When it comes to performance, laptops used to be a 1974 Ford Pinto and desktops were a 1960s muscle car. The former could never even dream of competing with the latter in terms of sheer horsepower, just as laptops couldn't come close to a comparably-priced desktop (in this guide, unless otherwise stated, laptop-to-desktop comparisons will be between two machines of equal price).
Well, times have changed. The desktop is still the power player and may always be, but the performance gap has shrunk considerably. No longer does power go out the window when discussing laptops. So as mobility and wireless capabilities become a bigger part of everyday life, and battery life gives some laptops the ability to go all day without the need for an outlet, the decision between the two becomes that much more complicated.
With a laptop, you have a portable computer that takes up very little space. With a desktop, you have a powerful computer that requires a section of desk space and is difficult to transport. However, before you make a decision, consider your computing needs, convenience factors, cost, and comfort.
Laptops cram a lot of heat-generating electronics into a very small area. Dissipating the heat and cooling the hot components has always been the number one concern for manufacturers when putting together a laptop. As they add more cores to their laptops' CPUs (central processing units), and the CPUs become more powerful, the units produce more and more heat that needs to be accounted for in what the manufacturers like to call "thermal headroom."
Fortunately, advances in CPU technology have resulted in CPUs that generate less heat and more power. Unfortunately, better technology is more expensive; that is, until it becomes obsolete and the price plummets, assuming it's still in production.
The best laptop may never match the best desktop for power, but a high-end laptop can regularly outperform a lower to middle-end desktop. However, the amount of money in your budget for a laptop is likely going to be the same as it would be for a desktop. That's why you must look at your computing needs.
If power is an absolute must and you're on a strict budget, the desktop is a better choice. A budget laptop will meet and exceed the expectations of a casual user who checks his or her email and needs a word processor, but it may struggle when the user is 3D gaming, video editing, burning a DVD, and chatting via messenger all at the same time.
The desktop will always have the edge in the power category because of sheer logistics. It has a larger box that can fit multiple fans and allows for plenty of air circulation. Users would be surprised to see just how much extra space is between circuit boards inside the case. Obviously, that makes portability virtually impossible with a desktop. However, while the unit itself may not be portable, your files can be easily transported with flash drives, or online storage servers such as Dropbox.
Power may be desktop's forte, but laptops are far superior in terms of portability, which is obviously a major selling point. They can be taken anywhere, and can acquire wireless Internet signals if there's one in the area (and it's not private).
The main question about portability is whether or not the machine needs to be taken with you, or just the files. Flash drives and services such as Dropbox are very effective. In other words, one shouldn't buy a laptop so one can work on the same Excel spreadsheet at home and the office when one could be using one's computer at work, loading the spreadsheet onto a flash drive at the end of the day, and taking it home to work.
Laptops give you the ability to take your machine with you on the road, but that comes with a few compromises; not just of power, but of convenience, since everything is smaller on a laptop. Then again, portability provides its own set of conveniences that can come in very handy in the right situations.
Obviously, the laptop's screen is smaller, and given how affordable 23-inch (and larger) LCD monitors have become; it's a major drop in size. A lot more webpages and text documents can be open and viewed simultaneously on a larger screen. Movies and video games are also more enjoyable on a bigger screen. A laptop can easily be connected to a TV with the right cable, but unless one has an extra TV lying around, one may be hijacking his or her family's TV. Not to mention, constantly going behind the set to connect the cord can become a nuisance.
Keyboard and Mouse
Few laptops have a full-size keyboard, and those that do are either larger models or sacrifice other keys, such as the separate number pad. The keys are generally much closer together, making them less forgiving of slight misses. An external keyboard can be easily connected, but that's yet another accessory for the user to tote around.
Unless one were to consider using two fingers to scroll down on a touchpad easier than using the scroll wheel on a mouse, the touchpad on a laptop doesn't have a single advantage over a traditional mouse . These can also be attached externally, but a mouse needs a flat surface to roll over (unless it's a Trackball mouse). The touchpad often requires two hands to click and drag, meaning both have to come off the keyboard, which wastes time.
Newer laptops come equipped with webcams built into the area above the screen. For anyone who uses webcams for whatever reason, this feature is invaluable. A desktop will require a webcam to be purchased and installed.
For comparable performance specifications, laptops are going to be more expensive. If they're ultra-thin, made by a major manufacturer, or have extra large screens, they're going to be even more expensive.
Laptops are also going to be far more expensive to repair; their parts are smaller and more durable (to put up with being moved around, possibly dropped, tossed into a backpack and thrown about), and thus more expensive. Additionally, often a technician will be needed to do the repairs, since only so many of the laptop's components are easily accessible by removing outer panels. The RAM (random-access memory) and HDD (hard disk drive) are relatively easy to upgrade and replace, but anything to do with the CPU, sound card, or motherboard, will generally require professional assistance. Desktops require replacing the component that broke, which does not happen very often since the components never move (they sit there on the floor or desk). Moreover, heat, which is the number one killer of computer parts, also happens to be a major enemy of the laptop . In other words, laptop parts, which are more difficult and expensive to repair, are also more susceptible to damage from the number one killer of computer parts.
Desktops are easy to expand, laptops are not. Laptops don't have extra bays to accommodate a Blu - Ray burner, for instance, or a secondary hard disk drive, and laptops don't have empty RAM slots readily available, just in case. Your desktop might not either, but it's a lot more likely.
Perhaps most importantly for this category, expansion helps computers stave off obsoletion. A quick upgrade will help a desktop keep up with the times.
This may never be an issue thanks to advances in battery technology, but if a laptop battery gets a lot of use, it may need to be replaced at some point. This probably won't break the bank, but the cost of laptop batteries isn't insignificant.
Unless a home or office is broken into, the desktop computer is safe from theft, and unless something out of the ordinary happens, it's safe from damage. The laptop is going to be transported, moved around, set onto various surfaces, and maybe even dropped. It's going to encounter fluctuating temperatures, maybe be left in a hot (or freezing) car; the possibilities are numerous. Certainly, most are designed to handle the rigors of everyday use, but when compared to a stationary, generally untouched desktop with a large metal house, the laptop's living conditions are a bit rough.