Over the past decade, the computer market has become a great place for consumers. Prices continue to fall while computer capabilities continue to increase. One of the biggest decisions a computer buyer must make is whether to purchase a laptop or a desktop computer. Both have distinct advantages and disadvantages that should be considered before making a purchase.
For the sake of simplicity, a "laptop" is a portable computer running a full operating system (Windows, Mac OSX, Linux) that has a full keyboard and monitor attached. A "desktop" is a non-portable device that requires an electrical outlet, runs a full operating system, and must connect to peripherals such as a keyboard and mouse.
Pros and Cons of a Laptop
Perhaps the most obvious yet significant benefit of laptops is portability. Unlike desktops, a laptop has a built-in power source (often a lithium ion or lithium polymer battery) that allows for hours of usage with no need to be near an electrical outlet.
Laptops are also self-contained devices that do not require the use or purchase of a separate keyboard or mouse to operate. Users can still use peripherals if necessary for a given task, as most laptops have the capability of recognizing peripheral devices.
However, laptops tend to be more expensive for specs comparable to desktops. Laptops have significantly less room for internal components compared to desktops, and laptop manufacturers must prioritize other factors such as weight and power consumption. These factors contribute to a significant premium for the portability that laptops provide.
The same limitations that increase the cost of a spec-heavy laptop also cap the maximum capabilities that can be engineered into the chassis of the machine. Even laptops that cost thousands of dollars cannot compete on specs with the most powerful desktops on the market. Fortunately, laptop users seldom need that type of power.
Pros and Cons of a Desktop
The desktop has been the standard personal computing format for decades, with good reason. Desktop computers are small enough to fit on a desk but are still large enough to provide affordable power for users. Perhaps the most significant advantage of desktops is the amount of computing power that can be purchased from online stores for an ever-decreasing amount of money.
Desktop computers don't have the spatial or power consumption limitations of laptops and can support larger monitors. Desktops can provide the most robust specs with little regard to how much power or space they require.
On the other hand, desktops are, by nature, not portable. The unwiring and rewiring monitors and other peripherals when the computer needs to be moved can become complicated, time-consuming, and frustrating.
Best Uses for Laptops
Laptops are best suited for those who need to be portable first and foremost, with specs coming as a lower priority. Laptops are great for writers and other professionals who don't always work in the same place every day. This choice is also great for users whose primary computer use involves undemanding applications such as web browsing, word processing, and email.
Best Uses for Desktops
Desktops are ideal for those who work from the same place each day. Users who need the computer to stay at their office or workstation have no need for the portability that laptops provide. Desktops are also ideal for users working in professions requiring processor-intensive applications such as video editors, graphic designers, and programmers.
In the end, users should consider budget and the primary needs for the computer. More often than not, those two considerations will make the choice between a laptop and a desktop readily apparent.