Laptop, Desktop, or Both?
July 16, 2008 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Should I get a desktop or a laptop or both?

My Dell latitude D500 Laptop was stolen about a month ago. I had upgraded that thing as much as it would take (2G of RAM, 100G Hard Drive, etc.) It worked for what I needed it for, but I new I was going to be needing a new computer soon. Now that it was stolen, I really need one.
I do graphic design, publishing layout, some video editing, web design, etc. using Adobe Master Collection CS3 which I own for Windows (it was running on XP before). I run my own business so accounting and spreadsheet software is important to me. I don't like slow things, I don't like waiting for the computer to catch up with me. I like using multiple monitors.
I have been going back and forth between buying a desktop computer with a whole lot of power to set up in my home office to do everything I need and a portable laptop to have with me on the go (conventions, etc.) I do use a blackberry so a lot of what I would need a laptop for is already taken care of with that, it is mainly the convience of being able to fix something or mash something up on the go when I am on a convention or something like that.

What are your thoughts? Laptop, Desktop or Both?

posted by allfortheBoss to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can only throw this into the mix: I do a significant amount of web design, Photoshop, and other design-related duties. My only computer is a 13 inch MacBook, and I have never wished I had a desktop machine.

If you can get a laptop with the specs you require, and the ability to add multiple monitors, give it a shot. It's less hassle than trying to keep 2 computers synchronized with the latest versions of your files.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:22 AM on July 16, 2008

For me - both. Much like you did before, I use my desktop for video encoding and other things that require a lot of processing power, etc. Because of the heftier power supply, faster DVD writer and other things, I can simply get a lot of things done - faster - on the desktop. For your purposes, a multi-monitor setup is obviously easier to setup with a desktop, with a minimum of hassles as far as plugging/unplugging/plugging/unplugging.

I use the laptop for web surfing from bed, at the coffee shop, on-the-road. I generally don't keep a lot of the same files on both computers - and if I have need to access them from either computer - they're in the cloud anyway on various web services.

Everyone uses their computer differently, of course, but I find for my purposes I like the faster desktop for certain projects that I spend a lot of time on. So, for me, it's both.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 8:38 AM on July 16, 2008

I have a HP Pavilion laptop and its only got 1.5 GB of ram running Vista and Adobe CS3 Master collection and Ive found it fine. I've had photoshop, illustrator, and dreamweaver all running at once and haven't had a problem with it. So my vote would be laptop, its helpful for taking to clients and working in different locations.

I will say this though, when using After effects/Premiere Pro my laptop does get really hot when rendering the files so you might take that into consideration if you are going to be really stressing it. I hope this helps.
posted by lilkeith07 at 8:39 AM on July 16, 2008

In your shoes, I would want a reasonably powerful and upgradeable desktop for getting the work done most of the time, and a cheap throwaway laptop. Like, a $400--600 laptop. One that can check email and surf the web and run presentations, and in a pinch can modify a presentation without too much pain. One that, when it breaks, won't make me cry.

It's less hassle than trying to keep 2 computers synchronized with the latest versions of your files.

This is a nonhassle. Share the relevant directories on the desktop; a few seconds. Set up synctoy; a minute. After that keeping things synced is a matter of pushing the "do it all" button in synctoy.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:14 AM on July 16, 2008

I'd get both; it's deductible, after all. It can be really handy to have a spare (and you can usually use software legally on a desktop and laptop).
posted by jenkinsEar at 9:46 AM on July 16, 2008

I have a mac laptop and a Dell desktop. I only use the desktop for playing games that aren't supported by mac and calling my mom on google chat. I have a powerbook, which can't run windows, but if I had a macbook the desktop would be gone.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 9:51 AM on July 16, 2008

I think you should get a laptop only. Laptops are pretty souped up these days, and can be on par with desktop power; and they can be reasonably upgraded. It's easy to leave an extra keyboard, mouse and monitor (and Wacom tablet) at home.

The hardest thing about the 2-computer setup is syncing; but then again, I assume you constantly back up your work, so it's kind of the same hassle.

With both computers, you'll find that you'll favor one over the other for specific tasks; therefore, you might end up wondering why you wasted money on both when one would have sufficed.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:13 AM on July 16, 2008

I have gone back and forth most of my professional life between laptops, desktops, and sometimes both. Summary from my perspective (I'm an entertainment writer and usability consultant who travels a lot between coasts and countries. I deal with a lot of big image and video files, as you might.)

