I want to roam free from my desk.
September 13, 2007 11:13 AM   Subscribe

What's it like to have a laptop as your only computer?

I'm considering ditching my desktop in favor of a laptop and I'd like to hear from others who have switched to having a laptop as their only computer. Do you worry more about security - things like leaving it someplace or dropping it? When is it inconvenient to not have a desktop?

I'm not a gamer, and I don't use too many heavy-hitting apps. Photoshop would probably be the biggest resource hog.
posted by MsMolly to Computers & Internet (63 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've had a powerbook for a couple of years now. It goes with me everywhere in a backpack. I haven't forgotten or lost it. ;)
posted by SpecialK at 11:19 AM on September 13, 2007

I am incredibly absentminded, I take my laptop all over the place, and I have never accidentally left it anywhere. I'm not sure why. I think you just tend to hang on to things that are that valuable, and it's big enough that you'd probably notice it sitting there if you were about to leave. I do worry about dropping it, stepping on it, or otherwise breaking it, but I haven't had any problems with that so far.

The only drawback, as far as I'm concerned, is that laptop keyboards aren't very ergonomic. If you're concerned about such things, you might want to get a full-sized keyboard and a mouse for when you use your laptop at home.

I don't miss having a desktop at all.
posted by craichead at 11:20 AM on September 13, 2007

I know personally, I dont think I will ever get another desktop for myself (family is another issue) I am always a little worried of theft (knock on wood) or dropage (esp with a 4 year old and a 20 month old).
There is a great freedom with being able to have it with you where ever you go, but if you asked my wife she would say I am always on my computer.
I am like you in terms of app use and as long as you have enough RAM you should be fine.
posted by ShawnString at 11:20 AM on September 13, 2007

oh and seconding the "external" mouse. Esp if using at a desk.
posted by ShawnString at 11:21 AM on September 13, 2007

I switched to a laptop two years ago and have never looked back. I have never left it anywhere. I am too poor to replace it, so its location is ALWAYS on my mind - even after two years. I have spilled stuff on it, but not any more than I would a desktop. It has enough memory for everything I need, and is fast enough for everything I use it for. I even do a little bit of gaming on it. I have never felt that not having a desktop was inconvenient. Why would I? There is nothing a desktop can do that my laptop can't, except take up more space, tie me to my computer room, and be harder to take in for maintenance. What is there to miss?

My only recommendation would be to get a good laptop bag, I use a laptop backpack. I have dropped mine a couple of times and never had a problem.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:22 AM on September 13, 2007

I've made my laptop my primary computer, but due to the cheapness of desktops, I have a $250 Dell in my house for guests, easy access when I left my laptop in my office or my car.
posted by k8t at 11:23 AM on September 13, 2007

Thirding external mouse.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:23 AM on September 13, 2007

I love having a laptop.
I could not live with a desktop as my primary computer.
First thing: get used to computing from a bed or couch, or outside. Your life will be better.
The only time it's inconvenient to have a laptop is when you're somewhere out of the house and your battery dies and you don't have a charger. But then again, you couldn't even get yourself into that situation with a desktop (it's painfully difficult to go outside with one). Additionally, if you do a lot of photo stuff, the screen size (unless you get a HUGE screen, which I don't reccomend) is often too small for my liking.

As long as you're buying new, I wouldn't worry about photoshop, because unless you're highly impatient, or want blazing speed, more or less all of the hardware out now works plenty well with the 'shop.

Drops are kind of a big thing, but they're seldom deadly to the computer, and that risk is well worth the added freedom.

The only thing I use a desktop for is when i'm doing important or large photo editing, or typing out a paper (in that case, being confined, uncomfortable, and less able to be distracted is a good thing. Makes me work faster.)
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:24 AM on September 13, 2007

Another consideration is battery life - I love my laptop but even in my home I am usually plugged.
posted by doorsfan at 11:25 AM on September 13, 2007

Awesome. I have one machine that I use everywhere - work, home, or the random coffeeshop. I have a consistent experience everywhere and don't have to worry about installing the app on multiple computers, or changing settings at both work and home, etc.

I also have two LCDs - one at work and one at home - that I use as external monitors, as I find that a 15" laptop screen doesn't quite cut it when I'm working for 8 hours straight. Of course, you could probably add a 2nd monitor to your desktop as well to get even more resolution than I have with my laptop + lcd.

I carry my laptop with me in a padded case, inside a cheap backpack to avoid drawing attention to it. I don't worry about it any more than I would when all I'm carrying is a camera in my backpack.

Doing regular backups is probably a good idea.

