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Desktop vs. Laptop: Which is Better for You?

Ever since the first laptop was introduced to the world, the debate between laptops and desktops has been a nonstop affair. What might seem like a simple decision is actually more complicated than one might imagine.

Aside from choosing whether you want to go Mac or PC, you have to think through where you are going to use it, if you have space in your home for a desktop, and what the best computer you can get for your budget is.

The answers to these questions and others will help sway you in one direction or another, so let’s take a look at how to best decide whether a laptop or desktop is better for you.

Desktop vs. Laptop: Side-by-Side Comparison

Desktop Laptop
Price – Starting at $300 Price – Starting at $500
Windows 10/11, macOS, ChromeOS Windows 10/11, macOS, ChromeOS
Upgrading – Hard drive and RAM Upgrading – Hard drive, RAM, motherboard, graphics card
Ports – More options like USB-A, USB-C, Ethernet, HDMI Ports – Fewer options like USB-A, USB-C, Thunderbolt, HDMI
Camera – Built-in or third-party Camera – Built-in
Battery Life – N/A Battery Life – 3-21 hours

As we can see from a high-level comparison, laptops edge out desktops when it comes to built-in portability and battery power. But desktops tend to provide better value, more upgrade options, and extra ports for connectivity.

To help make the choice between laptop or desktop easier, let‘s dive deeper into the key factors:

Desktop vs. Laptop: What’s the Difference?


Trying to decide whether desktops or laptops provide better value or are friendlier on your wallet is perhaps the most difficult way to look at this comparison. Prices fluctuate frequently, often without warning.

Additionally, a $1,000 budget will buy you a much higher specced desktop compared to laptop. As a rule of thumb, desktops provide excellent performance for home and basic office use starting as low as $300-400. Similar performing laptops often start from $500.

High-end models showcase this difference even more strikingly. A $2,000 desktop will likely outmatch even far pricier laptops when it comes to gaming and productivity performance. According to overclocking experts I‘ve interviewed, off the shelf desktops around $2k can compete with laptops double or triple the cost.

No matter how you look at it, desktops win on price for both budget friendliness and high-end power. You simply get more performance per dollar compared to laptops.

Space and Portability

If portability is a top priority, laptops are the clear winners here. Their compact, portable design allows you to easily move around the house or take them anywhere on the go. Desktops with their separate components like keyboard and monitor simply aren‘t built for mobility.

Even sleek all-in-one desktop models are still bulky compared to even large 17-inch laptops. And you’d have to power off and disconnect everything carefully before attempting to move an all-in-one system to another room.

So when it comes to saving space and having computing on the go, laptop portability is hard to beat.

Screen Size

The laptop‘s portability does come with a tradeoff of smaller screen sizes however. The average laptop display falls between 13 to 15.6 inches, in order to keep weight manageable. Some gaming models may go up to 17 inches but not much beyond.

Desktop monitors have no such size restrictions, allowing you to buy 18, 27, even 34-inch and massive displays. This can make a big difference for tasks like graphics work as well as gaming and movies which are far more immersive on a large monitor.

If screen size is important to you, a desktop with an external monitor gives you far more flexibility than any laptop can.


One major limitation of laptops is upgradability. Due to their tightly packed interior, only the RAM and hard drive can be easily swapped out or added to. All other components like the CPU and graphics card are integrated onto the motherboard making upgrades near impossible.

Contrast this to desktops where swapping out parts is almost as easy as Lego blocks. As a 20 year tech product reviewer, I‘ve built many custom desktops by simply slotting in new RAM, graphics cards, cooling fans and more to upgrade performance. Most desktop manufacturers actively promote upgradability as a strong selling point too.

So if you want a computer that evolves with you over years as demands increase, desktops give you way more upgrade headroom than laptops.


The limited space of laptops also impacts available storage. Premium models today mostly start with a 256GB or 512GB SSD drive, with 1TB options quickly escalating prices further. And very few laptops allow adding more than one internal storage drive.

Meanwhile, desktops come well equipped for storage with fast 512GB SSDs or large 1TB+ hard drives fairly common even at mid-range budget levels. Many desktops also easily support configuring multiple storage drives for increased capacity with their spacious cases.

Hands down, it’s far cheaper and simpler adding more terabytes of storage on a desktop than a laptop.


When it comes to sheer processing power and speed, desktops consistently outpace laptops. The more spacious hardware chassis allows room for top-tier components like high-end GPUs and CPUs that laptops simply can’t physically fit.

