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Time for a new PC, desktop or laptop?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / November 18, 2011 7:42 AM PST

Time for a new PC, desktop or laptop?

It is time to replace my 7-and-a-half year old desktop PC, which is running XP. It has been having some weird hardware issues recently, like crashing (blue screen of death) every time I close my CD tray. I just don't have the expertise to figure out what's wrong, nor do I think it worth the investment to have a professional look into it.

My question is this: Is there any clear advantage to replacing it with a desktop instead of laptop? What are the advantages to having a laptop versus a desktop or vice versa? I'm a part-time college instructor (retired from my real job) and am not into gaming, so I don't require a lot of horsepower, but I do work with several applications open simultaneously. Thank you.

-Submitted by John H.

Here are some member answers to get you started, but
please read all the advice and suggestions that our
members have contributed to this question.

It's a Matter of Choice or Rather The Right Fit For You - Submitted by: ajtrek

Desktop vs. Laptop- Submitted by: thomasterrible

It depends on your needs/wishes - Submitted by: Dysalot

There are pros and cons on both fronts...- Submitted by: Wolfie2k5

Laptop vs. Desktop - Submitted by: High Desert Charlie

Thanks to all who contributed!

If you have any additional advice for John, click the "reply" link below and submit away. With any advice given, please be as detailed as possible in your submission. Thanks!
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Go Laptop
by KenHusveg / November 18, 2011 8:17 AM PST

Well John if your semi-retired like I am you might consider a laptop, if your not going to be watching movies or require a large screen. This gives you the flexibly of having your laptop with you when your travelling or at your college job if need be.

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Screen Size on Lap-tops.
by terrys55 / November 18, 2011 9:31 AM PST
In reply to: Go Laptop

That shouldn't be a problem - Most these days have HDMI output, and if you select a monitor or HDTV connected to that as the only monitor in your Devices, you will get full HD - and it will revert to the inbuilt monitor when you disconnect - or at worse with a poorly designed one, on reboot.

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Desktop Computers
by ralphv1234 / December 2, 2011 9:25 AM PST
In reply to: Go Laptop

Those experiencing problems on desk top where you get a blue screen, especially if you just closed your Cd Rom is disk drive is going bad. I had it happen to a 5 yr old computer 2 times. Why because if you have a bad surge compressor and you get a lot of electrical surges it damages the disk drive and they have to be replaced. So make sure your surge protectors are not burning out. If there is no green light on the surge protector or red light is is burned out.

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Another consideration
by bleary / December 2, 2011 10:14 AM PST
In reply to: Go Laptop

I'm also an older teacher. I carry my laptop back and forth to school every day. At home it's plugged in to an external hard drive for backup, but at school I'm able to have all my files right on my desk no matter where I worked on them. I AM able to take apart a computer or upgrade it, but how often would I want to do that? I just want it to work. Right now I have 12 programs open on my 5 year old laptop, including Photoshop, Word, and Excel and it still works fine. The important thing is to have a decent amount of memory. One thing to consider if you wear glasses - you are usually looking down at a laptop screen. If you wear bifocals, that is exactly what you want. An eye doctor friend of mine recommends laptops for older people for just that reason. Of course, if you are a serious gamer, then you should get the desktop.

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Depends upon your needs
by raraavis / November 18, 2011 9:00 AM PST

Desktops have a better performance / cost ratio. In other words, you get more bang per buck. Also, you can open them up to repair, change, add or upgrade components, something which is very difficult - if not impossible .- with a laptop. A desktop has a proper, comfortable keyboard and you can have a big monitor (sure, you can add a keyboard and a separate monitor to a laptop, but if you do that, what's the point of having a laptop?)

If mobility within your house, using a wireless network,. or taking your computer with you to your job or on trips is a must, then a laptop is required, of course. Otherwise I don't see the point of spending extra mony on a laptop.

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Bang per buck
by richteral / December 2, 2011 5:57 PM PST

HP selling laptops under 500 bucks now, which takes the bang out of desktops. As for fiddling with laptops, I never had a problem with that: network card; RAM; HD; dust removal. It takes just a screwdriver, gloves, proper wrist grounding if you are particular, and spectacles in my case.

