Desktop computer vs. Laptop computer

When deciding between purchasing a desktop computer or a laptop computer, you'll need to consider a handful of criteria and make a determination that fits your needs the best. Below is a chart that compares the two types of computers, providing pros and cons for each to help you make a more informed purchasing decision.

Topic Desktop Laptop
Cost There is a wide variety of component options available for desktops, allowing for a large range of prices, but the starting point is relatively cheap. Desktops can start as low as $400 for a full package (computer & monitor) and still be a pretty powerful system Laptops can have a fairly wide variety of component options but are more limited than desktops. To get a more powerful laptop (higher speed, better graphics, more storage space, etc.), the price can be considerably higher, getting up to $1500 or more, depending on the brand.
Portability Desktops are large in size and have a separate monitor. While it's possible to take a desktop from place to place, it's cumbersome and not the choice for portability. They are designed to be used in a single location and not moved around much, if at all. Laptops are very portable due to their compact size. They were designed to be taken from place to place, carried in a backpack or laptop carrying case. They are great for on-the-go use.
Processor Desktop processors are a little bit larger in size, but this also allows for more powerful processors to be used in a desktop. Advanced processors on the market are typically available in desktop computers first. Laptop processors have nearly caught up to desktop processors, but are still limited when compared to desktop processors. Gaming laptops can have an equal performance, but have a much higher price.
Ease of use Setting up a desktop takes some extra work to hook everything up and get it up and running. It also requires more space to set up. While it's not difficult to connect everything together, it is still more cumbersome than a laptop. Laptops are built to be easy to use, requiring little time to get running. Take it out of the box, plug it in and press the power button. Within minutes, the laptop is ready to use.
Keyboard Desktops can make use of full size keyboards, including a number pad. There are really no limitations. Smaller laptops with the 14" and 15" screens typically have smaller keyboards and don't feature a number pad on the right side. Larger laptops with 17" screens do have larger keyboards, featuring a number pad, but the laptops are bulkier and heavier.
Screen size Desktop monitors range from 15" on up. It is even possible to hook up a desktop to a TV, so screen sizes could be as large as a TV. This provides for great flexibility on what the desktop is used for and in what environment. Since portability is a big feature of laptops, smaller screen sizes are necessary and screen sizes typically range from 10" to 17". However, a laptop can still be connected to an external display and support any size of monitor, screen, or projector.
Upgrading Most components in a desktop are easily removable, making it easier to upgrade and since desktop cases are usually much bigger they're easier to work in when doing any upgrading. Memory and hard drive are about the only components that can be upgraded in a laptop. The remaining components are all built-in and not removable. A need to upgrade anything else requires a new laptop.
Gaming Desktops are capable of using high-powered video cards that have higher power requirements and require better heat reduction/dissipation. Due to the space in a desktop and the capability of using 1000+ Watt power supplies, virtually any video card could be used in a desktop, including two or more video cards at the same time. Space is limited in a laptop, which limits the graphics capabilities. While some of the higher end laptops can provide some pretty nice graphics for gaming and CAD-based applications, the heat reduction/dissipation is limited because there just is no space available to use a larger heat sink and fan. Power is also limited which doesn't allow for video cards needing those higher amounts of wattage to run.
Repair Repairing a desktop computer is much easier since most of the hardware can be easily purchased off the shelf of any local computer retail store. For most users opening a laptop to repair a part can be difficult and finding a replacement part often requires calling the computer manufacturer or ordering from another online site.

In the end, the final decision depends on what your needs are. While the above chart may make it look as though Desktop computers are the best overall option, if portability is a big need of yours, the laptop is the best option. There are some limitations to consider, but they are not overly significant for most users.

However, if you want the most bang for your buck and portability is not necessary, a desktop is likely the best choice especially if price is important. Desktops are optimal choices for graphic intensive gaming, use of CAD applications, and for those who prefer to have the option of upgrading more easily. However, they are also perfectly fine for the basic computer user who just needs e-mail and Internet access.

Additional information

  • See our desktop and laptop definitions for further information and related pages.