There are zero times when I've wished I had a desktop since doing this for over a year. I also don't play games, but I do use photoshop, so 2+ GB RAM is nice.
posted by cactus at 11:26 AM on September 13, 2007

fourthing external mouse, too.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:26 AM on September 13, 2007

My work takes me to numerous locations throughout the day, so I've been using a laptop exclusively for years. I don't even think about desktops anymore. I've adapted by becoming more aware of keyboard-shortcuts.

Oh, ibook G4, by the way.....
posted by elwoodwiles at 11:28 AM on September 13, 2007

I love it. It's nice being able to move your computer to socialize or in case you need to bring it to another location. I was very happy when my internet failed but I needed to draft my fantasy team. Free Wi-Fi at a local cafe to the rescue! A few things, some are extremely obvious:

- Watch weight. My Dell is 8 lbs. It's heavy to lug around to places.
- Watch size. When I bought mine, I thought, I can use this on the plane! I forgot I was in coach and my notebook had to be 2/3 closed to fit on the tray.
- Get Wi-Fi and secure it.
- Buy a mouse, but you already knew that. You aren't gonna use that touch pad for Photoshop, right?
- Speakers on notebooks are usually terrible. Get external speakers or headphones.
- Do you enter a lot of numbers? Be aware most notebooks don't have numeric keypads. You can buy one like this though.
- Be smart. Always take it with you if you leave somewhere. If you're in an airport, take it into the bathroom if you gotta. Use a notebook lock to deter thieves, but always assume that if someone wants it they can take it. Put it in a safe if you're worried, some hotel rooms now have "notebook sized" safes.
posted by ALongDecember at 11:29 AM on September 13, 2007

I've had laptops as my main computer for 4 or so years. With the prevalence of wifi now, it's just so convenient. As a software developer, about the only reason I've ever considered going back to a desktop is for the bigger monitors; some of the really huge widescreens make me drool. The only other issue I've had is that spillage onto the laptop keyboard is a much much bigger deal; you can't just replace the keyboard on your laptop, and spilling onto an external keyboard doesn't screw up the wiring inside the box.

Nthing getting an external mouse, however. I hate, hate, hate the touchpads and those little joystick thingies.
posted by cgg at 11:30 AM on September 13, 2007

Get an extra power cord - one stays by the couch, one stays in your backpack. If you feel you must, splurge for a 3rd that stays by your desk.
posted by mimi at 11:30 AM on September 13, 2007

I have a laptop as my only computer. I do back all my important stuff onto an external hard-drive on a weekly basis, just in case the lap top is stolen or damaged.
posted by pluckysparrow at 11:30 AM on September 13, 2007

I went for six years with a laptop as my only computer, and didn't miss the desktop at all.

Yes to an external mouse; yes to regular backups; I suggest a Kensington cable lock (so that when you're in public you can lock the laptop to a chair or table).
posted by Prospero at 11:31 AM on September 13, 2007

I've been five years on a laptop. I don't actually take it out of the house that much, but it's great to have that convenience. My only mistake was buying the 12" iBook last time around... as my primary computer, it's just not enough screen real estate. But it wasn't a dealbreaker. I'll be upgrading soon.
posted by kimdog at 11:32 AM on September 13, 2007

Laptop only for almost 5 years. The only thing I don't like is that it's sometimes too convenient to have it on me (as in, I bring it everywhere because I might want to use it even if I have no plan to use it). The desktop machine I bought last year (for kitchen/family office use) is now sitting in a corner because it was too much of a temptation for my 2yo. Buy a few power supplies and place them strategically around your life/home, that way you can roam and then plug in as necessary.
posted by cocoagirl at 11:33 AM on September 13, 2007

I have a pretty fast desktop I never use because I almost always use my laptop. For a long time, I used the laptop without an external monitor or keyboard, but the truth is I'd throw the damn thing through the window though it it wasn't usually hooked to a nice big monitor, a good mouse, and a good ergonomic keyboard these days.

Other issues:
Poor upgradability. The thing that bugs me most about this formerly high end two year old laptop is that it is limited to 1GB of memory. I'd really like 2. On the other hand, while I'd like a faster CPU, it's not a big issue for me.

Second, hard disks in laptops are usually pretty slow. This has a 5,400 RPM drive, which is just horribly slow when it swaps to disk, which it does a lot because of the memory limitations. 7,200 RPM drives are better.

Still, I really like being able to take my computing environment with me everywhere, just make sure you back up your important files to an external drive or something whenever you are at home.
posted by Good Brain at 11:34 AM on September 13, 2007

I'm going to go in a slightly different direction than everybody else.