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desk or laptop
by kadjihas / November 18, 2011 9:05 AM PST

The laptop will do everything your desktop did with less space.

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There some programs need a desktop to add special cards.
by jereese / November 18, 2011 9:36 AM PST
In reply to: desk or laptop

Laptop cannot do everthing your desktop does. I do not like type on laptop keys, to small and home keys are not usually mark very good. If you want nice video then desktop is best choice. I like dual screens, no battery to recharge, and easy to upgrade. I have 4 Tb of hard disk space, 3 printers, 8 Gb of memory and video card.
If you wanting to move around or need the computer at other locations then laptop. For the best solution is own both. Take my laptop when I travel and use desktop at home.

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Actually laptops can do most things desktops do...
by darrenforster99 / November 18, 2011 3:41 PM PST

Laptops can actually do most things desktops can do now.

Years ago this wasn't the case, but now most laptops can do everything a desktop could do and so the desktop is becoming a bit obsolete.

The only exception is Netbooks these are very different

As for the things you mention above about laptops -

Keyboard too small - if you get a laptop with a 17" widescreen you will find a standard PC keyboard including numpad on it, 15" don't have numpads or some keys in the same place but can be accessed by using the FN key to double up some keys as the numpad (in a similar way to the old Commodore Amiga A600's), or alternatively buy a USB keyboard and use that.

Dual screens - again not a problem on a laptop, many laptops have either HDMI, DVI or D-SUB out and can be used as a dual screen setup. The other day I was round my mates and we were watching youtube videos on my PK301 projector on a big screen from his laptop, just plugged it straight into the HDMI port and there it was.

Upgrading - ok this is where sometimes laptops fall down - although as quite a lot of devices on computers now are USB upgrading isn't as hard as it used to be, the only few issues are CPU's and GPU's on a laptop, but considering the speed of some CPU's and GPU's in laptops now, especially if you go for something like the AMD Fusion chipsets, if your not using it for intense gaming, just browsing the net and stuff, then that should be all you ever need anyway. As for HDD space, most laptops can have their hard drives upgraded to match desktops, either internally or externally, RAM can also be upgraded as well.

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by 4msetr / November 18, 2011 9:08 AM PST

You are going to get lots of plus and minuses of each type, and everyone is right. But If you consider a laptop computer, do check into the battery costs, replacement type and availability. You would be surprised at the cost of these batteries and portability dose come with a cost.

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Battery costs...
by darrenforster99 / November 18, 2011 3:51 PM PST
In reply to: Desktop/Laptop?

If the battery does go on a laptop though you can still use it, just plug it in at all times. I've had my laptop for over 5 years now, the battery has well and truly gone on it, but I still use it fine on mains all the time, but it's certainly more portable than lugging my desktop around with me everywhere.

And in that time I've replaced three parts in this laptop - back cover, DVD drive (they put a cheap one in which broke within 12 months, so I replaced it with a Matsushita (Panasonic) one!) and power supply, and re-installed Windows XP once because it went really slow (it's done the same thing again, but at the moment I'm using Puppy Linux on it because I really can't be bothered re-installing Windows and Puppy is doing just as good a job as Windoze, if not better!)

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Red herring
by richteral / December 2, 2011 6:04 PM PST
In reply to: Desktop/Laptop?

Battery cost is not a big issue any longer, due to alternative choices. It has been discussed elsewhere on CNET, and may be worth checking out. Also durability seems to have improved in leaps and bounds, and so has capacity.

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New PC - laptop or desktop
by terrys55 / November 18, 2011 9:26 AM PST

You will save a little money on initial purchase of a desktop, however the savings may be illussionary. I managed to buy an I5 display model laptop last august for the princly sum of $600. The RAM was upgradable to 8 Gig.

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by richteral / December 2, 2011 6:09 PM PST

Points taken; however, one needs to exercise caution when switching to Linux, since the choice of printer drivers may be limited and/or functionality not as comprehensive as that of Windows.

