Laptop/Desktop
November 9, 2005 10:55 AM   Subscribe

What's the advantage of having a desktop?

My old standby, a Gateway laptop that I love, is quickly moving beyond its prime. Our next computer will probably be a Mac. I'm thinking, in particular, an IMac. I want to put it in the office and leave it on all the time, mainly becuase we want to use our TiVo's for music and pictures. Part of me thinks a laptop would be just as good, and allow me to move it around (duh). We don't really need to be able to take it with us, though, and I assume desktops are sturdier.

Pros & cons, specifically related to the IMac and/or the desktop/laptop question would be appreciated.
posted by dpx.mfx to Computers & Internet (27 answers total)
 
you get to have G5 instead of G4.
posted by grafholic at 10:58 AM on November 9, 2005


Desktops are more durable, more user-upgradable and much cheaper in terms of processing power per dollar. Laptops are more portable and, usually, less power-consumptive.
posted by box at 10:58 AM on November 9, 2005


More for the money. That's why I got one. When I compared price and features between laptops and desktops, desktops came out way ahead.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:01 AM on November 9, 2005


Though laptops can have external monitors and pointing devices and keyboards added, large screen spaces, better pointing devices, and much roomier keyboards are standard parts of a desktop system.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:04 AM on November 9, 2005


Price is the #1 advantage, is it not? A laptop computer usually costs about twice the desktop equivalent.
posted by jdroth at 11:04 AM on November 9, 2005


I like separate screens and keyboards. With a laptop, if you don't use it in the field, you're paying for those components and not using them.
posted by smackfu at 11:07 AM on November 9, 2005


If I had it to do over, I'd go with a tower/desktop.

I have a 3 year old Powerbook which I love. But its 40 gig hard drive which used to seem so big now is getting tiny. Yes, I'm going to get an external drive to back things up and use as extra storage. But I find I rarely move the laptop out of my home office. I even have wi-fi which works well in my apartment. I just find it no big deal to walk in the office and fire it up when I want to.

Occaisionally I'll use it in another room, but rarely, because I always feel the need to put it away safely in the office when I'm done anyway.

Also, small portable hard drives are available for cheap these days which kind of nullifies the need to take the entire laptop to work, etc. I've only taken it on one business trip, and used it primarily to play games, as internet access is available everywhere these days, as are computers to borrow for e-mail, etc..

Ask yourself if you like using a computer in different places a lot. I don't. Couldn't imagine taking it to a local coffee shop for instance. Then compare prices and performance to decide. You pay a lot more for portability.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:13 AM on November 9, 2005


I want to put it in the office and leave it on all the time.

This sounds like a desktop to me. The only reason you would want a laptop is portability. If portability is not even something you are concerned about, then by all means get a desktop. Cheaper, more powerful, more upgradable, larger screen, bigger keyboard...
posted by sophist at 11:23 AM on November 9, 2005


1: Better CPU for the buck.
2: Better hard drive performance for less cost.
3: Ethernet still has an advantage over wireless if you don't move a lot.
4: iBooks can't do a 24 hour duty cycle closed, so you can't use it as a home server.
5: IMO, better screen.
6: Better choice of keyboards.
7: More options for storage hogs ranging from external drives through network appliances and Firewire RAID.
8: Many of your better peripherals are going to take up a chunk of desk space anyway.

On the other hand, desktop systems:
1: Take up more space.
2: Can't be moved easily.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:33 AM on November 9, 2005


Not so much an answer as an addendum to things already said: The difference in power is not just in price, a high end desktop machine is simply more powerful than any top-end laptop.

This is because you just can't build a laptop that can compete with a desktop when it comes to power intensive stuff like top end graphics card and CPU, because it would burn through it's battery in minutes, run way too hot, and thus even if cooling wasn't a limit, it would still be unmarketable because the battery life would mean it's not really portable in any useful sense any more.

But, high-end game games and 3d modelling are about the only applications that spring to my mind where you'd want more than what a laptop can deliver, since even though they can't compete with high end desktops, top end laptops can still be reasonably beefy.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:41 AM on November 9, 2005


With a laptop, you pay more for less power and worse ergonomics. Desktops are relatively cheap to get and to upgrade (if you're comfortable with a screwdriver and cables, it's pretty easy to install components or move them to a new machine.)

