Product Reviews

Are You Wasting Money If You Buy An Expensive Laptop?

Matt Smith 23-10-2012

Are You Wasting Money If You Buy An Expensive Laptop? laptopgameperformancethumb


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

Are You Wasting Money If You Buy An Expensive Laptop? expensivelaptop1

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.

Are You Wasting Money If You Buy An Expensive Laptop? zenbookprime


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

Are You Wasting Money If You Buy An Expensive Laptop? desktopandlaptop


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.

Are You Wasting Money If You Buy An Expensive Laptop? asusg55


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.

Image Credit: Guillermo Esteves, Wickux

Related topics: Buying Tips, Ultrabook.

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  1. Wayne
    March 31, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Today, in 2015 I personally find it difficult to compare the price of Powerful Gaming Notebooks against those similar Desktop counterparts. For instance, a Tower alone with no Monitor,keyboard,mouse,headset etc cost the same as a Powerhouse of a Notebook with the same specs. $3000+ .

    Yes,you can insure your Notebook against anything. Thats a plus.

    But, with that said, the constant thought of upgrading will forever linger over your shoulder and more so the limitations there of.

  2. Deimarr Callender
    January 17, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    I was wondering this for a while since i\I'm actually looking to buy a new laptop at the moment...

  3. Austen Gause
    November 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    thanks for the article its really making me reconsider buying a laptop

  4. Me-High
    November 3, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    In my experience is the other way around. I'm wasting money if I buy a cheap laptop. Cheap laptops are low quality materials, low reliability, freezing, blue screen, BIOS whitelist for hdd, wifi, low resale value. I would NEVER buy the following brands: Acer, Asus, Averatec, Dell, Gericom, Lenovo because I owned at least one and was disapointed by them for different reasons. I would buy IBM Thinkpad, but not Lenovo Thinkpad.

  5. Sebastian Cork
    November 1, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Great article! Thoughtful points were shared by others. I stand undecided for which side of the argument I support. In all fairness I believe it's a matter of personal needs and actual usage.

  6. Andrew
    November 1, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Depending on your profession, it really boils down to what you are going to do with a computer. Being an Engineering student, I require more horsepower from a desktop and a laptop for portability and outside studies. A desktop will always be more powerful compared to a laptop price to performance ratio. As for Ultrabooks and expensive laptops, I personally believe they are overpriced for what they are, even if they use good materials for the construction. A typical Ultrabook may have an i7 (low voltage version) and intel HD integrated graphics though the latter is for improving battery life. I really think that a laptop anywhere between $600-$800 is enough and adequate for many task, over that price range then I think you are exceeding its performance value and might as well get a desktop.

  7. Jeremiah Iliffe
    October 28, 2012 at 4:41 am

    I believe its not a waste, because laptops are hard to upgrade, however it depends on what you use your laptop for. Obviously a gamer is going to want a much more powerful machine than somebody who only uses it for MS Word

  8. Steve
    October 26, 2012 at 12:41 am

    If linebreaks don't show up on posted comments, then this webpage form should advise that HTML paragraph tags be used...

  9. Steve
    October 26, 2012 at 12:39 am

    nice article. You're right about the perception that laptops are less powerful than desktops. I just replaced a shorted-out desktop :-( with a laptop, and family members wondered what I was doing because the didn't think a laptop could do as much. Granted, though, I did connect a second display and a full-sized desktop keyboard to my budget laptop. (And having gone w/ a budget laptop this time, I will definitely spend more when I'm able to do so, in order to get a better display -- like an IPS display ...or any display that allows me to move my head slightly or slouch a bit without losing sight of screen content!!)

    But I must say, building one's own computer does offer more advantages than saving a little bit of money. For example, one can build a computer with a mainboard and RAM which supports registered, buffered memory. As recent studies have shown, it's actually quite common for computers to arbitrarily switch zeros and ones. A computer like I just described -- with the BIOS set for ECC scrubbing -- can prevent such errors from causing problems with one's data or programs. Plus, one can choose components that truly last, that are truly stable. I built a dual-Athlon-MP computer using a Tyan motherboard which was designed for stability, period. No overclocking features. No bells n whistles. And then a installed things like Voyetra sound card -- not a Creative sound card -- and of course, Voyetra driver software, not Creative driver software.

