Laptop vs. Desktop: Pros, Cons, and Which Should You Get?
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Worldwide sales of laptops have eclipsed desktops for more than a decade. In 2018, desktop sales totaled 94 million units compared to 162 million laptops. That gap is expected to grow to 80 million versus 171 million by 2023.

But just because sales are declining, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t buy a desktop. There are times where it might be the ideal solution.

If you’re trying to decide which you should get, keep reading. We’re going to investigate some of the pros and cons of laptops and desktops.

Laptop Advantages and Disadvantages

laptop, cup and diary on table in office
Image Credit: peshkov/DepositPhotos

What are the pros and cons of choosing a laptop over a desktop?

1. Portability

If you regularly need to take your computer out of the house, then owning a laptop is clearly a no-brainer.

But many people only buy a laptop due to its smaller size. In practice, they leave it sat on a desk in their home office 24/7.

If you fall into that category, do you really need a laptop? You might be better served with a desktop computer and a high-quality tablet for using on the sofa.

2. Fixed Peripherals

Fixed peripherals are one of the most significant drawbacks of laptops. It’s the big trade-off that you make in exchange for portability.

When you buy a laptop, you’re stuck with the same screen, keyboard, trackpad, ports, speakers, etc. for the duration of its life.

Sure, you can use external components, but then you’re compromising portability. Again, it might be cheaper and wiser to buy a desktop machine instead.

And of course, if you buy specific peripherals, you’re going to end up with two of everything. It’s just going to make things cluttered and confusing.

3. Discrete Graphics

Discrete graphics is the term used to describe a separate graphics subsystem in a computer. It could either be a standalone graphics card in a motherboard slot or an entirely separate GPU.

Very few laptops offer discrete graphics. Instead, they use integrated graphics. Integrated graphics are on the same chip as the CPU and share its memory.

The presence of discrete graphics on laptops only matters if you’re a gamer. The extra cost and weight mean the feature isn’t necessarily desirable for most users.

4. Limited Upgrade Options

Most laptops don’t have many components that you can upgrade—there’s the RAM and the hard drive, and that’s about it.

If you want to improve other parts of your hardware, you will probably be out of luck. There’s simply not the space inside a laptop chassis for you to add any extra components you desire.

Of course, many desktop users do not upgrade their computers, so how much importance you give to this point is a personal matter.

5. Power

Laptops use less power than their desktop counterparts; their smaller parts mean less electricity is needed to make them work.

Laptops also have a battery. That can save you from losing work during unexpected power fluctuations and outages.

Pros and Cons of Desktop PCs

Mock up of generic design computer screen
Image Credit: kantver/DepositPhotos

And now, what are the pros and cons of buying a desktop computer?

1. Lack of Reviews

When you’re about to drop a serious amount of cash on a product, you probably want to do a couple of hours of research beforehand to make sure you’re getting exactly what you want.

Many desktop computers don’t have reviews. We’re not talking about all-in-one computers from Dell or HP—we mean a rig that your local PC hardware shop has put together and is selling in the local paper.

The lack of insight can be off-putting to non-experts.

2. Harder to Buy

The lack of reviews for desktop rigs also means they can be harder to buy than a laptop.

For example, if you’re buying a custom rig from a local shop, you need to trust that store implicitly. Have they tested the machine in the way they claim? Do the internal components match what the store says? Are you getting value for money? The entire process is much more personal.

You can mitigate some of these issues by buying from a chain like Best Buy, but you will end up paying a significant big-box markup.

3. Cost

And that leads onto our next point: cost.

All else being equal, desktop computers are significantly cheaper than laptops. You will get a lot more bang for your buck.

For a few hundred dollars, you can find a desktop computer that significantly eclipses what you’d be able to pick up for the same price in the laptop sector.

4. Aesthetics

When you picture a desktop, you probably think of ugly towers, giant monitors, and endless wires.

