If you are in the market for a new computer for your home office and can’t decide whether to get a laptop or a desktop, this article is for you! I’ve used both laptops and desktops in a professional capacity as well as for hobbies for a very long time.
I’m sure the details that I provide in this article will help you to make a final decision on whether to buy a laptop or a desktop for your unique situation.
Objectively, a desktop computer provides more advantages than a laptop when being used in the home office. A desktop can be superior in performance, longevity, maintainability, expandability, customization and personalization as compared to a laptop. A laptop provides a smaller size, portability, can be used more comfortably and can cost less overall when external monitors are factored in.
At the end of the day, it is personal preference and up to your requirements, which device will suit your use case better. This article should provide a complete guide to the tradeoffs and point out which things you should consider before making your purchase. At the end of the article, I provide my top picks for the best laptops and desktop builds I would currently go for.
What Is The Difference Between A Laptop And A Desktop Computer?
Visually, a laptop computer is relatively small. The ability to close the lid makes it extremely portable and all of the things you need in order to use the laptop come out of the box.
A desktop computer on the other hand consists of a larger sized unit called the case, that securely holds all the components of the computer. You have to connect the desktop computer to an external monitor as well as a keyboard and a mouse in order to use it.
But visual difference aside, there’s an abundance of differences under the hood. Let’s take a complete look.
Both types of computers have a range of different sizes around their average size. For example, there are 13″ laptops as well as 15.5″ and 17″. Desktop cases can also come in different form factors such as mid size, full size, etc.
However, generally laptops are much smaller than desktops, and occupy much less space.
In terms of performance, both computer types are very capable and both can scale to a great degree. This is nice because if your use case doesn’t require a lot of performance, you can buy a cheaper costing laptop or desktop that is less capable, but works well for you.
I do have to give the performance edge to desktops though as it’s much easier to get/build a high performance desktop. Super high end graphics cards have large footprints that can’t be fit in the compact form factor of a laptop (also a cooling issue).
With laptops, you have to choose from a set of pre packaged components, whereas for a desktop you can customize the performance of the machine to a large degree.
Laptops are certainly a little bit cheaper, especially at the low – mid end after all the added costs for a desktop are included(monitor, peripherals, etc.)
High performance laptops and business laptops tend to be more costly compared to their desktop counterpart.
Generally, if both computer types are well taken care of, they should last many years. There is an argument that desktops have a longer lifespan since you can easily replace a faulted part.
For a laptop, while some parts can be easily replaced, other’s may require you to completely tear through the device, or you may not be able to purchase a specific component.
Moreover, due to the nature of usage for a laptop, such as constantly moving it around, there is a higher likelihood of it getting damaged.
Desktops are generally easier to maintain. Individual components can be easily replaced. The components can be easily cleaned from time to time.
You generally don’t open up your laptop’s internals to clean the dust and debris. Moreover, certain faults in the components will require you to purchase an entirely new laptop.
Laptops are much more portable. They can be operated on battery power allowing you to use them in all sorts of places where an outlet is not available, like when you are travelling for example.
Desktops need to be plugged in and place in a fixed location to use. To change locations, you have to turn the computer off and relocate the desktop as well as the monitor and peripherals. Needless to say, you won’t be moving your desktop around unless you are changing the location of you desk.
Laptops have limited expansion capability. You can increase the amount of RAM and storage space and only sometimes depending on the laptop. Some laptops can allow other upgrades, but they are generally few and restricted.
Desktops can be expanded to the moon as long as your components are compatible. You can have one desktop machine lasting you for the rest of your life as long as you keep replacing failing parts and upgrading the components as needed.
Desktop computers also include expansion slots solely for the purpose of adding additional capabilities to the computer such as network interfaces, Wi-Fi cards, etc.
Laptops have limited number of ports comparted to desktops and usually need a dock to increase the number of connections available. You may also need to purchase adapters to readily use your peripherals with a laptop. This is less likely with desktops.
I’ve alluded to this a lot in the previous categories, but desktops are just highly customizable compared to laptops. With desktops, not only can you custom choose the internal components, but you can also choose your monitor, keyboard and mouse.
Laptops, have limited customization ability for the internal components and for the display and keyboard and mouse options that are built in.
You can generally personalize desktops much more than you can with laptops. You can choose the style and look of the case, as well as the lighting inside. There’s also ways to change the look of the machine’s cooling components so that they glow and change colors. RGB lighting capability of a desktop allow you to choose the colors of the computer case to your liking.
With laptops, generally the most you can do is add some stickers and choose from a limited set of colors when purchasing.
Laptops are more comfortable. You can lie in bed with a laptop on your lap and watch a movie or do some work when you are tired. Desktops, you generally have to use at the table they are setup at.
For the most part and for most people, both devices are equally versatile in the applications and use cases you can do. You obviously need to purchase the correct specs for your use cases, but you will most likely be able to find a laptop or desktop that can do the job.
Here’s a table that summarizes the above comparisons . We can see that the desktop takes the edge in 7 out of 11 categories while laptops win 5 out of 11.