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Desktop or Laptop?
by kenberk / November 18, 2011 9:36 AM PST

The difference depends on what you want to do with the computer!
For the tasks that you described many new laptops will work perfectly.
Just follow these four steps:
1. Research - check a few online reviews
2. Weight your needs - Memory (4gb min), Hard drive (320gb min), screen, weight, battery life, usb ports (3 min).
3. TOUCH - go to the local Best Buy and TOUCH two or three brands, ask some questions, DON'T BUY YET!
4. Pick a model and find the price you want.

For me battery life, system memory, usb ports, and hard drive were important factors.

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It depends on your needs/wishes
by Dysalot / November 18, 2011 9:55 AM PST

Let me start off by saying either a mid level laptop or a budget-mid level desktop will suit your needs just fine.
I would probably suggest a desktop, but I will give you some pros and cons. I would suggest a laptop if space is limited, or if mobility is something that would help you.

If you have no plans on taking the laptop many places, and you have the space, go with a desktop. Desktop computers can be quite small these days. If you go with a laptop invest in a mouse and keyboard. If you have more space then you need consider a desktop computer with two monitors. That is if you often transfer information two and from multiple applications such as entering things in Excel. If you often have to minimize to get to the program you want and back, a two-monitor setup will seemingly more than double your productivity.

Also, if you are thinking about getting a laptop and hooking a monitor up to it (plus the keyboard and mouse) like someone else suggested, you will likely have less desk space than you would with a desktop computer.
Desktop advantages:
- Cheaper for the same performance
- Easier to repair/fix/upgrade
- Typically more screen real estate
- Dual screens can double productivity.

Desktop disadvantages:
- Takes up more space
- Uses more power
- Not mobile

Laptop advantages:

- Mobile
- Small form factor
- Low energy consumption

Laptop disadvantages:
- More expensive
- Smaller screen
- More costly to fix, limited in upgrade options

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Three more points
by nicdeses / December 3, 2011 8:20 AM PST

Tthree more points in the discussion

-Laptop ergonomy is terrible if you're used to a desktop with a keybord in a tray.

-If anything goes wrong on your laptop, it's way easier to take it under your arm and bring it where you bought it with the simple words "it doesn't work, fix it"

- All the desktops I owned were very dependable. Laptops were more fragile

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Time for a new PC,desktop or laptop? repy
by SiuilLaRune / November 18, 2011 10:04 AM PST

Well I'm just going to add my voice too the others, the difrence between a desktop and a laptop removing the obvious, one can be upgraded more that the other. I like to compare the them to sterio equipment you have the all in one systems that if one thing breaks the whole system needs to go to the repair shop(laptop) and the component system amp tape deck cd player ect. if a component breaks you either fix it or replace the bad component (desktop). Another similarity is a old time getto blaster or walkman(again Laptop) versus the home sterio system(desktop) one is highly portable and easy to move and use on the go, the other takes more planning to move and alot harder to use when moving it around. As far as being able to handle your life style either is able to handle the high speed gaming or the corperate life. There are laptops out their now that are just as fast and powerful as most desktops in all situations. The only thing I can say is that a desktop is able to have a longer running time you can leave it on doing it's thing 24-7 a laptop does not take kindly to that type of use and will burn though batteries and it's system quicker because of closer components and higher temps from lower air flow though the system. These are the things I have found. Best solution I run both a desktop for home use and a laptop for when i am on the road working or traveling. Last thing is as always you get what you pay for the more you spend the longer and beter the system will be and last.

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laptop vs desktop
by bassinbill42 / November 18, 2011 10:27 AM PST
Best advice: Go for a desktop. They will last longer, have a better and more responsive keyboard. If your computer is as old as you say it is, you might need to upgrade your mouse or keyboard if the new computer does not have the ps2 connector for a non-usb keyboard or mouse. My wife uses a laptop but we both agree by having a mobile device you give up longevity and the sensitivity of the touch pad will drive you nuts when you rest fingers on it you are not using and guess what: you just move the cursor with your idle fingers whether you wanted to or not. I have been in both worlds by being a former laptop user and now having a desktop for all my computing needs. Do you have a CRT monitor or a flatscreen monitor? if you like lower power use and a smaller footprint, go with a new flat screen monitor. With the end of the year at hand, you will find many good desktops out there. Look around cnet and see what they reviewed on desktops and your decision will be easier after doing so. Good luck.Bill P.
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by Marah429 / November 18, 2011 10:44 AM PST