Laptop keyboards are unergonomic and so's the location of the display if the keyboard's at table height -- most people hang their heads to look at monitors in the best of circumstances; with laptops it's especially hard not to.

The only reason to get a laptop is if you want the portability (obviously they can't be beat in that department.)

For what you describe, get a Mac Mini and a Dell 1905FP or 2005FP monitor.

On preview: while -harlequin-'s certainly right that any modern laptop's computing power would suffice for ordinary users' needs, I'd emphasize that buying that same degree of power in a desktop is cheaper.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:47 AM on November 9, 2005




Zed_Lopez: On preview: while -harlequin-'s certainly right that any modern laptop's computing power would suffice for ordinary users' needs, I'd emphasize that buying that same degree of power in a desktop is cheaper.

It's not just computing power, but storage space, multimedia, and memory that come much cheaper with a desktop. With multimedia convergence, HDD capacity probably becomes more important for a consumer than raw processor speed.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:28 PM on November 9, 2005


I tend to disagree with a lot of what's been said. There's a lot of advantage in a laptop, more than just 'you can take it with you'.

If you don't have an office at home or you think a boxy computer doesn't add to the 'look' (iMac excluded, of course), a laptop can be folded and stashed out of site easily. Even if you keep it open, it's far less noticeable.

It's not just that you can take it to the coffee shop, it's that you can take it anywhere in your house. The bedroom, the kitchen, the (gulp) bathroom. I can bring it out to my front porch and do email while enjoying the beautiful morning.

If you go on trips and are afraid of your computer being stolen while you're out of town, you can much more easily hide it, or bring it with you.

If it does need to be repaired elsewhere shipping it/carrying it is much easier than a desktop. If I sell it on ebay for a newer model, much easier to send to the buyer.

And yes, there are certainly advantages to a desktop. But not everyone needs to add a bigger hard drive. And as far as cost, if my 999 iBook does what 'I' need it to do, it doesn't matter what I could have gotten for that price. In the end, I've gotten a much better value with the laptop, more for my money, because I've used it so much more than if I had been tied to a desktop. Ive used it in different places and in more situations than I ever thought I would when I bought it. And even though I'll eventually get an iMac to go with my laptop I'm sure I'll be on the portable much more.

All that said, in this case, if you're just gonna leave it in your office period, I'd go with a desktop =)
posted by justgary at 1:32 PM on November 9, 2005


I've actually got a newish iMac (not one of the latest eyeMacs, though) and an oldish iBook. Really, this is the best of both worlds, IMO.

If you've got a rare need for mobility, you can get a decent desktop and a modest, used laptop for less than the price of a "desktop replacement" laptop. In fact, you can get a new 17" iMac and a new 12" iBook for slightly less than a new 17" Powerbook.

Having two machines does create a potential syncing problem, but it also means you've always got a backup computer. I'm quite happy with the iMac, btw.
posted by adamrice at 2:08 PM on November 9, 2005


I can't imagine I'll soon go from laptop back to desktop. To be sure, there are some distinct advantages to the desktop (all mentioned in this thread) -- but they are all outweighed by the singular advantage of the laptop: I can use it anywhere. Take it to the bedroom to listen to an audiobook or watch a tv show; sit in the livingroom half-listening to TV while reading MeFi; bring it to community theatre to do stuff while waiting for my wife to finish her part in the production; etc.

Pretty hard to put a pricetag on all that, though.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:13 PM on November 9, 2005


fff: but they are all outweighed by the singular advantage of the laptop: I can use it anywhere.

Whether this is an advantage depends entirely on your opinions and ideology regarding work.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:43 PM on November 9, 2005


Good point, that. Cell phones are a helluva an advantage wrt portability, but I don't own one specifically because I don't want to be available all the time...
posted by five fresh fish at 3:37 PM on November 9, 2005


Short and sweet:

Desktops are cheaper then laptops.

Desktops are cheaper to upgrade then laptops.
posted by nickerbocker at 3:49 PM on November 9, 2005


My sister had a keyboard problem with her laptop and it refused to boot. That would be a $10 repair on a desktop.

