Laptops are the middle ground of the computer world. Smaller than desktops and larger than tablets, they blend the two and provide a balance between portability and functionality. Even among laptops, there are varying sizes. Traveling professionals may prefer a compact 10-inch netbook, while movie enthusiasts prefer a big, HD 17-inch laptop. If you're considering a laptop for your next computer purchase, knowing where they shine and fall short enables an educated purchasing decision.
One of the largest advantages laptops hold over desktops is their size. While desktops have similar functionality, they're difficult to move and traveling with them is highly impractical. While tablets offer more portability than laptops, the small form factor usually limits the quality of the components or their functionality. Netbooks are similar to tablets in that their small size and portability limits the quality, speed and size of components within. The size you see in a laptop's description or name denotes the size of the screen when measured diagonally. So a 15.1-inch laptop has a 15.1-inch screen across the diagonal. Laptops offer portability and desktop-level functionality for most tasks. Like the porridge in the Goldilocks story, laptops aren't too big to carry, but aren't too small to truly limit functionality.
While the price gap between desktops and laptops is getting smaller as technology gets less expensive, laptops are typically pricier. The smaller components required for a laptop often cost more than their larger desktop counterparts since more technology goes into delivering the same quality on a smaller physical scale. That said, if your budget constrains your purchasing options, you can still find inexpensive laptops with lower-end specifications.
For students, office workers and light or average computer users, laptops provide plenty of power, speed and functionality. For PC gamers or people using resource-intensive programs, a laptop might not be the right choice. While some manufacturers offer high-quality gaming laptops, they typically cost more than comparable desktop models.
RAM and Hard Drive
Random Access Memory (RAM) is a large factor in computer speed, while hard drive capacity determines how much space you have on the computer for files, programs, games, music and other data. While desktops used to offer much higher specs in these fields, the gap is closing as technology advances and gets less expensive. That said, it's still common to find more RAM and a larger hard drive in a desktop when comparing desktops and laptops of similar price. As the two main components you can upgrade on a laptop, it may not be as big of an issue to you if you're comfortable doing the upgrade yourself. Laptop hard drives are physically smaller than desktop hard drives, but both have high-end capacities in the Terabyte range, or 1,024GB, with the laptop version being a bit more expensive. While you can also upgrade RAM, the space limitations in laptops might limit the computer's maximum capacity, where a similarly priced desktop might be capable of holding much more.
Laptops don't offer nearly as much customization as most desktops. Since desktops are larger, they're easier to open and alter, allowing you to swap parts and update components. While laptops typically give you access to the computer's memory and hard drive, other components -- like the processor, graphics card and cooling system -- aren't as easy to access and replace. This disadvantage means that when your laptop's non-customizable components become obsolete, you may have to buy a new laptop to keep up with technology. With desktops, you can switch out the obsolete component by itself for much less money than a new computer, extending the life of your current hardware.
While desktops require an external monitor, keyboard and mouse for navigation and use, laptops offer everything you need in one form factor. This advantage means you'll have to buy less external peripherals, also reducing the clutter caused by the extra cords and pieces of hardware. Laptops also come with built-in speakers and often on-board webcams, further reducing the extra peripherals you'd need to buy if you got a desktop. While it depends on the model, many laptops include ports to connect them to your television or an external monitor when you do need a larger viewing area. If your laptop's built-in peripherals don't live up to your expectations, you can always buy external substitutes, like a wireless mouse or keyboard.
- laptop image by Kai Koehler from Fotolia.com