It doesn’t have to be like that. If you want something that looks as good as it functions, the all-in-one machines from the leading manufacturers might be the way to go.

They look like a slightly bulked out monitor. And with the exception of the power lead, there’s not a cable in sight.

5. You Can Build Your Own Desktop

If you want complete control over your computer’s components, you can build your own desktop computer.

Don’t be fooled by the word “build.” If you’re not confident, you don’t actually need to put everything together yourself.

Again, if you work with a local computer shop, you can do all the research and buying online, then pass it off to the store to do the actual construction.

There are some cons of building your own computer. It’s going to take hours and hours of research, costs can quickly spiral if you don’t keep an eye on how much you’re spending, and you ultimately shoulder the responsibility for its success or failure.

Laptop vs. Desktop: Which Is Better for You?

Hopefully, this article has provided you with some insight about which strategy is right for you. Just remember that there is no single correct answer; much depends on what’s important to you and on how you plan to use your computer.

If you’d like to learn more, make sure you check out our article on laptop docking stations to turn your laptop into a desktop and our list of reasons why you might not need a desktop 5 Reasons Why You Don't Need a Desktop PC Anymore 5 Reasons Why You Don't Need a Desktop PC Anymore When you hear the word "computer", your first image is probably that of a desktop machine. It's iconic, but perhaps outdated. Here are reasons why you probably don't need one anymore. Read More .

Image Credit: Robert Gourley/Flickr

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  1. mike
    July 25, 2019 at 10:51 pm

    Laptops are easier to steal, leave in a rental car, drop and break, be cloned ..........................you get the idea.

  2. Mido
    May 21, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    thanks alot great article !!!!

  3. Howard Pearce
    May 21, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    Well, I don't think anything was a bigger boost for the PC than the general availability of WIFI - however getting one that could even compete with the desktop for power took awhile.

    Portability to me means not having to sit in a stiff wooden chair but having the ability to simply place the PC on cushy enough chair arm and laying back and watching TV at the same time - like a easy-boy chair. I rarely take the PC out of the house.

  4. Gary@computerupdates
    December 14, 2015 at 11:25 am

    That would depend on what you plan to do with it. Evaluate your computing needs and decide what's best for you.

  5. Bryan Price
    February 7, 2013 at 2:27 am

    I have built my own desktops for over two decades. My latest, I had to scrape together quickly, my previous five year old build had the motherboard failing to even POST, so I didn't really get exactly what I was thinking about getting, but I still managed a quad core machine, while keeping my some of my old hardware. Too bad the 1.5 TB drive decided to not cooperate. Still using my old nVidia graphics card, monitors, web cam, speakers (two decades old, probably going on three now) and DVD writer.

    The next one, I still will most likely be building a desktop. I have 5 TB total disk space currently, so unless I migrate everything to a NAS, I just don't see a laptop or tablet offering me that kind of storage, even in the next five years. I'll be pleasantly surprised if it happens. I just don't expect it.

    If I do go with a laptop, a Chromebook that I can RDP into my desktop might be the best thing for me. So, technically, that's both.

    • Erez Zukerman
      February 8, 2013 at 9:27 am

      Chromebook + RDP is brilliant really. I used to do a similar trick with an old Toshiba laptop I had: I'd RDP into my main machine from other places around the house. On a LAN, it worked amazingly well -- felt just like I was working on my "main" computer. The only problem was that I use dual monitors, and the laptop has just one, so it would constantly mess the ordering of my windows.

      What happened to the 1.5tb drive? Did it get fried, or...?

      • Bryan Price
        February 8, 2013 at 2:41 pm

        Yeah, I had a Windows 2003 system set up. The kids would be running WOW, and I'd be running something else on it through the laptop I had at the time. They didn't even notice.