Being "free from your desk" can be a good or bad thing. My brain is incredibly location-sensitive: being at a desk means work, sitting on a couch means play, etc. When I had a laptop, these lines became increasingly blurred; since the computer was always at hand, I found myself working or checking email when my focus should have been elseware. With a laptop, everywhere becomes your work area - so you can't switch modes so easily.

I eventually chained the laptop to my desk so I could experience life without that annoying feeling that I should be checking my email all the time.

Now I don't have a laptop anymore, and my back is thankful.

And to second everyone else, you still should have a desk with an external monitor, keyboard, mouse, and chair, when you need to do real work.
posted by meowzilla at 11:36 AM on September 13, 2007

Laptop-only for 9 years and I've never looked back. I originally switched to a laptop so I could perform electronic music, but I got hooked on the idea of being able to work wherever I felt like.

I've had a laptop stolen, but I got insurance from Safeware which pretty much makes me not worry about it at all.
posted by atomly at 11:37 AM on September 13, 2007

Just adding, when my spacebar broke on my Inspiron 5150 notebook, Dell sent me a new one with the screws and a screwdriver. It was pretty easy. And when my internal speakers broke, Dell sent a guy to come to my house to replace them. So notebooks aren't completely all one piece, they can be repaired like a desktop. YMMV on other brands/notebooks.
posted by ALongDecember at 11:39 AM on September 13, 2007

I had a laptop as my only computer for about a year and wasn't really happy with that. In my experience, laptops break a lot more often than desktop computers and if they do, it can take weeks to get them fixed. You can't upgrade parts easily. If you use the laptop a lot, the case, keyboard and trackpad will look a bit worn after a while and there's nothing you can do about that without spending a lot of money.
posted by snownoid at 11:40 AM on September 13, 2007

As many have said, having a laptop as a desktop replacement is pretty sweet. A couple of suggestions, though, if you decide to go for it:
- Don't get just any external mouse. Get a laser mouse without a cord. I love my logitech because I can sit in an armchair with my laptop and use the mouse on the armrest, or use it when my laptop is on a glass countertop or otherwise horrible reflective surface, or on my bed, etc.
- Make sure your laptop doesn't suck on the battery life. I have a 17 inch HP model that's pretty high-powered. The battery lasts 55 minutes, tops. My gf has a lower powered HP with a 15 inch screen; she gets about 2 hours of battery life.
- If at all possible, get a lightweight laptop. 8 pounds might not seem like a lot, but it gets tiresome when you're lugging it around everywhere.
- Be careful if you have your laptop on your lap. It can burn you.
- Try out the laptop keyboard before you buy it. My original HP model was first generation, and it had this charming trait where some of the keys used the same circuits, so if you were a very fast typist (like me) and you hit the g and the h and the t key in very close sequence, not all the keystrokes register. Eventually, that laptop's motherboard got fried and after 4 months of wrangling, HP sent me a new, second generation model that's worked perfectly with no keyboard issues.
- Don't get an HP if you can help it - tech support is the worst I have EVER seen. To lessen the chance of this (with any company) don't buy a first generation model of any laptop.
posted by Happydaz at 11:45 AM on September 13, 2007

I've had only laptop computers since 1995. I'll tell you some of the problems I've experienced -- not to discourage you, but to let you know what kind of extra care you might want to take with a laptop. I can't think of any way (except price) in which a desktop is better than a laptop for your type of use, as long as you're careful.

Replacing the keyboard is a big deal, whereas it's trivial with a desktop. Also, if you spill something into the keyboard you can do very serious damage, depending on where the liquid goes. I destroyed a hard-drive with less than a teaspoon of water that dribbled between C and V, through a screw hole and into the hard drive.

The hinges are vulnerable, and there's a major cable running through the hinged area, from the base to the screen/lid. When a hinge gets wobbly, that cable can easily be damaged.

The sockets where things plug into the laptop are another place for important wear and tear. If you have wireless, you cut down on a lot of that, but the power supply needs to be plugged and unplugged carefully. The power supply will probably go bad at some point, and in any case it's a good idea to have more than one of them if you move from room to room.

I recommend a 3-year warrantee (if you hope to keep the laptop for that long). I've had most of my repairs after the 2-year mark, and when I get service, they take care of all the little things that weren't really worth a service call. If you have a machine with plenty of RAM and storage space, you can keep it for a long time.
posted by wryly at 11:48 AM on September 13, 2007

I too suggest getting an external keyboard+mouse. I leave the keyboard at home when I take my laptop with me, but the external mouse is definately worth it.
Having a docking-station or an external monitor at home helps too, but I have neither.

The reason why I gave away my desktop computer and switched to laptops was the sheer size of these machines. Now my feet can linger freely under the table!

