC of some type but it isn't always clear which type of PC is best.

    This brief guide will discuss the desktop vs. notebook battle by touching on several key points. These are performance, features, and value. By the end of this guide you should have a better idea which is best for you.

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    Performance

    Desktop vs Notebook Generally speaking, the performance of notebook computers is adequate, but not exceptional. It is fairly standard today for notebooks to ship with a dual core processor, four gigabytes of RAM, and a hard drive of around 500 gigabytes.

    For many people this will work just fine. It certainly does not qualify as slow. However, there are still applications which can really slam a notebook. Games are one example; many notebooks have slow graphics processors. Programs like Photoshop and video editing software will also be notably slower on the average notebook computer.

    This is not to say desktops are always faster. There are some very slow desktops available. However, they're usually sold at very, very low prices. When comparing mainstream products (something between $750 and $1000 dollars) desktops are almost always faster - and often significantly so.

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    Features

    While desktops and notebooks are both PCs, the features of each are very different, and for many people will be the deciding factor.

    The most important feature of a desktop computer is its versatility. Desktops can be configured with various monitors, keyboards, mice, and sound systems, and for this reason tend to have better equipment and all of these areas. Generally speaking it is more pleasurable to write an email, listen to music, or watch a movie on a desktop.

    Notebooks can also hook up to these accessories, but doing so detracts from the greatest feature of a notebook - mobility. While most desktops are used with bigger monitors and keyboards than what a notebook can provide, you can't take your desktop with you on vacation or down to the local coffee shop. If you want to do that, you'll need a notebook. Period.

    The question you need to ask yourself, however, is how often you would take advantage of the mobility of a notebook. When I run into someone who was unhappy about their choice of a notebook, it is usually because they over-estimated how often they'd use its mobility. If you like to check Facebook every half hour or you're addicted to web surfing you'll probably use the mobility. But if you only check your email once a day and use your computer mostly for business or to play games you may not use the mobility of a notebook often.

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    Value

    Notebook vs Desktop When it comes to electronics, smaller often means more expensive. That's no exception with notebook computers. Notebook computers are almost always more expensive than a desktop with similar performance.

    This difference starts out small on the lower end of the price range. The difference between a $500 desktop and a $500 notebook probably won't be massive. In fact, you may be able to purchase a faster notebook at that price if you hold out for a good deal.

    As prices rise, however, the value gap grows. Gaming computers are a good example. A desktop gaming PC which costs $1500 dollars will be much faster than a notebook which costs the same. In fact, $1500 dollars is considered a very high price for any desktop PC, and you can bet that a desktop which sets you back that much will have extremely high performance. A true cutting-edge notebook, however, can easily set you back $3000 dollars or more.

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    Verdict

    On the whole, desktops win out in comparison to notebooks in several important areas. Desktops offer better performance, are a better value, and have better features.

    The key, really, is the mobility debate. Despite the advantages of desktops, many people are buying notebooks because they can take their notebook anywhere. The question is - do you really want to? Remember, netbooks aside, most notebooks weigh 5 or 6 pounds and have screens of 14 or 15 inches. They also have battery lives of around 4 hours.

    My personal recommendation to most people is to buy a desktop first, then a netbook for mobile use. A good $750 dollar desktop can very well last you for four or five years (as long as you're not a gamer) and the netbook will provide superior mobility to most notebooks, giving you the best of both worlds.