July 21, 2023
Laptop vs. Desktop: Pros and Cons
We break down the pros and cons of laptops vs. desktops so you can make an informed decision on which is best for you.
What is a Laptop?
Laptops combine the keyboard, monitor, mouse, speakers and the rest of the PC components into one small device. They have all the functionality of a desktop PC and can also be used as a tablet in the case of 2-in-1 laptops.
- Portability: First and foremost, laptops prioritize portability. Some modern laptops weigh as little as two pounds and are designed to be carried around without causing you back problems. You can work or access your files from anywhere, provided you have adequate battery power or your AC adapter on hand. Battery life is constantly improving with laptops too, with some boasting up to 15 hours of computing juice.
You can slip nearly any model easily in a standard bag or backpack. 2-in-1s make them even more portable since you can disconnect the keyboard monitor portion and use it as you would a tablet. This is great for passing around the device in collaborative environments like classrooms or small meeting spaces. Laptops can’t be beat in this respect, particularly if you’re a digital nomad.
- All-in-one design: With a desktop PC, all the traditional components must be purchased separately. What’s also nice about everything integrated into one device is all the desk space you’ll conserve. If you like keeping a minimalistic workspace, a laptop is the way to go. You could also consider an all-in-one desktop PC where the computer and monitor are integrated, which also will help cut out the clutter.
- Built-in battery: Laptops have a built-in battery, allowing you to use them even when there is no access to a power outlet. If you are in a region that experiences power outages often, a laptop is a lot more convenient and even safer—power surges or other power anomalies can damage desktops plugged directly into the wall. You can buy an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) with your desktop computer which will keep your device powered and protected, but it comes at an additional cost, not to mention the clutter of an additional device in your workspace.
- Embedded webcam: Most laptops come with an integrated webcam, making video conferencing seamless without any need for additional hardware. However, laptop webcams aren’t ideal since most aren’t full HD and are missing many of the features of an external webcam. You also don’t get things like autofocus, low light settings and zoom capabilities like you would with an external webcam.
Read our extensive comparison of laptop webcams vs. external webcams.
- Energy-efficient: Laptops generally consume less power than desktops, meaning lower electricity costs and greener devices. Laptop battery life and efficiency improves each passing year. Most laptops have a battery-saver setting or the ability to conserve its power consumption while being able to get back to your tasks without having to reboot, like with sleep or hibernation modes.
- Ergonomics: It’s simple to adjust your screen angle with a laptop to prevent back and neck strain. 2-in-1 laptops take ergonomics to the next level, allowing users to fold the screen down or detach the monitor portion in some cases and use it as a tablet. Some laptops also grant you the ability to rotate the screen 360 degrees. If you don’t like the built-in keyboard or need assistive devices, you can always attach them provided you have an available USB port or USB hub.
- Higher price: A laptop will almost always cost more than a desktop PC with comparable performance specifications. To fit and miniaturize all the components that would normally be housed in a desktop tower is an impressive feat of engineering, and likewise costs more to manufacture. Plus, there is extra effort taken in soldering the components such as the CPU and GPU to the motherboard. There is an additional disadvantage that comes with the components being soldered together in laptops, which brings us to the next downside of purchasing a laptop.
- Limited upgradability: It’s virtually impossible to upgrade a laptop’s GPU, CPU and RAM since they’re soldered onto the motherboard. It’s more common for consumers to be able to upgrade laptop storage, although the SSD stick may also be soldered onto the motherboard in some laptop models. The power supply units are not interchangeable like they are with desktop PCs, as well, and are made specifically for each device.
You’re also stuck with whatever size monitor your laptop has. You can buy a docking station and connect your laptop to external monitors, but that comes at a cost. Plus, your monitor resolution will be limited by whatever GPU your laptop has. There are also portable monitors you can purchase if you hold mobility at a premium, but they can be quite pricey.
If you’re handy with building PCs and want your machine to be on the cutting edge of performance, or you simply want more monitor real estate or greater monitor resolution, you may feel too limited by a laptop.
- Performance limitations: In addition to the limited upgradeability the size of laptops will likewise limit your performance. As previously mentioned, laptop components are miniaturized versions of their desktop equivalents. Smaller laptop components have less surface area and laptop cases are smaller to boot. Therefore, laptops don’t dissipate heat as well, making them both less performative and durable due to thermal throttling. If you’re a gamer, video editor, 3D artist or looking to do other resource-intensive tasks, you’ll probably feel constrained by your laptop’s performance.
- Built-in battery: Yes, a built-in battery is also a disadvantage of laptops. Laptop components are designed to consume battery power efficiently so you can be unplugged for as long as possible. The PSU can’t be upgraded, which limits the ability to increase future performance.