Making backups is not solely for laptop-users. Please backup your data.
posted by davidr at 12:05 PM on September 13, 2007

For me, it would come down to what you think you will be doing with Photoshop. If you were doing really serious work (i.e. color-critical photo retouching or manipulation of high-resolution images) I don't think you'd be completely happy. For work like that, you really can't beat multiple HDs, umpteen gigs of ram, and a large calibrated display.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:22 PM on September 13, 2007

Laptop-only for a year, but about to buy a desktop because I'm sick of running out of disk space. I want to have my massive iTunes and photo libraries all on the one disk without pissing about with external drives, and that still means desktops, these days.
posted by bonaldi at 12:27 PM on September 13, 2007

I live in perpetual fear that I will drop it and be computer-less, but I tend to worry a lot.
posted by Lucinda at 12:28 PM on September 13, 2007

I have a laptop as my only computer and am quite happy with it, but so far it has never left my apartment.
posted by trip and a half at 12:36 PM on September 13, 2007

I've used a laptop exclusively for about five years now and love it. I bought a 12" iBook because of its weight and battery life and quickly got used to the smallish screen size. At home, I put it on a stand on my desk so the screen is high enough to look at comfortably, and use an external keyboard and mouse. I also back up the hard disk regularly.

I've never worried about losing or leaving it anywhere and don't see myself going back to desktops, laptops are much more practical.
posted by amf at 12:50 PM on September 13, 2007

Get an extra power cord - one stays by the couch, one stays in your backpack. YES!!!
posted by radioamy at 12:53 PM on September 13, 2007

My first laptop got broken, and I didn't even drop it. And Dell wouldn't fix it (though that was nearly ten years ago). Since then, I've always had a laptop for work (with a second monitor and a docking station, mouse, keyboard) and a desktop at home.

If you type a lot, (and by a lot, I mean like if your livelihood depends on you producing a ton of written product every day) you will want a regular keyboard in addition to that external mouse. You might also want a standard deskspace at home where you can put the laptop and use it there, rather than having to carry it around. Docking stations are nice, though you can do the same just by plugging in a mouse and keyboard when you sit down.
posted by The World Famous at 12:55 PM on September 13, 2007

I bought a MacBook Pro in January 2007. When I use it at home I have it hooked into an external 21 inch high-res LCD monitor, apple bluetooth keyboard and USB mouse. I also have a 500gb external drive with all my music, movies, backup, business backup etc.

It's absolutely an perfect setup for me (web development), and when I need to go on the road, all I have to do is plug the external stuff out and plop in a bag.

It's a great way to work.
posted by ReiToei at 1:08 PM on September 13, 2007

My only big complaint was that I'm not a total computer geek and if something broke on the laptop, it required a buttload more work to fix. I can handle having desktop problems, but laptops were beyond me. For instance, the broken keyboard on my laptop required sending off for a fixed keyboard and paying a bunch of money for the right model etc. etc., whereas a broken keyboard on my desktop just required a quick trip to the closet to grab my spare.

I kept it at home and plugged in 90% of the time, so the move to a desktop was welcome, considering it freed up some desk space and was a little friendlier ergonomics-wise.
posted by sian at 1:39 PM on September 13, 2007

I've used ultraportable notebooks exclusively for the past 5 years.

Pros: everything.

Cons: less powerful graphics engine (only matters if you care about 3D games/secondlife)

Recommendations: get a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for your desk. Get a notebook with broadband wireless so you can connect anywhere. Get a spare power cord if you shuttle between home and work. Get a spare monitor adaptor if your notebook needs one and you travel.
posted by zippy at 2:09 PM on September 13, 2007

Laptop only for ~2 years and mostly enjoy if for no other reason than I have a uniform computing environment at work and at play. My biggest complaints are the lack of upgrade options and that the 12" iBook maxes out at 1024x768. I have compensated by being a bit better at managing my application stack. I also have external keyboard/mouse/monitor setups at my work and home office for serious typing and highly recommend it. I have used this setup to do everything from code standalone applications to web development to recording/mixing/producing audio to pedestrian image manipulation.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:11 PM on September 13, 2007

I had a laptop as my primary machine for about a year before it broke and had to be repaired. Toshiba warranty service took about 3 weeks, and after that I decided to stick to desktops because I can open them up and rip out whatever's broken. But had that not happened, I think I would probably still be using it as my primary computer.
posted by reformedjerk at 2:16 PM on September 13, 2007

I've been laptop-only for about 4 years, and I love it. I take it everywhere and use WiFi where I can to follow along with presentations, I bring it with me to meetings and keep my files open electronically instead of printing them, it makes note taking way easier, etc.