Also, try not to think of it as a binary question. There are plenty of small form factor desktops, and laptops run the gamut from 10lb+ monsters to teeny tiny little things...
posted by Chuckles at 5:05 PM on November 9, 2005


Desktops are difficult to steal--laptops are easily stolen.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:22 PM on November 9, 2005


All the physical stuff aside (portability vs. upgradability vs. performance, ec.), a laptop's got a very different "feel" than a desktop. And I'm not talking ergonomics.

A desktop is like a workstation. You go there to do stuff. It's always on. And since it's always in the same place, things collect around it -peripherals, yes, but also books and other reference materials, office supplies, etc.

A laptop is great, even if it never leaves your home, if sometimes you're going to be working in the kitchen, sometimes in front of the TV, sometimes upstairs, etc. The portability is wonderful but it's never quite as comfortable as a desktop (again, I'm not talking about the keyboard, etc., merely the sense of "workspace").

I've got a laptop and a desktop in my home and I use them completely differently, for different tasks.

If you really intend to use your laptop as a desktop, that is never moving it around, it's going to essentially become a desktop and you'll blur that distinction. You're going to hang a bunch of stuff off it (external keyboard, mouse, external storage, scanner, printer). It's going to get bogged down, and all you'll have is a more expensive, less powerful desktop that will be slightly easier to pack when you move. Oh, and you won't be able to leave it on all the time because the tiny cases don't deal with heat as well as desktops.
posted by zanni at 5:36 PM on November 9, 2005


A laptop is great, even if it never leaves your home, if sometimes you're going to be working in the kitchen, sometimes in front of the TV, sometimes upstairs, etc. The portability is wonderful but it's never quite as comfortable as a desktop (again, I'm not talking about the keyboard, etc., merely the sense of "workspace").

I've got a laptop and a desktop in my home and I use them completely differently, for different tasks.


I completely agree. I can do everything that my desktop can do on my ibook, except for game, but it doesn't feel the same. The keyboard is too small to be used all the time, the touchpad gets irritating after a while, and where am I going to put the external mouse? A full-sized keyboard with the correct feedback to the fingers is where it's at. Plus, you can get a larger display for a desktop.

What I do usually is just use both. iBook right next to me, desktop in front, spreading the tasks between them. I think I'd rather have a junker laptop (like the older thinkpad I already have) as a workehorse for on-the-go shit and a PC and Mac desktop side by side for at-home stuff. But, I'm a little more computer obsessed than most.
posted by angry modem at 9:00 PM on November 9, 2005


Desktops are cheaper to upgrade then laptops.

Yup, and that's because they're easier to upgrade, meaning you can do it yourself, and you don't need to be all proprietary about it. With laptops, a lot of stuff is integrated right in to the motherboard, which probably isn't something you wanna be tinkering around with.

This also raises the issue of laptops potentially being more environmentally destructive since people aren't going to upgrade, but buy a whole new box. And computers are bloody toxic, yo - production and disposal.

Really it all depends on how you're going to use it, though, and how often you think you'll need to upgrade. I'm still using an old Compaq tower with 96MB RAM and a 12GB drive and I'm doing (mostly) fine, and when it comes to it i'll just pop in a couple of 256 cards and a new HD, or get an external. so you can realistically get more than ten years out of a tower. YMMV.
posted by poweredbybeard at 11:55 AM on November 10, 2005


although - and i'm not a mac person so i can't really say for sure - i think you may have fewer non-proprietary options when upgrading a mac, tower or book regardless. others would know better.
posted by poweredbybeard at 11:58 AM on November 10, 2005


Y'know, I've never substantially upgraded a desktop machine without basically chucking out most everything but the case & PS...
posted by five fresh fish at 6:15 PM on November 10, 2005


I'm with 'angry modem' - I use a desktop for my heavy-duty stuff - it's loaded up with drives and USB & firewire accessories and is wired into my den like a cypress tree. I also have a small, light laptop, a couple years old, which I picked up for a song. It's got little on it but Firefox, but I can roam around the house wirelessly and do e-mail & research. I can use Terminal Services to access my desktop PC if I need something from it.

You'll always be happier using the right tool for the right job.
posted by Tubes at 8:26 AM on November 11, 2005


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