The average consumer buys a laptop that costs about $600, a behavior that’s persisted for years. Yet there are also laptops on the market which cost two or even three times as much. Buyers looking for a new model sometimes are taken in by the allure of these extravagant and expensive computers.
Are they really worth the cost? Or does the average consumer have the right idea? I’m going to take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of pricey laptops by comparing them to both their less expensive brethren and desktop computers.
If Your Laptop Is Your Only PC
There are a fair number of consumers who only have use for a single computer. Students, frequent travelers and technically un-inclined home users are all likely to find themselves with no need for a second PC. For these people, choosing an expensive laptop is an apples-to-apples question of value. Does spending twice as much result in a laptop that’s twice as good?
You will indeed receive more performance from a more expensive laptop, but you also have to pick a focus on portability or power.
An expensive ultrabook like the Dell XPS 13 won’t be much quicker than a budget laptop, but it weighs far less than a budget laptop. In addition, the average battery life of ultrabooks and ultraportables is higher than that of mainstream competitors. These traits are important for people who need a computer while on the go.
Spending more is an even better idea if performance is a concern. You’ll be able to buy a Core i7 mobile quad-core which, in multi-threaded applications, can nearly double the performance of a Core i5 mobile dual-core. You can also buy a discrete GPU – a must-have for gaming. Even a relatively inexpensive option, like the NVIDIA GT 640M, can double the performance of Intel integrated graphics.
You can’t, however, have both – no matter how much you spend. A choice between portability and performance must be made.
There’s less need for compromise in other areas. Display quality, for example, is an area where the value of a more expensive laptop offer shows. Most choices above $1,000 have a 1600×900 or 1080p display and some models, like the ASUS Zenbook Prime and Lenovo X230, can be had with an IPS panel. Expensive laptops also often improve keyboard and touchpad quality and offer better build quality.
Yes, spending hundreds of dollars more for a laptop can be a bitter pill to swallow, but do this calculation before you buy. Take the average time you spend with your laptop per day (in minutes) and multiply that by 1095 (the number of days in three years). You can then divide by 60 to convert to hours, if you’d prefer.
That’s the time you will be spending with the device over the next three years. Does a sub-par experience during those hundreds or thousands of hours seem like an okay exchange for a few hundred bucks? If so, then by all means, go for a cheap laptop. If not, save your money for something more substantial.
If You Also Want A Desktop
There are many “common sense” tenants used by layman when giving PC buying advice. Among these is the idea that a desktop will always be substantially faster than a comparable laptop. This leads to strange conclusions, such as the idea that you can buy two computers for the price of one and end up with comparable performance.
There’s no truth in this idea if you’re unwilling to build your own desktop PC. At any price point a pre-built desktop will not substantially outperform a similarly priced performance-oriented laptop. A consumer who spent $500 on a desktop and then $500 on a laptop would end up with less capable hardware than someone who spent $1000 on a laptop.
Building your own computer tilts the equation in your favor, but not as much as some guides would have you believe. Let’s refer back to the Lifehacker article I previously linked to. It claims the $600 do-it-yourself PC configuration it recommends is as capable as the $1,200 ASUS G55VW. Except, well, that’s not true. The processor is slower and it has half the RAM. The article also does not budget for any peripherals including the monitor. Woops.
Once you bring the processor up to par, add more RAM and include a monitor and keyboard the budget for the do-it-yourself desktop hovers around $900, leaving you with just $300 to spend on a laptop. That’s not going to buy much.
There is some additional value to the desktop. You can upgrade it easily, while a comparable laptop can only have its hard drive and RAM improved. Desktops are easier and less expensive to repair. And the performance ceiling of desktop is much higher. Anyone deciding between a desktop or a laptop should give these points consideration.
It is not, however, broadly true that you’ll be wasting your money if you buy an expensive laptop rather than a desktop or a desktop/laptop pair. The pair may provide you with better performance (from the desktop) but you’ll have to buy a very inexpensive laptop that’s likely of poor quality to fit within the same budget. And again, this is only viable if you build the desktop yourself. If you’re not willing to do that a desktop/laptop will never prove a viable alternative.
Expensive laptops are expensive for a reason. They provide performance, portability and features that are beyond anything available from their less expensive kin. Portraying the manufacturers as price gouging is exciting, I guess, but it’s false.
That’s not to say an expensive laptop is always a good idea. Many consumers end up with inexpensive laptops because they genuinely don’t care if their laptop is good. Enthusiasts, on the other hand, might lean towards a desktop because of its higher performance ceiling and easy upgrade path.
But if you need portability and don’t need a second computer, and/or you’re unwilling to build your own desktop, an expensive laptop can prove a good choice.