Nthing the recommendations for an external mouse (I use it even when I'm on the train) and an extra power cord.

I have also been noticing that my posture is worse because I'm always looking down at the screen when my key board is at the right level for my wrists. I am considering getting a real keyboard for the two places I use it most (home office and my big work contract) - I am used to the keyboard, but I need to raise my screen up.

Yes, also watch the weight and size. I wanted a full screen and a good battery, which meant a 6lb computer, which gets a bit hefty on the shoulder when lugging it around on a long walk.
posted by Cyrie at 2:20 PM on September 13, 2007

One benefit - built-in UPS. As long as you have a good surge protector, you don't have to worry about power problems interrupting your work.
posted by concrete at 2:54 PM on September 13, 2007

Its a little stressful to be carrying around all your data all the time. The chances of a laptop getting stolen/broken/lost can be high depending on your lifestyle. The best thing you can do is buy a cheapo external usb drive and copy all your documents and media. If the laptop does die at least you wont be out of data and having a hot backup you can immediately plug into a replacement computer is always nice.

That said Im a pretty big advocate of having a disposable laptop (light, slow, etc) and a decent desktop. The desktop is kind of home base and the laptop is strictly for travel. Worst case scenario might happen but you still have a desktop to get back to.

Laptop hard drives drive me crazy. They just too slow and you'll never get used to the lag. Being dependant on one vender is pretty lousy. If my desktop keyboard breaks, I have thousands of replacement choices. If I break the shift key on my laptop then I will be supremely gouged.

As others have pointed out the real issue is ergonomics. Play with different screen resolutions to get used to one that you can handle for long periods of time. I dont care if the native resolution is 1600xwhatever. I want to be able to read. If this is XP then make sure to enable cleartype. Buy a couple nice mice too.
posted by damn dirty ape at 3:00 PM on September 13, 2007

The bad:

- Repairs are tough, certain upgrades impossible. Shop carefully, get what you're realistically going to need in terms of processing power, HD space, graphics, etc. for the next 4-10 years.

- They run hot; in the summer my laptop will occasionally shut down if I don't keep it propped up with a book. I wouldn't literally use it as a laptop for more than an hour, to spare both of us some pain.

- Can indeed be too convenient - and if not, it's probably too heavy.

- If you're not aware, your posture will suffer since the screen will almost always be below eye level, and the keyboard a bit too far away due to the touchpad.

The good:

- One computer for work and home. No synchronizing of files, etc. Easy to change work positions when at home.

- Touchpad: I love the thing. Mice screw with my wrists.

- Space: When I'm done with it, it folds up and no longer takes up mental space. No gray unblinking eye starting at me. And I can move it off my desk, put a couple of books on top of it, whatever. It's not a central part of my workspace, and I like that. I see it more as a tool, less as furniture.

- Work at a coffee shop. Nuff said.

Misc thoughts:

- Whichever model you feel is the right weight, get the next lightest one. It gets a lot heavier once you're carting it around four days a week, plus books, lunch and a power cord. Trust me.

- However much battery life you think you need, you will need more. However much battery life the manufacturer says a particular model has, it has less.

- Two cords. One for work, one for home.

- Glossy screens look nicer than matte ones, but the glossy ones give you crazy glare if you're not positioned properly.

- Get a regular keyboard and an ergnomic, adjustable keyboard tray for it. You might also want one of those flexible keyboards to throw in your bag; try it without first, though.
posted by poweredbybeard at 3:06 PM on September 13, 2007

Going against the grain here, but after using laptops exclusively for five years, I was totally relieved when I finally settled geographically for a long enough time to justify purchasing a desktop computer to serve as my main machine.

The reasons? Even the simplest hardware issues are a pain in the neck to fix on a laptop. Replacing a broken key on the keyboard may be reasonably trivial, but the moment your laptop develops a more serious issue (even if it's caused by something as small as a loose connection somewhere) you're looking at a hefty repair bill and plenty of potential downtime, which is not good if you depend on your computer for work.

Every laptop I've had has developed overheating issues over time, as their fans became progressively clogged. On a desktop computer, this would have been solved by swapping the fan. No such luck with a laptop. Same idea if one your laptop turns out to have a bad optical drive, as happened to me once. And so on, and so forth.

As far as the convenience of using your computer anywhere, I think it is somewhat overrated. My last laptop has a 15,4" screen, and it's just a pain in the arse to move around. And, even though it has a mobile processor and isn't driven too hard, it does get unpleasantly hot. Despite their name, most laptops these days are not really intended for lap use.

