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  • Dan Cummins

Should I Get a Laptop or Desktop?

Updated: May 25, 2022

Despite advancements in wireless technology making laptops more robust and desktops more ergonomic, the age-old question of which is best continues to be a frequent talking point among offices of all types. When considering buying a laptop vs a desktop, it is far more than just a question of portability vs performance.

| It is entirely a question of workflow. |

It may be obvious that not every job in a company is the same, but what may be slightly less obvious is that dif

ferent jobs require different tools. At least in the small-business realm, the image of rows of cubicles filled with identical computer setups is becoming an increasingly rare sight. While there is an attractive economy-of-scale to maintaining a fleet of interchangeable machines, many small businesses have more specialized concerns across multiple teams. Here we will discuss a few categories where portable devices have the edge, and a few where they do not.

PORTABILITY: While this is common knowledge of course, it still must be acknowledged that the ability for a user to take their workstation either to any location in an office or literally anywhere in the world with an internet connection has been a game-changer in too many industries to count. With the percentage of employees at both the upper- and lower- ends of the hierarchy working remotely at ever-growing rates, the utility of reliable and solid laptop computers is as high as ever. Advances in increased battery life as well as raw performance mean that users are tethered to their desks less with each year, especially for urban home-office setups where space is a premium.

PERFORMANCE: Unsurprisingly, for all but the most-specific uses, most consumer grade laptops are typically more than robust enough to handle typical office tasks such as email, document-creation, web-based applications, etc. Even specialized CAD programs like Revit or AutoCAD are not off-limits due to advances in GPU architecture motivated by the gaming industry. It's now possible to get desktop-graphics performance out of portable computers that was previously unavailable just a few short years ago.

LONGEVITY: This is one area where laptops, by nature, will inevitably be incomparable to desktops, for two reasons.

1. By virtue of being carried around either by hand or in bags and briefcases, laptops are obviously more prone towards physical damage - drops, spills, weather, etc. A desktop that sits on or under a desk bears little such risk. One of the reasons there is virtually no prevalent market for refurbished laptops compared to their larger cousins is the reality that most laptops don't last long enough physically to earn a 2nd life under a new owner. A cracked chassis or screen is often prohibitively expensive to repair compared to the cost of a new unit.

2. Desktops retain a modular approach to their construction that is a holdover from the earliest days of home computing. While the average computer user probably does not open the case of their desktop more than once in the life of the computer, the potential is there. From a business-IT perspective, the ability to swap and replace a faulty or outdated component can be a huge cost-saver when compounded over dozens or hundreds of machines over a number of years. From replacing a dead power supply in five minutes, to migrating a user to a larger or faster SSD, there are myriad ways that the modular approach to desktop components means extending the useable life of a PC by months or years.

COST: In this area, the adage "you get what you pay for" is the deciding factor. Laptops do, by a not-insignificant margin, cost more than desktops of like performance and specs. They also typically need to be replaced sooner and/or more frequently. The added R&D cost to fit all manner of proprietary components into competitively smaller packages is a huge factor. In essence, the added cost buys portability, flexibility, and aesthetics. This comes at the cost of upgradeability, physical longevity, and general scalability.

STRATEGY: Don't be afraid to mix and match desktops and laptops for each team or employee in your office. Giving users the ideal tools for their job is key towards efficiency. For office employees who seldom work remotely, laptops may not be the most cost-effective. The cumulative cost of buying and maintaining unnecessary hardware may or may not be worth the added productivity that comes with being mobile.

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