        The 1.5 TB hasn't completely died, but accessing it means that the drive is busy at times for close to a minute. Having the drive connected means that it happens at the most inopportune times, when Windows decides to touch it for some reason. I should mention that all of this was going on (the drive failing, the motherboard failing to POST) all as I was trying to install Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Only, because I bought a current motherboard, to run into the Sandy/Ivy Bridge bug that Windows 8 had at the time! Which is why I'm not running Windows 8 now. I've installed enough on this computer, I want to enjoy it!

        • Erez Zukerman
          February 8, 2013 at 2:44 pm

          lol, that makes sense re Win8. I do use it, and I must admit I'm not exactly a huge fan. I'm kind of scared to think what they're going to be doing with Win9.

          I see what you're saying about that hdd! Mega-frustrating indeed.

        • Bryan Price
          February 8, 2013 at 4:02 pm

          Oh, I forgot to mention that the drive isn't showing any issues when I pull a S.M.A.R.T. report on it. Pulling the drive fixed things, so it's certainly the drive. :/

  6. Jeffrey Zabala
    February 7, 2013 at 2:02 am

    I'm in the market for a new PC. I've owned 3 laptops in the past 12 or so years. My latest laptop has spent most of it's life sitting on my desk and I've even connected a monitor to it as a 2nd screen. Seeing how much I use my phone and tablet away from home I don't see much reason for shelling out the money for another laptop and don't want a large tower either. My search has been focused on a small form factor tower. Something simple and compact, but good enough for everyday needs.

    I completely agree with your conclusion and the right choice is clearly up to the user and their needs.

    • Erez Zukerman
      February 8, 2013 at 9:25 am

      For some reason I always find myself ending up with enormous towers, the kind that can take in seven HDDs or something ridiculous like that. I've never filled one up, but I did once have a PC with four separate drives.

      The thing with small form-factor is that you're also a bit limited in your choice of motherboards, as they all have to be mini-ITX. Did you find a good board? Or are you just going to buy a ready box?

  7. Boynton D. Knipple III
    February 2, 2013 at 7:11 am

    If it was possible to build a laptop in the same manner as a desktop, that would probably be a game changer. But, that's not the case, and it probably never will be feasible. The laptop manufacturers remember all too well how the desktop PC became commoditized.

    Building your own desktop also allows you to choose from a variety of operating systems that can be customized to specifically serve your needs and improve security. Finally, your DYI desktop WON'T be compromised by the manufacturer's or vendor's additions of annoying software that can immediately expose you to invasion of your privacy and a slew of malware.

  8. Anonymous
    February 1, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    Good article, though I would disagree with you about the price. Recently, the prices of laptops & desktop systems have been pretty much the same, at least in the UK. Two additional points:
    Desktops tend to last longer than laptops, not necessarily because they are better made but because any major fault on a laptop (e.g. screen failure, motherboard failure) will lead to a very expensive repair, whereas on a desktop system you can usually just replace the component (perhaps with a new generation of same) and keep going.
    The other difference, and for many this is the clincher, is that desktop systems have much bigger screens. A laptop may have a 16", 17" or perhaps even 19" on some monster machine, but even a modest desktop PC will have a 22" screen, and 27-28" is not unheard of.

    • Erez Zukerman
      February 2, 2013 at 2:25 pm

      That's very true! I agree with both points (and even Liked your comment :) )

  9. Chris Hoffman
    February 1, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Warranty is a concern, too.

    I've always built my own desktops, but this can be problematic when something starts going on. If you build your own computer, it's your responsibility to figure out which component is failing and RMA it. If someone else builds your computer for you, it's their problem. They have to figure out which part is buggy and make the computer work again.

    Sometimes it's obvious, but sometimes it's hard to pin down -- I've had faulty motherboards and power supplies before.

    This wasn't as much of a problem when I was a young tinkerer with more time on my hands (although it was annoying then , too), but it's definitely more of a concern these days.

  10. Dave Parrack
    February 1, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    It's laptop for me for its versatility. Nothing I do on a daily basis requires heavy processing power. If I played PC games though, that would be another matter.