As far as I am concerned, I'd say you should only go down the laptop route if you really expect to move the computer around, and then you ought to go for the most portable model you can afford, regardless of raw power. And, as everyone else has suggested, do get an external keyboard, mouse and monitor to plug in when you use it at home.

But if you only really expect to use your computer at home, then just go for a desktop. It will be cheaper, more powerful and infinitely easier to service if anything goes wrong. Hell, for the price of a decent laptop you could buy a desktop and a slightly older used notebook to use if you ever need to cart some kit around.

Just my two cents here.
posted by doctorpiorno at 3:11 PM on September 13, 2007

you ought to go for the most portable model you can afford, regardless of raw power.

Yes, I should have emphasized that. If cost is an issue, and you really do need a portable computer, than be sure to err heavily on the side of portability. Especially since you say you're not a gamer.
posted by poweredbybeard at 3:14 PM on September 13, 2007

I had a laptop as my only computer for two years and would never try that again. Just to be the voice of dissent.

-I found it too heavy to really take with me; I broke my arm, so that didn't help, but even before that I only dragged it with me if I had no alternative.

-It overheated all the time. Which was a little convenient in winter, I guess.

-After a few months, the keys started falling off the keyboard. I got a new external keyboard, but because I didn't have a computer desk, the ergonomics didn't work out at all.

So the moral of my story is, if you're going to make your sole computer a laptop, make it a really good one and not a $600 bargain-basement one.
posted by Jeanne at 3:25 PM on September 13, 2007

For what it's worth, if I were to purchase a laptop right now (which may happen soon, as it turns out I wasn't that geographically settled after all), I'd definitely go for one of those shiny new ultraportables with 12" or smaller screens and ultra-low voltage CPUs. That's the only kind of computer I'd consider really portable right now.
posted by doctorpiorno at 3:47 PM on September 13, 2007

The warranty is more important on a laptop. They are a lot more fragile. My old laptop got dropped, by my son, onto the carpeted floor, breaking the sole USB port. Used a pcmcia usb card and it was okay to use. But try not to drop it.

I love the portability. I can look up a recipe and bring the laptop to the kitchen. I can watch a DVD in bed. I wish I had a bigger screen since I really don't take it any further than the back porch, and the weight wouldn't be a big deal.
posted by theora55 at 4:04 PM on September 13, 2007

I recently came off a spell of using my laptop as my only computer (due to moving, lack of space to set up desktop, yadda), and I ended up very relieved when I was able to get back to using my desktop as my primary machine. For me, it's overwhelmingly a matter of ergonomics; I've never been able to find a way to set up my laptop that doesn't result in a lot of neck/back/arm pain after an hour or so. If you do go laptop only, I'd strongly advise using it most of the time in a setting and with peripherals where you can control the height and angle of screen and keyboard and get a good mouse position with arm support. Even if you don't have any computer-related physical problems now, you sure don't want to set yourself up for them.
posted by Kat Allison at 4:43 PM on September 13, 2007

Thinking about it some more, I'll say I'll probably never go back. Then again, I'm a web worker, and the idea of having to have my work on my work machine and my 'stuff' at home would drive me crazy now. Bonus: with the Sony LocationFree base station, I can watch my TiVos anywhere, from the back deck to a hotel room across the country.
posted by mimi at 5:10 PM on September 13, 2007

I have an iBook, which I got because I liked that it had a 12" screen - anything bigger, and you don't want to be taking it on the bus every day in addition to text books.

At home, for ergonomic reasons, I keep it on a stand, and hook up a 22" external monitor. I also have a wireless keyboard and mouse. It's pretty much the perfect set up, but so much so that I don't often unhook everything to go sit on the couch and surf.

With hindsight, I would have gotten a second power adapter.
posted by maledictory at 5:11 PM on September 13, 2007

I love it so much it kind of hurts me to try to remember what it was like having a desktop.
Keep the hard drive from your existing desktop, put it in a USB enclosure, and back your data up (on Windows something like SyncToy can help for free, and I'm sure there are even easier solutions available commercially; on Mac OS, Backup comes with a .Mac subscription).
I often pine for an external mouse, but haven't gotten around to actually buying one yet.
posted by willpie at 5:28 PM on September 13, 2007

I haven't had a desktop in 8 years, but I still want to get one. I keep buying new laptops and never get around to saving up for my uberPC... but it's never far from my thoughts.

What I dream for in a desktop is a terabyte file server, to use it as an HD HTPC, and have it sit there at home downloading goodies while I roam about with my laptop. If you download... um, stuff... it's a bummer to cut off a download because you need to go somewhere else with your portable. You'd really like to have something that's permanently connected.