What is a Desktop PC?
Desktop PCs are designed to be kept on top of or under a desk. The peripheral devices and individual components are not built in, and they can all be swapped out. Nowadays they come in a range of sizes, from mini PC (about the size of a paperback book) to the classic tower case, usually just under two feet tall. All-in-one PCs combine the computer and monitor. Read our article if you want to learn more about desktop PCs vs all-in-ones.
Desktop PC Pros:
- Performance: Pound for pound you can’t beat the performance of a desktop PC. Full size desktop PCs can support the latest GPUs, CPUs and RAM sticks, so you can run all the latest applications and AAA gaming titles. If you’re a gamer, data scientist, graphic, video or 3D artist, a desktop PC is basically a must.
- Upgradability: The beauty of a desktop PC is you can always upgrade any part of it, you just need to make sure your PSU can support the increased power consumption needs and that the GPU/CPU you want to swap out is compatible with your current motherboard. Not sure if you want to buy a prefabricated desktop PC or custom build your own? Be sure to check out our guide on building vs buying a PC.
- Larger displays: A larger display can be a game-changer for increasing your productivity and multitasking ability, particularly for programmers, video editors, graphic designers, music creators or data analysts. When connecting to 2k or4K monitors, curved monitors or multiple displays, a powerful graphics card is essential for both laptops and desktop computers. Desktop computers typically come equipped with larger monitors and/or the CPU/GPU to upgrade to displays with higher resolutions. To be fair, laptops can run multiple monitors too, but only with the addition of a docking station and some HDMI cables. However, while there are high-priced computers that support higher resolution peripherals, most laptops are less likely to have the CPU/GPU specs to run 2K/4K monitors.
If you try to game or play video with a GPU that’s too weak you’ll notice the frames per second (fps) will plummet as your system struggles to process the volume of graphics data. You may notice lapses in fps performance running 2K/4K resolution videos or games. To learn more about GPUs, be sure to check out our article on how to choose a graphics card.
- Improved cooling: Desktop PCs have more space in its housing, which makes cooling down the system much easier. The fans are larger as well as the heat sinks, and you can accommodate a liquid cooling system and/or more fans. This increases the potential performance of your system and the threat of thermal throttling.
- Cost-effective: Desktop PCs are the better value and have lower total cost of ownership (TCO)—laptops have extra cost baked into them since it takes more engineering effort to shrink down these tiny, specialized components. Desktop components are easy to find and mostly interchangeable. The upgradability of desktops also makes them a cost-effective option since you don’t have to replace the whole system at once, just whatever aspect of your desktop PC you’re looking to improve (provided your current setup is compatible).
- Ergonomics: With a desktop PC, it’s easier to change out your keyboard and adjust your monitor view to fit your ergonomic liking. You can usually adjust the height and viewing angle of your monitors, using built-in functionality to avoid glare or reduce eye strain. You can’t get the same degree of comfort with a laptop without purchasing additional equipment.
Desktop PC Cons:
- Lack of portability: Desktop PCs are not meant to be portable. Not only are they larger, there’s also several more separate components you need. It’s a headache to move a desktop and somewhat of a risk since they are both heavy and delicate. The lack of battery power limits where you can operate your desktop, too, making them far from the best option if you value portability and the flexibility to work anywhere.
- Space requirements: Desktops take up a lot of space. You must accommodate for the monitor, tower, keyboard, mouse and any other peripheral you may have. If you live in a small apartment or simply want more space for other things a desktop is probably not the best option for you.
- External peripherals = extra cost: All the extra desktop peripherals like speakers, wireless keyboards/mice and monitor mounts can add up. Top-of-the-line GPUs can cost quite a bit, too. If you’re looking for cutting-edge performance from your PC and nice accessories, you won’t really save versus a laptop.
- Limited power backup: In the event of a power surge or outage, desktop PCs require additional backup solutions like uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) to prevent data loss or damage to your hardware. Even with a UPS, you won’t have nearly as much battery life as you would with a laptop battery. These devices are mostly designed to protect your equipment and allow for you to shut down electronics safely, not for allowing you to continue using your desktop for an extended period of time. There is no battery to carry you through like with a laptop.
When it comes down to choosing between a desktop and laptop, if you don’t need portability, are on a budget and want the ability to upgrade later, a desktop PC is the better choice. Particularly if you’re a gamer or professional in need of a powerful PC, you can’t go wrong with a desktop computer. If you need portability, have a limited amount of space, and don’t mind the extra cost, a laptop is the better choice. CDW offers a wide variety of both desktop PCs and laptops, as well as PC components in case you’re looking to upgrade. Shop now on CDW.com.