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Grow Your Business Technology

How to Use Your Laptop as a Desktop Computer

How to Use Your Laptop as a Desktop Computer A desktop dock is a crucial tool for commuters. / Credit: Jeremy Lips

A laptop is the ideal companion for mobile workers. But when youꞌre back at the office, the right desktop accessories can make working on your laptop a lot more comfortable – and that will make you more productive. Hereꞌs what you need to make the most of your laptop when youꞌre at your desk.

A laptop dock is a must-have accessory for commuters who bring their laptop home at night, because it lets you attach and detach all your desktop accessories with one connection. Without a dock, youꞌll need to separately plug in your desktop, keyboard, monitor and other peripherals each morning. Plus, docks add ports that you wonꞌt always find on laptops, like an Ethernet jack or a VGA video out port. They come in two main varieties: snap-on and pluggable.

Credit: Jeremy Lips

Snap-on: Snap-on docks are probably the most convenient option, since they let you connect your laptop just by setting it down and locking it in. One limitation is that you can pick up a snap-on dock only if a model exists for your specific computer. Major manufacturers such as Lenovo, Dell and HP sometimes offer snap-on docks for business-class systems, which will usually have a special docking port on one side. 

Pluggable: Pluggable docks are much more common. They connect to your laptop with a cable that plugs into a USB port on the side of your laptop. Theyꞌre almost as convenient as snap-on docks, even if plugging in a cable can take a few moments each morning. The advantage is that pluggable docks work with virtually any laptop on the market, and offer the same benefits and extra ports.

Your laptopꞌs touchpad isnꞌt ideally suited to marathon work sessions. Instead of hunching over your laptop all day long, youꞌre better off picking up a desktop mouse, which lets your control the cursor with greater precision and comfort. But not all mice are created equal. Hereꞌs a quick breakdown.

Wired: Your typical mouse plugs into your laptop via an USB cable. This is the most affordable option, but the wire can get in the way when youꞌre working, and may get tangled up in your bag during commutes.

Wireless:

Wireless mice are ideal for commuters and frequent travelers, freeing you from fussing with tangled cords. Many wireless mice connect wirelessly to your laptop with a tiny USB adapter. If your laptop supports Bluetooth connectivity, you can pick up a Bluetooth mouse that keeps your USB ports free, and wonꞌt drain batteries as quickly.

Ergonomic:

An ergonomic mouse can help soothe – or prevent – pain with a shape that supports your hand and wrist. Ergonomic mice are a bit bulkier than average, so theyꞌre good options for workers who plan to leave them at the office.

Wireless: A wireless keyboard gives you one less wire to get tangled up behind your desk. Itꞌs also handy if you like to lean back in your desk chair and continue to type with your keyboard on your lap. Most workers donꞌt need one, though.

Mechanical:

While many modern desktop keyboards — especially wireless models ─ are designed to be thin and portable, traditional mechanical keyboards arguably still provide the best typing experience. Mechanical keyboards differentiate themselves from other keyboards by offering deeper key travel with good tactile feedback, thanks to physical switches beneath each key cap. They also help eliminate accidental key presses, which can reduce typos. Most office keyboards are of the mechanical variety, but itꞌs worth considering a switch if yours isnꞌt.

Ergonomic:

As with mice, choosing the right keyboard can mean the difference between working in comfort or suffering from wrist and finger pain. Ergonomic models provide a variety of extra design features, from built-in wrist rests to curved layouts that keep all the keys in reach to prevent repetitive-stress injury. Some ergonomic models are pricey, but there are plenty of good, affordable options. For a rundown of the models that strike the best balance, check out this list from one of our sister sites, Tomꞌs Guide.

Connecting your laptop to a desktop monitor can boost your productivity by giving you a lot more room to work. You can use a monitor as a replacement for your laptopꞌs display, or set your laptop up as a secondary display. Here are five things to keep in mind.

Size: A larger monitor can eliminate that claustrophobic feeling of working on a compact laptop screen. Since most laptops have displays of between 13 and 15 inches, a monitor around 19 to 21 inches is a good sweet spot for the average worker. But the physical size of your monitorꞌs screen isnꞌt the only thing that determines how roomy it feels.

Resolution: Screen resolution – the density of pixels in the display panel – is arguably even more important than size when choosing a monitor. A high-resolution monitor will feel much more spacious, and make split-screen multitasking more comfortable. For a large monitor, shoot for a minimum resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p). If you can afford it, spring for a higher resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels (QHD). Some super-high-res monitors have resolutions as high at 3840 x 2160 pixels (4K), though not every laptop supports these monitors.

Compatibility: If you want to use a 4K monitor, the primary hardware requirement is that your system offers the necessary output port. Usually, that means a DisplayPort, or an HDMI port with 4K display support. 

Pairing a laptop with multiple external monitors can also raise some compatibility issues, though they arenꞌt easy to summarize in a guide like this one. In most cases – particularly for newer laptops with at least midrange specs — connecting two external displays is as simple as plugging them into the available video outputs on your system. But your laptopꞌs hardware may put some hard limitations on the number of monitors you can attach. Many older models, for example, will support only a single external display (in addition to the laptopꞌs screen.) 

Matte vs. glossy: Glossy displays usually produce the most vibrant colors. They also tend to pick up distracting reflections from windows and overhead office lights. Thatꞌs why we prefer matte displays for our work monitors. Matte displays have an anti-glare coating over the screen that wards off reflections.

Picture quality: The importance of picture quality will vary widely depending on the type of work you do. While designers and artists need excellent color accuracy, that factor isnꞌt as crucial for an accountant. A few other factors to consider are the monitorꞌs viewing angles (how quickly the picture washes out when viewed from the side) and the unitꞌs maximum brightness. You can usually get that information from online reviews.

Brett Nuckles

Brett Nuckles has been a working journalist since 2009. He got his start in local newspapers covering community news, local government, education and more before he joined the Business News Daily staff in 2013. He graduated from Ohio University, where he studied Journalism and English. Follow him on Twitter @BrettNuckles.