Should I buy a laptop or desktop?

Choosing between a laptop and desktop can be a difficult decision. The bottom line comes down to portability. If you will need or use the portability of a laptop, then it can be a powerful tool for you and worth the extra money. However, if the laptop will simply act as a desktop with very occasional need for portability, a desktop is also an excellent choice and far less expensive.


Which should I buy? Laptop or Desktop?

 desktop imagesLaptops have a great advantage in terms of their portability. If you carry a laptop with you, your applications and documents are always immediately available. With a wireless card, your laptop can also access the Internet while on the go, so you have more places to do research, check your email, and be more productive.

Desktops offer other advantages. Although laptop prices have come down and performance has increased, most desktops offer a better price-to-performance ratio. Desktops also still hold some ergonomic advantages over laptops. Bear in mind that, aside from small footprint desktops like the iMac or Inspiron One (available for personal purchase through our online catalog or the  Dell Educational Purchase Program), they take up more space in an apartment or residence hall.

Your decision should be based primarily on how you plan to use your computer and the size of your computing budget. Here are some factors to consider:

Weight, size and portabilitylaptop image

A typical laptop weighs between 4.5 and 8 pounds, while "ultralight" models like the MacBook Air weigh in at under 3 pounds. Alternatively, the economy and cost-oriented option - the netbook, belonging to the ultralight class - focuses primarily on mobility and are often Windows or Linux-based. Netbooks are most commonly equipped with an Intel Atom - a series of microprocessor that focuses less on performance and more on basic functionality in tandem with low power consumption.  Netbooks are often designed with screen sizes between 8'' and 10''. Because of these features, netbooks are therefore best suited for web browsing, e-mail and office tasks and are priced beneath the cost of a typical laptop. The MacBook Air is noted for its thinness and sparse weight and is available in both an 11" and 13" screen sizes depending upon a user's portability needs. The MacBook Air currently utilizes a Core i-Series processor which allow them to better approximate the level of performance of the typical laptop; it is a device geared toward performance and portability rather than budget. Furthermore, these two types of "ultralight" laptops do not have internal CD/DVD drives and are dependent on the internet and removable media to retrieve information.

Your classic desktop computer, including monitor and keyboard, weighs about 25 pounds. If you regularly want access to the contents of your computer whether at home, office or on the road, the portability of a laptop is an important criterion. Alternatively, using a USB flash drive or web-based storage like Box with copies of your important documents allows for easy on-the-go access and works with any desktop, laptop, Mac, or PC. (Note: Box requires an internet connection.)


One downside of portability is ergonomics. The laptop's miniature size can make its use less comfortable and physically taxing. The keyboard and trackpad orientation of netbooks can vary significantly; the result of this being the built-in keyboards of the netbook tend to be anywhere between 92% and 95% of the typically laptop keyboard. As manufacturers approach their netbook keyboard and trackpad designs with more variance than with normal laptops and standard keyboards, it is particularly important to type on the netbooks for ergonomic reasons. The desktop computer's design has evolved to ease the comfort of users. Its display is at eye level, and the keyboard allows for proper positioning of your back, arms, and wrists. These are important concerns, especially when you use your computer for long periods of time. You can improve laptop ergonomics by building a more comfortable "home base" into which you can dock your laptop when you return to your desk. A "home base" can include such things as a standard keyboard, a mouse, an external display, etc.

Cost and reliability

PC desktops cost less than a comparable laptop. Although overall prices have declined, price gaps still exist largely because of the higher cost of laptop displays and the added cost of miniaturized technology. Since laptops are portable, they are more prone to accidents and abuse than desktops. And due to their size, laptops require smaller, more intricate components and more tedious labor resulting in more costly upgrades and repairs. We recommend that you consider purchasing extended warranties for both laptops and desktops to cover the effective life of the machine.


UW Wireless InternetBoth laptops and desktops have equal connectivity to the Internet through the standard technologies including dial-up modems, DSL or Cable modems, Ethernet and Wireless networking. Users can connect using an Ethernet cable in residence hall rooms or by purchasing and setting up a wireless router. Owning a laptop gives users the ability to take advantage of wireless networks like UWNet, which is available in nearly all campus buildings and the common areas (dens, dining halls, etc.) of residence halls. For more information on wireless on campus see: Wireless.


A laptop's small size and portability make it vulnerable to theft. Unless you can lock or secure your laptop, you should take it with you wherever you go. Security devices like cable locks and LoJack are available for laptops to deter thieves.

Desktops provide less expensive, more comfortable, powerful performance to meet your computing needs from a fixed location. Laptops provide performance to meet your computing needs from virtually anywhere. Laptops cost more, and for additional comfort you will pay more yet for extra "home base" components. But if you want to take advantage of the portability and increased productivity offered by laptops, then the extra expense may be worth it. If portability and the extended access it provides is not important, then a desktop may make more sense.

The choice is yours. Evaluate and review your computing needs and decide what's best for you.

Keywords:personal departmental apple dell choose portable ergonomic compare contrast comparison computer computers   Doc ID:3044
Owner:Hannah P.Group:DoIT Tech Store
Created:2004-07-22 18:00 CSTUpdated:2019-06-13 09:40 CST
Sites:DoIT Tech Store
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