I think Laptop better for you because you can take it with you everywhere and it takes less space... the advantage for the desktops that it can live more than the laptops I mean I don't know if you can find a laptop live for a 7 years or more ..
The laptops are more expensive than the desktops
I used a desktop then after several years I replace it with a laptop and I think that the laptop makes my life easier so I vote for the Laptops.
Good Luck Happy

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There's pros and cons on both fronts...
by Wolfie2k5 / November 18, 2011 10:51 AM PST

Generally, a desktop will have more processing power than the average laptop. With a desktop, you can specify components down to the triffling little details while most laptops will not allow you much in the way of options.
With a desktop, you can specify motherboard, CPU, GPU, RAM, hard drive(s), optical drive (CD, DVD, BluRay, etc..), case, monitor, and so on. With a laptop, you get whatever components the maker decides to make available. Sometimes, you can change things, but most often, your options are severely limited.
It will really boil down to what you personally want to do with the system. Do you want something you can sit at home at your desk and surf the web, email, write letters, spreadsheets and the like? Or do you want something portable? While it IS true that you can buy a high end, high powered laptop (ala Alienware) that's got decent horsepower, you're also going to pay a premium price.
Either way you go, check the applications you want to run and see if they will work under Win 7 64 bit without issues. You're going to find that Windows 7 is the operating system of choice and more often than not, it's going to be the 64 bit flavor. Given you want to run multiple apps at once, I'd go with more RAM.
I'd also opt for a decent GPU (video chipset). My video card isn't state of the art, by any stretch (Nvidia GT 220) but it has 1 GB of dedicated video memory (a feature lacking in MOST laptop configurations). I can run a lot of graphical apps in multiple windows and tabs without too much grief while many of my friends with laptops have a really hard time with the same task in only ONE window. The GPU is becoming more and more important, almost as important as CPU and RAM.

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Pros and Cons
by wippernm / November 18, 2011 10:53 AM PST

From reading your post the first question would be do you use or need a computer in your teaching area? If you do, you should think about a laptop for the portability
With that said, I build custom computers. The first question is why do you want a laptop? If the question above is in play the answer may well be YES. Laptops have small keyboards, normally; if you have big hands like me then this could be a problem typing. The touch pad is different than a mouse, it take some getting use to. Now both of these problems can be bypassed. You can add an external keyboard, monitor, and mouse. The problem is now you have a lot of equipment to carry around. Upgrading a laptop is hard and expensive and in most cases nearly impossible. If you don't buy the right laptop up front, you may no have what you need or want.
Desktops are tied to a location. They can be easily upgraded in almost every case. I personally don't recommend brand name desktops. They have specially made parts that are very expensive and sometimes you have to go to the manufacturer to get the part. If you buy a no-name, do some research on the insides. Make sure that you are not getting equipment that is limited from the start. If you buy smart, you can expand and upgrade as you can afford or you needs change. I always look at what different CPUs can be used. How many and what is the maximum RAM space. The types and number of slots. A good power supply. The rest is up for you future plans.
I hope this information is useful. I tried to make it a check list type approach. Good luck.

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Laptop or desktop? Depends your preferences
by chillmog / November 18, 2011 11:11 AM PST

You have a lot of good advice already but I don't think your question has been answered. You are the only one who can say if a laptop would be a better choice for you based on how you want to use your computer. The only clear advantages of a laptop are mobility and less desk space. If neither of these are important to you, go with the desktop.

If you do go for a laptop, choose very carefully. You can't swap components like you can with a desktop so you are stuck with what you have. An important part is the keyboard. Be sure you are comfortable with it. As an example, my personal favorite is the Lenovo X301 I am using right now. I also have an older model Dell laptop from work which is OK. I had a chance to upgrade the Dell to a new HP earlier this year but declined. The specs ran circles around the Dell - until I tried one. I couldn't stand the keyboard. Strictly a personal preference but important.