  11. Suvadeep Paul
    February 1, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    I would always go for the Custom Desktop machine..Its much better, totally customizable and easier to use and maintain. All the parts get more warranty than branded products. Main problem comes when upgrading a branded machine which I've faced with my HP desktop. Laptops are better for office purpose. I've HP DV6 and after using it for gaming the cooling fan started to produce noise after couple of months and in the end I had to service the laptop and repair the cooling system. For high performance I will always buy custom desktop machines.

  12. Scott
    February 1, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Fortunately, I have a very honest 'computer guy' who made me a custom desktop: quality hardware, Windows 7 Pro, and only the software on it that I really need. :-)

  13. Mac Witty
    February 1, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    I do no see it as either or - for me is it both. Desktop for home and office use as they are more powerful for heavy work - laptop for being on the road with good syncing.

  14. Scott Macmillan
    February 1, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    I have always had my Computer store of choice assemble a Desktop according to my needs.I do a lot of photo work,downloading and burning discs for friends to watch documentaries who don't have computers and watch them through DVD players.I have a laptop as well but for the foreseeable future I will continue owning a desktop for home use.

  15. Trevor Lenten
    February 1, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Building your own desktop is the way to go with the mobile market exploding right now.

  16. Sas
    February 1, 2013 at 3:54 am

    i will never buy a desktop in my life, as long as apple exists.

  17. Kirby
    February 1, 2013 at 3:16 am

    I'd definitely go for a desktop. A gaming rig in particular. My desktop at home is a Pentium 3 rig so I've been playing most of my games on a Dual Core laptop. Definitely miss the feel of gaming on a desktop. I also don't think desktops are dying and they'll be around for a while I think.

    • Dr.Samuel Chandra Kumar
      February 1, 2013 at 8:38 am

      Yep! definitely agree with you there, I am also planning on a gaming rig and I definitely don't think that desktop's are dying, in fact, they are just starting to increase in numbers in developing countries with increasing availability of various brands and cheaper prices.

      • creem
        February 1, 2013 at 6:34 pm

        They indeed are dying. Its a different fact that they being "born" in developing countries. Any technology reaches late in these countries.

        The fact is that desktops are dying in developed countries. In a country like India as far as I know in my family and friends since the past 8 years I think almost 95% have purchased a laptop as their first computer.

        That is a sure sign its dying. Many will never own a personal desktop for the rest of their lives. I think that is again a sign that the desktop is dying.

        Yes it won't die with professionals like me..who need to design graphics and with gamers, but todays technology is changing the entire game.
        The only reason why I am not opting for a Laptop is the screen size. I need to see my entire website design and then have space on the side for all the photoshop pallets. I don't like to be scrolling to see my design.
        Today's laptop now come with full HD resolution so that takes care of that. They are very costly and they lack certain features. Like they don't have enough of hard disk space or don't come with super battery backup. These cost more than 200000. If I am going to pay that much I don't mind paying another 50k and for the stuff I am asking but they just don't make it yet.
        20000 Mah battery 2TB SSDs 32GB rams and IPS screen with touch. Gorilla glass waterproof and around 4GB of graphics :-P..
        That is why I kill my desktop...haha

  18. Chun Tat David Chu
    February 1, 2013 at 1:35 am

    I disagree the cost portion about building your own desktop. Buying a desktop could be just expensive than buying a laptop. It really comes down to the part and what you want in your desktop.

    Same logic applies to a custom desktop. It could be as expensive as you want or as cheap as you want.

    • Victor Ong
      February 1, 2013 at 6:36 pm

      True. Building a desktop actually does save money. you get more power for the same costs in general.

  19. Ivan Biolango
    January 31, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    For me I would like to choose both laptop and desktop has something to do with my everyday task using both computers. I don't think desktop is dying in fact many of us or most of us here are using desktop computers rather than laptop.