Laptop vs. Desktop: Pros, Cons, and Which Should You Get?

Worldwide sales of laptops have eclipsed desktops for more than a decade. In 2018, desktop sales totaled 94 million units compared to 162 million laptops. That gap is expected to grow to 80 million versus 171 million by 2023.

But just because sales are declining, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t buy a desktop. There are times where it might be the ideal solution.

If you’re trying to decide which you should get, keep reading. We’re going to investigate some of the pros and cons of laptops and desktops.

Laptop Advantages and Disadvantages

laptop, cup and diary on table in office
Image Credit: peshkov/DepositPhotos

What are the pros and cons of choosing a laptop over a desktop?

1. Portability

If you regularly need to take your computer out of the house, then owning a laptop is clearly a no-brainer.

But many people only buy a laptop due to its smaller size. In practice, they leave it sat on a desk in their home office 24/7.

If you fall into that category, do you really need a laptop? You might be better served with a desktop computer and a high-quality tablet for using on the sofa.

2. Fixed Peripherals

Fixed peripherals are one of the most significant drawbacks of laptops. It’s the big trade-off that you make in exchange for portability.

When you buy a laptop, you’re stuck with the same screen, keyboard, trackpad, ports, speakers, etc. for the duration of its life.

Sure, you can use external components, but then you’re compromising portability. Again, it might be cheaper and wiser to buy a desktop machine instead.

And of course, if you buy specific peripherals, you’re going to end up with two of everything. It’s just going to make things cluttered and confusing.

3. Discrete Graphics

Discrete graphics is the term used to describe a separate graphics subsystem in a computer. It could either be a standalone graphics card in a motherboard slot or an entirely separate GPU.

Very few laptops offer discrete graphics. Instead, they use integrated graphics. Integrated graphics are on the same chip as the CPU and share its memory.

The presence of discrete graphics on laptops only matters if you’re a gamer. The extra cost and weight mean the feature isn’t necessarily desirable for most users.

4. Limited Upgrade Options

Most laptops don’t have many components that you can upgrade—there’s the RAM and the hard drive, and that’s about it.

If you want to improve other parts of your hardware, you will probably be out of luck. There’s simply not the space inside a laptop chassis for you to add any extra components you desire.

Of course, many desktop users do not upgrade their computers, so how much importance you give to this point is a personal matter.

5. Power

Laptops use less power than their desktop counterparts; their smaller parts mean less electricity is needed to make them work.

Laptops also have a battery. That can save you from losing work during unexpected power fluctuations and outages.

Pros and Cons of Desktop PCs

Mock up of generic design computer screen
Image Credit: kantver/DepositPhotos

And now, what are the pros and cons of buying a desktop computer?

1. Lack of Reviews

When you’re about to drop a serious amount of cash on a product, you probably want to do a couple of hours of research beforehand to make sure you’re getting exactly what you want.

Many desktop computers don’t have reviews. We’re not talking about all-in-one computers from Dell or HP—we mean a rig that your local PC hardware shop has put together and is selling in the local paper.

The lack of insight can be off-putting to non-experts.

2. Harder to Buy

The lack of reviews for desktop rigs also means they can be harder to buy than a laptop.

For example, if you’re buying a custom rig from a local shop, you need to trust that store implicitly. Have they tested the machine in the way they claim? Do the internal components match what the store says? Are you getting value for money? The entire process is much more personal.

You can mitigate some of these issues by buying from a chain like Best Buy, but you will end up paying a significant big-box markup.

3. Cost

And that leads onto our next point: cost.

All else being equal, desktop computers are significantly cheaper than laptops. You will get a lot more bang for your buck.

For a few hundred dollars, you can find a desktop computer that significantly eclipses what you’d be able to pick up for the same price in the laptop sector.

4. Aesthetics

When you picture a desktop, you probably think of ugly towers, giant monitors, and endless wires.

It doesn’t have to be like that. If you want something that looks as good as it functions, the all-in-one machines from the leading manufacturers might be the way to go.

They look like a slightly bulked out monitor. And with the exception of the power lead, there’s not a cable in sight.

5. You Can Build Your Own Desktop

If you want complete control over your computer’s components, you can build your own desktop computer.

Don’t be fooled by the word “build.” If you’re not confident, you don’t actually need to put everything together yourself.

Again, if you work with a local computer shop, you can do all the research and buying online, then pass it off to the store to do the actual construction.

There are some cons of building your own computer. It’s going to take hours and hours of research, costs can quickly spiral if you don’t keep an eye on how much you’re spending, and you ultimately shoulder the responsibility for its success or failure.

Laptop vs. Desktop: Which Is Better for You?

Hopefully, this article has provided you with some insight about which strategy is right for you. Just remember that there is no single correct answer; much depends on what’s important to you and on how you plan to use your computer.

If you’d like to learn more, make sure you check out our article on laptop docking stations to turn your laptop into a desktop and our list of reasons why you might not need a desktop.

Image Credit: Robert Gourley/Flickr

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