Laptop computers have gotten ridiculously portable, which is great news for people who want to work from anywhere. And even midrange models pack more than enough power for serious multitasking. But not so fast – a desktop PC might actually be the more practical purchase, depending on your needs and work habits. Before you invest in a new work rig, here are seven factors to consider:
To state the obvious, a laptop computer is the clear choice for workers who need to stay productive away from the office. Modern laptops are incredibly slim and sleek, with premium models weighing less than 3 pounds and measuring just around a half-inch thick. A slim laptop is ideal for people who need to take their work with them when they get up and go.
But thanks to cloud storage, you don’t necessarily need to lug a laptop back and forth from the office to access your work files from home. Services such as Dropbox and OneDrive make it easy to sync your documents and files to the internet, so you can leave your desktop PC at the office, then pick things up on your personal PC.
Budget-minded business users should at least consider a desktop PC for this reason alone: They almost always provide better bang for your buck. Whether you want to spend $250 or $2,500, you’ll get a speedier computer if you don’t mind being chained to your desk. That extra power can be important, because a midrange desktop PC can breeze through multitasking sessions that would leave a similarly priced laptop gasping for breath.
There are two things to keep in mind, though. The first is that the cost of a desktop PC can be deceiving if you don’t factor in the cost of accessories such as a decent keyboard, mouse and monitor – that could easily run you an extra $200 for accessories that are baked into a laptop. A separate webcam might also be a must if videoconferencing is part of your routine, and an external fingerprint reader will cost an extra $50 if you want the security boost on your desktop PC – that feature is built into many business-focused laptops.
The second thing to keep in mind is that laptops might be cheaper than you think. These days, you can pick up a pretty nice laptop computer – complete with 13-inch HD display and a processor that can tackle daily work tasks without any slowdown – for around $350. So, while desktop computers are still a better value, the disparity isn’t as vast as it once was.
Upgrades and expandability
It’s happened to all of us – that computer that once seemed speedy starts to slow down after a couple of years of use. It’s typical to experience lag as your computer’s hardware ages and newer software becomes more demanding, but slowdown can be a real issue if it’s hurting your productivity.
With a laptop computer, you’re stuck struggling with a slow device or shelling out for a newer system. That’s because most laptops aren’t upgradeable. Even if you could get your laptop’s shell open – an easier task on some systems than others – all of the hardware, from the processor to your system’s RAM, are permanently attached to the motherboard. That means you can’t necessarily plug in more memory, or swap out your old processor for a shiny new one.
In contrast, those tasks are very straightforward on a desktop PC. Upgrading your memory is as simple as buying a new stick of RAM, unscrewing the side of your computer tower, and plugging it in. Other tasks – such as replacing your laptop’s processor or installing a graphics card – aren’t quite that straightforward, but they can be done by your local PC repair shop. Even the savviest computer pro probably won’t be able to upgrade your laptop’s hardware, though, because it isn’t designed for that.
Ease of repairs
On a related note, desktop computers are far easier to repair and maintain than laptop computers. Even simple problems can have you sending your laptop away to the manufacturer for a warranty repair, and that can take weeks. Laptops just aren’t designed to be easy to disassemble and tinker with.
On the other hand, simple maintenance like removing dust from inside your computer’s case or swapping out a faulty hard drive are extremely straightforward tasks on a desktop PC that can be done by almost anyone, especially if you’re willing to check out an online tutorial first.
It’s easy to forgive the bulk of a desktop PC if it allows you to blaze through your workload without a hitch. Pound for pound, desktop computers offer more power for your money than laptops. They can almost always be purchased with a zippier processor and more RAM than a laptop at a similar price. Desktop systems can also be outfitted with extremely powerful dedicated graphics cards, which provide a huge boost for certain tasks, like 3D modeling and video editing.
On top of making repairs easy, the wide-open design of a desktop PC tower has another big advantage: It lets your system run nice and cool, even during heavy multitasking. That’s important, because overheating can cause a computer to run really slow. That’s why many thin laptop computers come with low-power processors designed to keep mobile devices cool, even with all the hardware crammed into a super slim shell.
On the other hand, even a midrange laptop can provide plenty of power for workers who only need to edit documents, check email and browse the web. If your workload isn’t more demanding than that, then the extra power a desktop PC provides might be overkill.
Ergonomics experts recommend placing your monitor at eye level, straightening your back, and keeping your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle while using a computer, to keep the strain off your muscles and joints. That’s especially important if you’ll be working for hours at a time. An ergonomic setup is easy to achieve on a desktop PC, with the keyboard placed on a keyboard tray below the desk. That allows you to reach the keyboard and mouse without hunching or craning your neck.
But it’s still possible to achieve an ergonomic setup with a laptop computer, if you pick up a desktop keyboard and monitor to plug your system into while you work at the office. Using your laptop in spurts is not going to hurt, but hunching over a compact computer day after day can cause joint and back pain over time.
Mobility aside, you might choose a laptop computer over a desktop PC simply because it’s easier to purchase and use. Buying a desktop PC means you’ll need to purchase a slew of accessories, including a keyboard, mouse and monitor. Setup can also be trickier, and it may require you to crawl around underneath your desk connecting cables and plugging things in. A laptop lets you skip all that and start working as soon as you power the system on. For sheer ease of use, you can’t beat the simpler setup of a laptop computer.
If you’re looking to invest in some new hardware for your business, a sleek laptop computer might seem like the obvious choice. But for plenty of workers, a desktop PC just makes more sense. Desktop PCs can’t be moved around like a laptop, but they’re easier to repair and maintain, and they provide more power for your money than comparable laptop computers.
On the other hand, a laptop is the obvious choice if you need to work away from your desk. Plus, laptops are simpler to buy and use, without the need to purchase additional accessories to get started. But budget-minded workers who plan to stay put while they work would be wise to consider a desktop PC first.