Laptops are easy to pack up and can be used anywhere. Desktop PCs are typically more powerful and offer better ergonomics but are tied to one place. The best way to decide between the two computing concepts is to consider your own needs.
'If you're not always going to be using your computer in the same place, then it makes more sense to buy a laptop,' says Bernd Rippel, team coordinator for electric products at TUV Rheinland, a German standards organization. 'If you need more power or are spending a lot of time working on the system, then you're generally going to want a stationary device.'
Examples of processing-intensive applications include video editing and high-end 3D games. Another important rule: 'Desktops are usually cheaper than a comparably equipped portable computer.'
Consumers should take comfort into consideration when choosing a machine, says Intel's Thomas Kaminski. 'Do I want to use my device only at a workstation, or will I want to use it on the couch too?' he asks. There's a reason that it's called a 'laptop.'
Both the classical desktop and so-called all-in-one devices, where all of the technology is packed into the monitor, are intended for use at a desk. Those who frequently bring their machine along to friends or family are better served with a mobile computer, Kaminski says.
When it comes to performance, there's more than just the CPU. Hard drive size, graphics and RAM must also be taken into consideration. 'The faster processors are better, it's true, but processors don't tell the whole story,' Kaminski says. 'If I'm just surfing on the internet and using Office programs, then maxing out the CPU isn't that important.'
If you plan on editing videos, though, then you'll need as much RAM as possible, as well as plenty of fast hard-drive storage.
Whether a laptop is serviceable for gaming use depends primarily on what kind of graphics technology is featured inside. Unlike with a PC, it's difficult to replace the parts inside.
If you want to play games with the laptop, then you'll need a graphics card that falls at least into the mid-line range for mobile chips, says Klaus Baasch, test editor at Chip computer magazine. For other users, a slower solution known as shared graphics which draws storage space from the computer's RAM is sufficient.
When looking to buy a computer, the question of ergonomics shouldn't be ignored. It's not a good idea to purchase a too small laptop. 'Daily work on the laptop is only fun if you're working with a 14-inch display or bigger,' says Klaus Baasch. The biggest laptops on the market come with screens boasting 15.6 inches on the diagonal.
Yet when you're dealing with a laptop, tilting the display does no more than alter the angle of viewing. Many PC monitors by contrast can be adjusted in height. The PC can also be moved in terms of monitor and keyboard placement.
None of which is available on the laptop, unless a docking station is used. They help even out some of the ergonomic deficiencies inherent to mobile computers, since docking stations can accommodate more than just monitors, keyboards and mice. In addition to connecting in other peripheral devices, a laptop set into the docking station receives power as well.