Desktop computer vs. laptop computer

Updated: 06/06/2021 by Computer Hope
Desktop vs. laptop

When deciding between purchasing a desktop or a laptop computer, you'll need to consider a handful of criteria and determine what best fits your needs. 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.


Desktop - 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 $600 and still be a pretty powerful system.

Laptop - Laptops can have a fairly wide variety of component options, but they 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, ranging up to $1000 or more, depending on the brand.

Bottom line: Desktop wins this category. A desktop computer is always cheaper than a laptop.


Desktop - Desktops are large 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.

Laptop - 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.

Bottom line: Laptop wins this category. If you need portability, the laptop is the answer.


Desktop - Desktop processors are larger, but this also means the desktop processors can be more powerful than laptop processors. New, advanced processors on the market are often available in desktop computers first.

Laptop - Laptop processors have nearly caught up to desktop processors but are still limited compared to desktop processors. Gaming laptops can have equal performance but have a higher price.

Bottom line: Desktops win this category. Because desktops don't need to worry about conserving battery life, they'll always have better processors.

Internal storage

Desktop - Desktop computers may have multiple internal storage drives installed.

Laptop - Laptop computers usually have room for only one internal drive. If more internal storage is required, the drive must be completely replaced, or storage or a must be used.

Bottom line: Desktops win this category. Although both computers can have external drives connected or use cloud storage, desktop computers can have several internal hard drives and other drives in them.

Assembly and set up

Desktop - Setting up a desktop takes a bit of extra work to hook everything up, start it up, and begin to use. 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.

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.

Bottom line: Laptops win this category. A laptop can be up and running within a few minutes.


Desktop - Desktops can make use of full-size keyboards, including a number pad. There are no limitations.

Laptop - Smaller laptops with 14" and 15" screens have smaller keyboards and don't feature a number pad on the right side. Larger laptops with 17" screens have larger keyboards and may include a number pad, but the laptops are bulkier and heavier.

Bottom line: Desktops win this category. However, a desktop keyboard can connect to a laptop, which, if done, could make this more of a tie.

Screen size

Desktop - Desktop monitors can be 19" or larger.

Laptop - Since portability is a big feature of laptops, smaller screen sizes are necessary, and screen sizes often range from 10" to 17".

Bottom line: Desktops win this category. However, both laptops and desktops can connect to bigger monitors, TVs, and projectors. If any of these bigger displays were to be used, it would be considered a tie.

Power usage

Desktop - Desktop computers use more power than a laptop. They have to power a higher wattage power supply, multiple components inside the computer, and a monitor. If the power fluctuates or goes out, including brownouts, any documents being worked on and not saved can be lost.

Laptop - Laptop computers use less power than a desktop computer. Smaller components mean less power is needed to make them work. Laptops also have a battery, so power fluctuations and outages will not cost any unsaved work to be lost. The battery kicks in immediately when power fluctuates or goes out.

Bottom line: Laptops win this category. Laptops use less power and have a built-in battery for power outages.


Desktop - Most components in a desktop are removable, making it easier to upgrade. Desktop cases are larger, providing more room inside to add and remove hardware, use tools, and organize cables.

Laptop - Memory and hard drive are about the only components that can be upgraded in a laptop. The remaining components are either built-in and cannot be removed, or the laptop is not designed to work with the upgraded component. A need to upgrade anything other than the hard drive and memory usually requires a new laptop.

Bottom line: Desktops win this category. Desktops are bigger and are easier to upgrade.


Desktop - Desktops are capable of using high-powered video cards that have higher power requirements and require better heat reduction/dissipation. Virtually any video card could be used in a desktop, including two or more video cards at the same time. Thus, they always yield better performance for gaming.

Laptop - Physical space is limited in a laptop, which limits the graphics capabilities. While higher-end laptops can provide better than average graphics for gaming and CAD-based applications, the heat reduction/dissipation is limited by the space in the laptop case. Power is also limited, which doesn't allow for video cards needing those higher amounts of wattage to run.

Bottom line: Desktops win this category. Desktops are capable of being more powerful than laptops and doing more with games.


Desktop - Repairing a desktop computer is generally easier because most of the hardware can be purchased off the shelf of any local computer retail store. The desktop computer chassis is also much bigger and easier to work in than a laptop.

Laptop - 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.

Bottom line: Desktops win this category. Desktops are easier to repair than most laptops.


In the end, the final decision depends on what your needs are. While the above overview may appear to lean towards desktop computers as the best option, if you need portability, 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. Desktops are optimal choices for graphic-intensive gaming, use of CAD (computer-aided design) 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 only needs e-mail and Internet access.