Right now I have an older laptop at home which I RDP to from my new one, which is nice, but I wish it was a desktop there at home. As they both continue to age, the laptop at home is just getting more obsolete, serving as a sad reminder of my new laptop's ultimate fate... once slick and nimble, only to grow old and then remain tethered to its AC life support because the battery can't hold its charge anymore, the optical drive stays shut because it has cataracts and sees nothing but CRC errors, and it just can't keep up with the new technology anymore. Such is a laptop's life.

It's nice and new now, but I know there'll never be enough storage space on this laptop, it'll always be stuck with the video card it has, and I can't swap out many of the parts when they break or become boring. And while I'd never trade this laptop straight up for a desktop, there will always be part of me that wants that one special box, sitting at home and waiting for my return.
posted by krippledkonscious at 7:49 PM on September 13, 2007

I have a Powerbook G4 that I bought when I was in school. I like not being tied to a desk, right now I am laying in my bed as I type this.
However, I just bought an iMac because time is taking it's toll on my ol' Powerbook. I was going to buy a Macbook, but I just couldn't pass up the better specs of the iMac.

I have loved having a computer that I can take with me anywhere. When I moved into my apartment and I was without internet for a week, I'd constantly go to Panera and utilize their free wifi.
I've never worried about leaving it anywhere, because it's a pretty obvious thing to notice if you leave it behind. It becomes second nature to just bring it with you.

Though I'm going to have my new iMac, I am still keeping my Powerbook for times like tonight when I don't want to be tied to a desk.
posted by Becko at 8:24 PM on September 13, 2007

I'm never getting another desktop. There's just no need anymore. I even mostly use my laptop as a desktop but still want the portability option. I like to be able to travel with it occasionally. I like to couch/lap with it mostly, desk with it when I want to be serious, table with it when I want to be crafty/projecty, or take it out to the car when I'm running diagnostics or working on the engine and need diagrams and how-to's. I like to ride shotgun and get work done on longish car trips. I also like to be able to hide it for security in certain situations (workers in the house, on vacation, etc.). All very easy to do.

The only disadvantages in my opinion are:

1.) In most cases, if I'm not mistaken, the graphics card is built in to the motherboard. So forget about replacing it or upgrading. And your options and performance in that department are usually more limited (e.g. when assembling one on a vendor's website, they only offer certain so-so models). That may or may not affect you given what you do with your computer.

2.) Cost. They're getting cheaper, and supercheap models can be found, but if you're building a laptop to last you for a while and which will handle some hearty stuff, you'll pay more than you would for a desktop. For me the convenience totally offsets the extra cost.

Someone else mentioned spills. They're getting better about this. My Thinkpad T60 has a spillproof keyboard, for example, so if you do spill, it drains out through two holes in the bottom of the unit and doesn't hit the sparky bits.

I wouldn't worry about drops too much. The thing is usually going to be sitting flat, immobile. When you transport it, it will usually be in the padded bag of your choice. Do get a padded backpack or case, btw, even if it's just a padded sheath that then travels in an unpadded bag. It's not like you'll be walking around carrying this thing bare and one-handed much, in which case you'd run the risk of drops. You won't be using it while riding your bike. You'll pretty much only barehand it when moving it from its immobile flat position to the padded bag. The only time I ever worried about it was when I dropped my bag once. I was worried it wasn't padded enough. Turns out it was.

Wouldn't worry about losing it either. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I wouldn't let a bag with $1700 cash in it out of my sight. Wouldn't do that with my laptop either. There's no way I'd ever forget this thing or leave it exposed. I'll even carry my backpack into a restaurant with me rather than leave it in the trunk for the valet to discover. This baby is MINE. Do back up to an external drive just in case the friendly neighborhood burglar has his way.

Take the first step towards becoming the proto-cyborg you are destined to be. Ditch the desk. Laptopz 4evar.
posted by kookoobirdz at 8:53 PM on September 13, 2007

I've just handed back my work notebook, which I have carried with me everywhere in a backpack over the past 18 months. I really miss it, especially since I now have wireless broadband and no notebook to connect with :-(

I would never swap my desktop at home for a notebook though - after living with only the notebook for about six months, I really really missed the screen real estate (dual 19") of my desktop, not to mention the lousy resolution of the notebook (a Dell Latitude D810), which, while not bad, is close to it.