Advantages Of Desktop Over Laptop
- Can out perform laptops in processing power, graphics capability, memory and storage
- Can last you a very long time with regular maintenance and replacement of failing parts
- Easy to maintain, both in terms of cleaning and upgrading parts
- Individual components can be upgraded to meet new capability requirements
- Highly customizable, use parts from your favorite company
- Mix and match components as long as they are compatible
- Only get what you need to meet required specifications
- Aesthetic of the computer is changeable to reflect you personality
- Change the aesthetic of the desktop through case choice, lighting style and color, cooling style and choices, and cable management
- Use for any and all computer applications as long as required specification are met
- Increased number of ports for peripheral connections (less likely to need adapters)
Advantages Of Laptop Over Desktop
- Smaller size, requires less space on the desk
- Cheaper (generally) complete computing solution, comes with built in display, keyboard and mouse
- Highly portable, battery powered, can be used on the go and from various locations in the house
- Can be used more comfortably such as while laying down
- Use for any and all computer application as long as required specification are met
- Built in peripherals and accessories such as display, keyboard, mouse, camera, and microphone
Which Is Better For The Home Office?
If you plan on using the computer at your desk in the home office and not in other places, the desktop will be the superior choice.
If you already have external monitors, which are the most expensive additional items you will need to make a desktop work, then the desktop cost will likely be cheaper than a laptop.
While working with a laptop, unless you plan on using the built in display exclusively, you will likely want to connect at least one external monitor anyways.
You can spec the desktop to exactly what you need, although I do recommend getting or building one that is better than required so you have room to grow in the future.
Now, if you are going to use the computer for hobbies as well as work, for example gaming after work, you probably want to go with a desktop.
If I want an overall powerful computer that I can use for work, games, video editing, watching movies while doing other stuff, I would build a powerful desktop PC.
I’ve gone both ways with this and tried doing the above with a laptop, and while it works for a while, technological capabilities increase and your high performing laptop at the time, becomes mediocre at best. Especially with upcoming video games demanding high performing graphics cards, it’s hard to buy a laptop that will work for the next 10 years of technological enhancements.
For this reason, I prefer the desktop. You can simply upgrade the graphics card as well as all the other components in the computer as needed as long as they are compatible with the rest of the components.
Why You May Want A Laptop Instead
In some cases, you may want to get a laptop over a desktop. This includes the previously mentioned reason that you don’t need to purchase additional devices to make it work like a monitor, keyboard, mouse, webcam, microphone.
Another reason you may prefer a laptop is to accommodate a small desk size. Although you can place the desktop computer under the desk, you’ll need to put it on top of the desk if you have a standing desk.
Moreover, if you don’t need extensive performance from the computer, and just need internet access or ability to use Microsoft Office, then it makes sense to purchase a cheap laptop.
Is It Worth Having A Laptop And A Desktop?
It can be worth having a laptop and a desktop at the same time. You can use a desktop for the performance demanding work and use a laptop when you are too tired to sit at the workstation.
I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to watch a movie or play a casual game while lying on the bed with a laptop instead of sitting at the desk when you are tired from the days work.
Another reason to have both is if you need your work on the go, but prefer to use a desktop setup when at the desk. A laptop is also handy when you’re filming something in the garage, for example, and need to connect your microphone to a computer to use it.
Do Desktops Last Longer Than Laptops?
Let’s say you keep both types of computers in the factory state (hardware wise) and maintain both regularly. This means cleaning the dust off the fans, ensuring proper cooling, etc. Then, depending on the quality of the parts, both can last a very long time.
I’ve had the same laptop and desktop for more than 5 years and let them go because they became out dated, not because they broke.
But in terms of keeping up with the technological demands of the times, desktops will last longer, since you can upgrade individual components easily. You can purchase a modern graphics card to play newer video games and replace your old one (as long as the new one is supported by the motherboard and there is ample power available).
Generally, when laptops become outdated, you have to buy a new one.
For these reasons, a desktop will last you longer than a laptop by a few years. By the time you have replaced every single component of your originally purchased desktop, you’ll likely have gotten quite a few extra years of use.
Therefore, in the long run, having a desktop computer can be more cost effective.
How To Use A Laptop Like A Desktop
If you prefer the portability of the laptop but enjoy the extra peripherals of the desktop while working at your desk, you can use a docking system while working to make the laptop work as a desktop.
I wrote a full article about this topic here. The major benefit this provides, is you can work on a desk with monitors and external peripherals during the work day and then take your laptop on the go by simply detaching it from the dock. For universal docks, this is as simple as unplugging one cable.
Best Desktop Computer For Working From Home
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Hamid Tahir is a Mechatronics Engineer and founder of WFH Overload. He is currently working from home and is dedicated to the continuous improvement of his home office setup. Hamid has extensive experience setting up workspaces and dealing with the related tech. He hopes to share his knowledge to help you create the most productive and comfortable work from home setup. Read More