So for gaming or intensive tasks like video editing, 3D modeling etc, a desktop simply gives you a lot more performance for your money. According to Puget Systems benchmarks, a desktop with Nvidia RTX 3070 GPU averages 43 fps when rendering complex Blender scenes. Compare that to just 12 fps for a premium laptop RTX 3070 GPU.

Mainstream laptops are still very capable for most basic schoolwork and office needs though. But for professional or demanding applications, the raw power a desktop provides beats physical limitations of laptop hardware.


One benefit of desktops over laptops is lower noise. Laptops rely on small internal fans to suck air through tight spaces and cool components. This forced airflow means laptop fans constantly spin fast and loud when workload is heavy.

Desktop cases on the other hand have more room for large quiet fans or even liquid cooling systems in high-end builds. With less cramped interiors, desktops mostly hum along gently without irritating fan noise.

So if you prefer a peaceful workspace, a desktop‘s quiet operation can be a nice change from laptop whirring.


Never needing to charge is a key perk of desktops. Laptop battery technology has certainly improved from just a few hours to anywhere from 8 to 20 hours of operation nowadays. But eventually batteries do deplete and searching for an outlet can interrupt workflow.

With a desktop you simply boot up and power through your day or week without ever worrying about losing juice mid-task. For some, this freedom over having to monitor battery levels and charger availability can be quite refreshing.


Laptops do come with higher risk of data or identity theft given their on-the-go nature. Whether it‘s spyware infected public WiFis or threat of device theft itself, portable computing opens up more security attack vectors. Though modern hardware encryption and software protections have helped.

Desktop users have less threats to guard against as systems mostly stay secured at home behind firewalls. No random strangers can easily access desktop hardware or inserted USB drives to spread malware. So desktops minimize many endpoint risks that laptop mobility enables.


Desktops open up more wired connectivity options is a plus. Faster LAN ethernet, bandwidth-heavy peripherals like gaming monitors or VR headsets, specialized music gear etc all interoperate well with desktops. Separate soundcards, USB hubs to add ports, or linking multiple monitors is straight-forward too.

Laptops do let you work wirelessly anywhere which also suits modern workflow. But when it comes to raw speed or juggling lots of accessories, desktops provide flexibility in wired connectivity that mobile form factors simply lack.

Desktop vs. Laptop: 5 Must-Know Facts

Here are some key differentiators between desktops and laptops at a glance:

  • Laptop upgrades are very limited, usually just to RAM and storage while desktops have far more component upgrade options
  • Desktops require no battery power so never need charging and won‘t suddenly run out of juice
  • Laptops have built-in webcams and mics while desktops require you to add third-party ones
  • You can create a makeshift desktop from your laptop by hooking up an external monitor plus accessories
  • Both laptops and desktops start with decent base specs nowadays like 8GB RAM and 256GB storage

Desktop vs. Laptop: Which Should You Buy?

Unfortunately there is no definitive answer here as both laptops and desktops can be the right choice depending on your needs and preferences.

However, in general desktops offer better future-proofing, power and overall value if mobility isn‘t required. Upgradability, raw performance, and pricing are big advantages, especially for PC gaming and other demanding tasks.

Meanwhile, laptops provide convenience and flexibility to work from anywhere. The all-in-one integrated keyboard, screen and components sacrifice some power for sleekness though.

Ideally, having an external monitor setup to use your laptop as a pseudo-desktop gives the best of both worlds. But if choosing purely one or the other, I‘d likely go desktop for most stationary home office needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much should you spend on a desktop or laptop?

For desktops, around $750 can get a very capable mid-range system while laptops really start delivering at the $1000+ mark. But you can also get basic everyday models on both sides for $500 or less.

Who should choose a laptop over desktop?

If you value portability to work anywhere whether it‘s moving around the house or while traveling, a laptop better fits those needs. Students who shuffle between dorm, classes and the library are prime laptop users.

For whom do desktops make more sense?

Those based mostly at home who want more power and computing for the dollar are well served by desktops. If you primarily work from a desk and don‘t need portability, a desktop brings better specs and upgrades.

Can you upgrade laptops or desktop easily?

Upgrading laptop hardware beyond storage and RAM gets extremely tricky due to tight space constraints. For desktops, swapping out components like graphics cards, power supplies etc is straight-forward even for amateur builders.

Which operating system – Mac, Windows or Chromebook is better?

This mostly comes down to personal preference and work or school software requirements rather than the laptop versus desktop form factor. Designers tend to prefer MacBooks while Windows PCs offer greater hardware options. Light browsing centered Chromebooks provide extreme affordability.

I hope this detailed yet easy-to-understand exploration of laptops versus desktops helps guide your buying decision! Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions.