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Desktop or Laptop: Which One Should You Choose?

Desktop vs. laptop, the eternal battle. It may seem like there are desktop people and laptop people, just like there are people who prefer Macs over PCs, but this is a false dichotomy. The split between desktop and laptop computers is not as simple as work vs. home. Many people have both. It’s not a matter of which one is better, but rather which one is more practical for a given user. In order to determine whether a desktop or laptop best fits your personal needs, it’s helpful to compare and contrast them using measurable categories. For our purposes, these categories will be memory, hard disk space, screen size, and price.


Your computer’s speed is determined by how much memory it has. Memory is a kind of short-term data storage that determines how quickly your computer can do tasks and retrieve data. Increasingly, laptops use flash memory, which allows smaller devices to operate very quickly. Flash memory has no moving parts (think of a flash drive) and is less fragile than RAM, which relies on mechanical components. Laptops can handle most household computing tasks easily with flash memory. However, flash memory is not as a fast as RAM can be. For gamers or professionals who use sophisticated software, flash memory may not be sufficient.

Hard-Disk Space

 A traditional hard disk drive is a rigid magnetic disk with a large storage capacity. Just as with memory, traditional magnetic and mechanical hard drives have a performance advantage. They can hold much more data. However, they are physically larger and more delicate. Flash memory can still hold hundreds of gigabytes of data, but magnetic drives can hold a terabyte for the same cost as a basic laptop. External hard drives can help increase the storage capacity of your laptop, but then you have to carry it around.  

Screen Size

Screen size is a very clear difference between desktops and laptop computers. The smaller the laptop, the smaller the screen. There is no way to get around that. For professionals who need multiple screens to efficiently and comfortably do their jobs, this often means their work computer is a desktop. Other professionals need a mobile computing device to give presentations or do work at different job sites. This is a sticking point for a lot of users.


Of course, one of the biggest considerations is the initial cost. Laptops cost more money because miniaturization is expensive. High-performance laptops can run well upwards of $1,000. This is especially true of gaming laptops that contain high-performance graphics cards and cooling systems. Ultralight laptops are also expensive due to the extent of the miniaturization. You can get the same capabilities, if not more, for much less money in a desktop computer. Laptop repairs also cost more. Ordinary users can open up a CPU tower and check wires or replace certain broken components like memory cards. Generally, you cannot do that with a laptop. They are smaller so everything is jammed together inside the casing. Any level of repair to a laptop is going to require a trip to some kind of a trained professional.

The Case For Desktops

Overall, desktops provide higher performance. This is a result of their ability to get more electricity and their size. Because desktops aren’t portable, they can have more hardware. For example, desktops specifically designed for gaming can have special graphics cards and cooling equipment. This includes fans, heat sinks, or even complicated immersion cooling systems. Hard drives can reach into the 4 or 5 TB range. As mentioned above, desktops can have delicate and large mechanical RAM hard disks that allow for extremely fast computing speed. Perhaps most importantly, desktops have big screens. Some professionals even have two or three screens in their offices. While laptops may seem to be more mobile, the advent of cloud computing and remote desktop applications makes the issue of mobility less pressing.

The Case For Laptops

So why even buy a laptop? Remote desktop services and cloud services can’t quite replace the real thing. They can be a little laggy. This is especially true when you have a slow internet connection. It also makes working without the internet very difficult. Cloud computing allows you to easily access and update documents, but does not allow you to use applications on your home computer. This can be inconvenient if you have certain programs you need to do your work. It can also be inconvenient if you have specific settings on your programs. Imagine spending hours setting up an Endnote database or Word macros, but not being able to use them. Very frustrating.

Desktop vs. Laptop Conclusion

Ultimately, the split between desktops and laptops comes down to a combination of preference and need. Some professionals need a computer they can take anywhere, but only need basic web and office applications. Other professionals mostly stay in their offices, but need multiple screens or use memory-intensive applications. Further, some people may want a desktop at home as a family computer, while others prefer having a computer they can use in bed or move between rooms in their home. It all depends on a user’s particular situation.

By most quantifiable measures, a desktop computer edges out its laptop counterpart. They come cheaper, with more memory, hard-disk space, and a larger screen. Yet still, desktops aren’t ideal for everyone. Laptops have their own advantages, and ultimately, each user must decide which one is best. One you decide between a laptop and desktop, the next step, of course, is deciding which particular desktop or laptop you should purchase.

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