    And to save money, and meet my ACTUAL work needs, I opted for two processors that were half the speed of the latest processors, instead of a single processor w/ the double the speed. (This was before the days of dual- & quad-core CPUs. Btw, I still think there's performance advantages to having separate physical CPUs vs multiple CPU cores in one processing unit. But maybe I'm just biased.)

    Anyway, in the end, I had an AMAZINGLY STABLE computer. It met my work needs for nearly a decade, and it went for years and years without any unexplainable crashes or weirdness (ie: crashes not caused by obvious software/OS bugs or glitches). The only problems, actually had to do with port connections weakening, and startup problems. Once it was running, it was stable. Perfectly so. That's more than I can say for my 6-month old Dell laptop.

    When that computer finally died it was due to my own reckless use an extra-long screw on a power supply unit (though one would think that a premium Corsair PSU might have some protection -- like a simple plastic or rubber thing -- to prevent a screw from shorting out an entire computer system, CPUs and all!)

    An when I shopped for a comparable prebuilt computer, I found nothing below, say, $5000, and I don't even that included a monitor (mine cost $1000 in 2002 or 2003, two CRT monitors included).

    I apologize for the long post...

  10. Anonymous
    October 25, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Thanks for the tip

  11. Alex Perkins
    October 24, 2012 at 11:39 am

    I'll be getting an "expensive" laptop soon, it's my only pc though and I do video editing gaming etc and as a student I'll be moving around a lot too, so for me it's not, but I understand the reasons as to why it would be.

  12. Roystan Ang
    October 24, 2012 at 10:26 am

    What if I already have a desktop and want a laptop? How do I decide?

  13. Prashant Mohta
    October 24, 2012 at 8:59 am

    awesome article , ultrabooks WTF

  14. Greg
    October 24, 2012 at 3:32 am

    If you have the money then no.
    I would only buy an ultrabook if I feel like showing off on how great it is to the public

  15. Ahmed Khalil
    October 23, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    i accept this idea but i think also alot of peoples buy high cost labtops even they do not use 90% of its fetures

  16. Anonymous
    October 23, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    My classmate have a poor laptop + a excellent desktop while I have a decent laptop for all tasks.. I can say it worth almost the same but I can have more tasks done at school (modeling, editing, designing) compared to him waiting to get home. Expensive laptops are not a waste of money if they were used as what they provide you.. I prefer what i have.. great review btw..

  17. Scott Reyes
    October 23, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    I would honestly have to say that laptops ... are not really nesecary as they are meant for portability. the rest, you can do on your desktop(the 500 lb beast in the garage)

  18. Aashish kumar
    October 23, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    nice post
    Expensive laptops are wastage of money

  19. Adrian Rea
    October 23, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    If you are presenting to anyone of any importance then a slow laptop, even if you are just showing Powerpoints, is a mark against you. However, if you are comfortable with the foibles of a slower machine, you will save yourself a heap of cash. :)

  20. Richard Steven Hack
    October 23, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    I disagree that desktops are either slower or equal to a comparably priced laptop. You can find cheap i5 desktops. It's much harder to find a cheap i5 laptop. They exist, but it's harder. You can buy an i7 desktop for under $1,000. I submit it's much harder to find an i7 laptop for that price. They exist - recently - but that hasn't been the case previously.

    And when you DO find a laptop with an i7 for under $1,000, compare it to a desktop with a lot more hard disk, probably more RAM (and definitely more expandable RAM), and more ports. Even adding in the monitor cost to the desktop probably will only even it out.

    CostCo was selling an i7 machine in the year 2010 with a 12GB of DDR3 memory, 1TB SATA hard drive, and Windows 7 - all for $999 delivered. Find an i7 laptop from back then for the same price.