Also, if you like to keep your stuff looking nice, carrying it around everywhere you go is not going to make you happy and, once a notebook starts to look untidy, there's no going back. The impossibility of upgrading (especially once they get more than a couple of years old) is a killer, too.
posted by dg at 9:17 PM on September 13, 2007

I got a Powerbook about 3 years ago and never looked back. I've hardly taken it out of the apartment, but there have been definite advantages:
- I live in flats/apartments most of the time so space is always a concern. I usually don't have a desk and a laptop conveniently sits anywhere.
- I moved quite frequently. Loooved that i could just close the laptop and toss it in a bag and not mess with cables and crap.
- I've rarely thought about even needing a mouse, but you probably want to get one cause when I wanted one it was because of Photoshop.
- Two words: Couch surfing. Nothing beats having the telly on, surfing the net, while lounging on the couch.
posted by like_neon at 1:43 AM on September 14, 2007

I used to have a laptop, I liked it a lot. One day I spilled beer on it and byebye laptop. Was looking for a replacement and found a really good deal on a desktop that I couldn't pass up, and I've had this desktop for about 3 years now. I sort of miss my laptop and have been eyeing a MacBook for some time now. If you get an external mouse, you won't even think twice about it being a laptop. Typing on a full-sized keyboard is the one plus of a desktop, but you'll adapt to a laptop keyboard pretty quickly.
posted by zardoz at 2:42 AM on September 14, 2007

I have used a laptop as my primary computer since 1993 (Powerbook Duo 230). My life is filled with servers and workstations at the shop, so if I need the horsepower of a quad core Mac Pro I have it at hand. I'm not so sure I could survive without access to more powerful machines for some kinds of work. But I would never, ever consider anything but a portable computer as a primary sidearm.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:23 AM on September 14, 2007

However, I should add that I get to replace my laptop every 6-9 months on someone else's dime. If I had to pay for it myself, it would be every 2-3 years like most people's personal machines, and I would not be happy. I find a laptop, used hard, gives me no more than one year of reliable service, and usually a little less, before the problems start mounting. I am brutal on them, of course, and could take better care of the machines. But my logic is that I will need more horsepower as soon as it is available anyway, so why bother trying to make a laptop last longer than I need it. (Also a reason not to bother buying extended warranties.)

The best computer is the one somebody else pays for. Always true.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:26 AM on September 14, 2007

I have been laptop only since about 1996, and have never even once said, man, if I only had a desktop...

I do wish I had more monitor real-estate, but I could solve that by just going out and buying a second monitor to use with the laptop if I really cared that much. The suggestions above to buy a second power cord if you routinely use your laptop in two places are right on. An external keyboard and mouse are nice sometimes, not others; it depends on where you usually work.

I've found my laptops to be a touch less reliable than friends' desktops -- I've had two dead logic boards, one dead screen, and one other big problem of some kind over the last eleven years. So budget for repair or replacement costs, in case yours turns out to have problems (or get the extended warranty).

You should be careful about backing up your data in case you drop the computer or it gets stolen. But that is true with desktops, too -- what if there is a burglary, or lightning hits the powerline right outside your house? Just because it sits under your desk instead of rides around in your backpack doesn't make it perfectly safe.
posted by Forktine at 6:58 AM on September 14, 2007

I've been laptop-only since 2004, but I yearn for a desktop. Simply because a desktop would be more powerful for the same price. Also, easier to troubleshoot - just replace the fried motherboard, etc., by yourself. And easier to upgrade - cheaper components, and easier to find. You won't be stuck with a special motherboard that's only made by one company somewhere in West Nowhere, and for a pretty penny too.

Get an extended warranty for the laptop. My laptop has fried two motherboards, the power connection has come loose numerous times, the video card has died. All replaced by my three-year warranty with Best Buy. I know that places such as Best Buy are considered evil by most, but you can't beat bringing a laptop in to a place and getting it fixed, instead of mailing it out to some fulfillment company across the country.

Also, get an external mouse. A wired one. It takes up less space than a wireless, as a wireless requires a wireless receiver.

I also have an external keyboard, so that I can distance myself from the computer screen. (Not good for the eyes!) Also, an external keyboard is spacier than the usual cramped laptop layout. You can pretty much pick up any keyboard with a USB port, but I've found that the only "standard" keyboard that pleases me is the Saitek Eclipse.

You mentioned Photoshop, so that means you're probably spend a couple of hours with your computer every day. Do get one of those laptop stands to raise up the computer to a more ergonomic height. After a few hours, it just sucks having to crouch over the laptop, and look down at the screen.

If I didn't have to worry about the costs, I'd use a desktop as a main computer. And for portability, a supplemental laptop. The lightest one out there. Possibly by Laptop, one of those incredibly tiny Sony or Fujitsu laptops. Or something from dynamism.com.
posted by Xere at 11:26 AM on September 14, 2007

* Possibly by Apple, instead of Possibly by Laptop.
posted by Xere at 11:27 AM on September 14, 2007

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