And no matter what you get, don't get misled by all the hype about faster processor speed. Processor speed is important but if you have a fast processor and a slow hard drive, it is going to spend a lot if time waiting for data from the hard drive. If you need to make a choice, go with the fastest hard drive even if you have to give up a little processor speed.

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Semi Retired and becoming of very old age =
by LucJPatenaude / November 18, 2011 11:20 AM PST

A desktop machine that you can have CPU power by having multi-core processing ability and plenty of bus speed required by your multi-tasking workload(minimum of 4 windows open simultaneously).
That type of machine is a minimum of a Quad core(4 cores) processor die with a minimum of 4,000 Mhz of bus speed(4 Ghz) onto its mainboard's chipset. These machines are quite common these days. Therefore, very easy to find and purchase at a very affordable price. 24 inches to 26 inches Widescreen monitors are quite affordable these days. The bigger the screen, the bigger the letters and numbers are onto its windows opened up onto the same screen.
Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 already pre-installed onto its hard-drive is quite required for someone whose programs and saved database needs a full Win XP compatibility. Once the O.S. is fully installed and activated, subscribe to for a full range of Device Drivers that need to be updated-upgraded right-a-way for optimizing your new PC's hardware for a full enjoyment of using your latest machine.
Happy Shopping for that early retirement PC! Wink

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To add to my own post like advice:
by LucJPatenaude / December 3, 2011 1:09 PM PST

Powerful and, yet sturdy proven Quad cores for reliable machines/desktops, the prices dropped drastically as for the last two months(mostly for making space in the warehouses for the 6 cores and 8 cores). You, now, can have, a very well configured one, for as low as 450$ and, maybe, even lower(Depends on the stores and their ability to keep a large inventory of these). Plus, these Quad cores might be on the clearance sales by mid January of next year for almost the same price, anyway.
Enjoy your early Christmas shopping, John!

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Desktop? Laptop?
by daddywalter / November 18, 2011 11:31 AM PST

The type of computer you get depends on what you want in the way of a computer. What I mean is, with a desktop you can get a much larger screen, a better keyboard, a mouse, more RAM (if you need it) and much more storage; but you can't just close the lid and take it with you.

If you want the best of both worlds without actually buying two computers, start by selecting a laptop that does everything you need it to do -- processor, RAM, video and hard drive are all adequate for your purposes. Then consider adding a docking station (or a multi-port USB hub) so you can hook up a desktop-style keyboard and mouse of your preference, and perhaps an external hard drive. For the laptop itself, choose a screen size that is good enough for portable use, then buy a larger desktop-style external monitor for use when you're at home; even the 17-inch screen on my laptop seems a little small for everyday use, but a 14- or 15-inch display is big enough for use on the road. (If you travel by air, a 13-inch screen might be an even better choice.) When all the peripherals are connected, your laptop is a desktop, for most practical purposes.

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Laptop vs. Desktop
by High Desert Charlie / November 18, 2011 11:55 AM PST

Hi John,

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Very wise
by Vibrant1 / December 2, 2011 9:54 AM PST
In reply to: Laptop vs. Desktop

practical.... simple advice: desktop for 'rock' and laptop for mobile.

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Desktop vs Laptop
by JTHannon / December 2, 2011 10:21 PM PST
In reply to: Laptop vs. Desktop

Thank you, High Desert Charlie! You have provided a lot of good insight here. John H.

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Tablet, laptop, or desktop?
by Doh_1 / November 18, 2011 12:55 PM PST

I like desktop computers because they last longer, are easier for adding or changing hardware if that's needed, and can be easily maintained. You also have a standard keyboard and mouse, and can have a large monitor to use. But ia desktop is not portable. The only reason that I would get a laptop or tablet is for portability, and if I wanted that, I'd get a MacBook Air for portable computing since I need a physical keyboard. So I'm very unlikely to get a tablet. And I know several people that got excited about laptops, but after they got one for their primary computer, were really struck by the limitations and struggled with them.

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