1) Desktop(s) win for bigger cheaper hard disks, more expandable RAM, and much easier addition of multiple monitors, which are important to me when I am in hardcore "work" mode. Also, expandable video means keeping up with gaming requirements is possible. When I have been in periods of moving between multi desktops in multi locations, I've used a big iPod as my "data" drive and kept my work there. Someday I may try a centralized Internet file-server, but not yet. I am security paranoid on that.

2) A laptop wins on portability (duh), and the invaluable never-not-having-something-you-need, since you're not relying on some complicated syncing or backups to make sure your files are where you need them. A laptop loses on multiple monitors (it's hard, flaky and expensive), memory and HD capacity, and overall bang per buck cost, as those teeny components cost more.

Right now I have "big" desktops (Mac Pros) in two workplaces, a Mac Mini at home, and a MacBook Pro that I don't use much unless traveling. You can compare to Windows equivalents, none of this is Mac specific advice.

If I was starting from scratch I would buy a big-ass desktop for real use, and also the cheapest possible laptop (like a $500 Dell or even an eePC) just for airplanes and coffee shops. The downside of getting a "fancy" laptop is that it ends up so big and so expensive that you're less likely to take it with you all the time.

Most pro designers I work with have laptops at home but use big desktops in their offices.

I hope this helps.
posted by rokusan at 11:21 AM on July 16, 2008

Get a powerful laptop and a big display+keyboard/mouse for the office.

Modern laptops are plenty powerful enough to do what you need unless you're doing a lot of hardcore video (mutitrack effects, not simple 2 track editing) or are a professional 3D designer.

I struggled with working on two separate computers for years, but was never able to satisfactorily sync my work between the two. My personal reasons for having only a laptop for work:
- Don't have to take time to sync files
- No worries that I'm working on an old copy
- Never leave a file at home that I need.
- Can pick up and go at a moments notice.
- No hassle over software licenses.
- Never have to track down which computer I got that email on, move Photoshop pannel sets/macros between computers, etc.

Just back up everything nightly.

- Harder to upgrade that a desktop (does anyone upgrade desktops anymore?)
- Easier to steal/drop.
posted by Ookseer at 12:19 PM on July 16, 2008

[Keeping files on two computers synchronised] is a nonhassle. Share the relevant directories on the desktop; a few seconds. Set up synctoy; a minute. After that keeping things synced is a matter of pushing the "do it all" button in synctoy.

Well, unless both files have changed and you have to merge your changes! Personally I did the laptop+desktop thing, only rarely using the laptop, and most of the time I'd leave the laptop turned off while I was on the desktop so they tended to get out of sync.

You also have to synchronise your installed software (to read files you want to access), and keep it all legally licensed. Some companies are officially OK with you installing on both a laptop and a desktop; others think you need two licenses. You also might be OK with the laptop not having Adobe Master Collection CS3, or with bending the licensing rules. However, as it's ~$2,500 the issue should probably figure into your decision.

Personally, for my next computer I'm planning on getting a reasonably powerful but small laptop and when I'm at my desk and want a large screen and mouse, I'll just plug them in.

Of course, really big jobs I submit to a computer cluster...
posted by Mike1024 at 12:38 PM on July 16, 2008

Unless you're a gamer or are doing heavy 3d or video encoding, I'd recommend getting a laptop and forgoing a desktop. Dual core laptops are extremely fast, and a good, modern laptop supports 4 GB of RAM or more, which will be enough for both the current and next versions of Windows and Mac OS X.

Buy more laptop than you think you'll need. Get a bigger drive, faster CPU and more RAM. You want the thing to last as long as your D500 did. Dell's D/port port replicator supports dual monitors and won't require you to plug/unplug anything.

If you have the budget, I'd recommend either a MacBook or MacBook Pro and a copy of Windows if you need it, or a Dell Latitude with upgraded support. Dell's better support plans mean they'll replace the machine if you drop it (or have case damage, etc.) and you get to talk to a good support tech with little or no hold time.
posted by cnc at 1:55 PM on July 16, 2008

Both. The laptop is convenient, the desktop more reliable and if you synch your systems then if one goes down you won't have a lot of hassle.
posted by Neiltupper at 2:48 PM on July 16, 2008

Desktop primarily. Laptop is supposed to be on the go and for the processing power and programs you need the weight will be 6 -8lbs, 2 years from now you will have an expensive and heavy paperweight( Iam exaggerating). Desktop is your best option and as you said your blackberry already does most of your things.
posted by radsqd at 12:52 PM on July 17, 2008

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