    I've never owned a laptop so far because I've been waiting for them to become comparable in power to a desktop as well as at a comparable price to an equivalent desktop. We're about there today, I agree. But it's still easier to find a decent desktop than a decent laptop.

    Overall, you only buy a laptop if you need portability. Today a lot of that portability can be provided by a $250 tablet or a $300 netbook. That changes the cost equation considerably.

    I have been considering getting a desktop mostly for additional utility in servicing my PC tech support clients. But now I'm thinking a tablet will do just as well as long as the client's Internet access works. I can do searches, download software and move it via a micro-SD card or flash drive (using USB OTG) from the tablet to the client machine just as well - maybe even easier - than using a laptop.

    OTOH, in a computer security support context, a laptop is better than a tablet or netbook. The larger screen is more useful, as is the higher power CPU.

    I've had corporate clients whose employees all used laptops as their primary machines. I pointed out to them that this could triple their support costs over time over a desktop, but they stuck with it. Laptops are MUCH harder to provide support for than common desktops.

    All in all, if you need power and portability but you spend most of your time in one place, get a desktop and a laptop. If you spend most of your time moving around, get a powerful laptop. If you don't need much portability, stick with a desktop.

    • Matt Smith
      October 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm

      I didn't say desktops were slower or equal to a comparably priced laptop. I said they "will not substantially outperform" a similarly priced laptop.

  21. Vishal Mishra
    October 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    Makeuseof writes really good article, that are of "real use". Thank you very much MUO !!!

  22. Anonymous
    October 23, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I've had my laptop for a while now, but a year ago, for some reason, I decided I needed a desktop. Now, I use my desktop 99.99% of the time.
    If had a desktop before my laptop1, I consider buying a laptop that matches or almost similar in specs to your desktop is a waste of money.
    My next buy of a laptop will be for MS office, browsing, and minor programming capabilities.

  23. Abdelkader Hadj-Aissa
    October 23, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    laptops are not really upgradable, so for the power user it is not a good investement.

  24. Doc
    October 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    "There are many 'common sense' tenants used by layman"

    I think you meant "tenets" - "tenants" are people who rent. "Layman" should be "laymen," as well.

  25. Vipul Jain
    October 23, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    I love it that you used images of the brand i use - ASUS :p
    Reassured and proud :D

  26. druv vb
    October 23, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Very nice article. And just like most people, buy an expensive laptop just for the sake of following the latest trend, and end up word processing, surfing the web and replying mails and friends requests... Thats a real shame for all that hardware packed in. But it any case, an expensive laptop is worth its use for full on hardware power and portability.

  27. Anonymous
    October 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    It all depends on your purpose in buying the desktop or laptop. If you are not into gaming for example or don't need to work on huge worksheets with lot of calculations to be done or if you don't need to do a lot of photo / video editing, you would not need much power under the hood. Then a desktop or laptop of moderate specs would be sufficient (for example my desktop is assembled and cost me less than 400 US dollars equivalent (in rupees). The LCD monitor of 17" is quite a delight to use as also a full keyboard. Thus it all comes to one's real need.

  28. Anonymous
    October 23, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Yes and no. I believe Ultrabooks are just toys and are a waste of money. However, spending more money on a laptop (such as a Thinkpad) that focuses more on being useful rather than "Stylish" is usually worth it.

  29. Wouter Ruelens
    October 23, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Although high performance is a great thing, some people buy very expensive, high-end systems they use for MS Word etc. I think that's a shame.

  30. Robert
    October 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Edit check: "tenets," not tenants" -- otherwise, nice article.

  31. Javier Vega
    October 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    I've asked this same topic a few times before, personally i have both, but my Desktop Computer is the one i use for almost 95% of the time, laptop is mainly for studies and working at clients me it just had to be a comfortable to use laptop, the specs of ir are greatly below my desktop computer, yet is more than enough since is almost a notebook with browsing experience and programming tools.