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Mini versus Laptop Computers: What’s the Difference?

written by: John Garger•edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 12/26/2010

Truth be told, there are no technical definitions that set apart a mini computer from a laptop. Still, computer manufacturers use these terms to describe their lines of portable computers. Learn about the differences between a mini versus a laptop computer.

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    Several decades ago, a new computer was developed to fill the need between a microcomputer (desktop) and a mainframe. This so-called minicomputer was useful when a microcomputer was not powerful enough and yet a mainframe was too cost prohibitive, especially in small offices and businesses.

    However, the term “mini” now more commonly refers to a computer that is smaller than a laptop, ultraportable, and offers certain functions that mimic those of a larger computer. Often, the characteristic that distinguishes a mini vs. a laptop is how it’s used rather than the hardware it contains. Read on to learn the differences between a mini vs. a laptop computer.

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    Mini Netbook Computers

    Dell Mini 10 Netbook Mini computers are often called netbooks. A mini or netbook is a small, ultra portable computer that offers basic functionality but lacks the power and storage of a laptop. One of the more popular mini netbooks, the Dell Mini10, is low-priced, lightweight alternative to a laptop.

    What the mini netbook lacks in raw power and storage it gains in portability and fits the need for a mobile device that can let the user read/send e-mail, browse the Internet, and write letters. Mini netbooks are typically not powerful enough to run Windows 7 so they often come equipped with either a version of Linux, Windows XP, or Windows 7 Starter edition.

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    Laptop Computers

    Dell Studio XPS 16 For a time, the term laptop and notebook described two separate products but their features, hardware, and prices converged so much that now the two terms are used interchangeably.

    The laptop is designed to be more than just a companion to the desktop computer. It is meant to be a full-fledged, stand-alone computer that is capable of just about anything a laptop can do.

    Some laptops are so powerful that they are deemed “desktop replacements.” Shipping with an Intel Core i7 720QM processor, 6GB of Memory, a 15.6-inch HD widescreen monitor, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, the Dell Studio XPS 16 is an excellent example of a desktop replacement laptop.

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    Mini vs. laptop computers are better categorized by their intended use rather than by the hardware they contain. Mini netbook computers are really designed to be companions to larger computers such as a laptop or desktop PC. Although laptops range from just larger than mini netbooks to desktop replacements, all laptops are full-fledged computers that can do more than just basic functions.

    While laptops are capable of running the newest operating system such as Windows 7, minis and netbooks either run older, less-demanding operating systems such as Windows XP, or run watered-down versions like Windows 7 Starter that are specially designed for the hardware found in mini netbook computers. In the competition of mini vs. laptop computers, mini computers are companions while laptops are the real deal.