Desk­tops vs lap­tops

Te Awamutu Courier - - News - BY MATT BENT­LEY Waikato Home PC Sup­port

Should you buy a desk­top or a lap­top com­puter? The an­swer is com­plex and nu­anced, but some­times ob­vi­ous. The ob­vi­ous part is, do I want to move my com­puter around? Do I want to use it in mul­ti­ple rooms, or on va­ca­tion? If so, buy a lap­top. Done. But there are is­sues with lap­tops — they burn out faster, are more eas­ily dam­aged and much harder to re­pair. Let’s go into each of those in de­tail. Why do they burn out faster?

Imag­ine you’re cramped in a small room without any ven­ti­la­tion. You’re go­ing to get hot, yes? That’s the sit­u­a­tion with ev­ery com­po­nent of ev­ery lap­top: there’s lit­tle-to-no room for air to cir­cu­late, hence com­po­nents tend to heat up much more quickly and cool down more slowly. Over time the heat-ex­pan­sion/ cold-con­trac­tion cy­cle of elec­tronic hard­ware leads to mi­crofis­sures in cir­cuitry, and once those fis­sures get wide enough your com­puter will start flak­ing out. This is why older com­put­ers can some­times show signs of in­sta­bil­ity at hot­ter or colder times of year.

Of course, this hap­pens for desk­top com­put­ers as well, but with lap­tops the heat/ cold dif­fer­ence is more ex­treme, so com­po­nents wear out faster. Hard­ware man­u­fac­tur­ers com­pen­sate for this by build­ing de­vices for lap­tops which use less power, often at the ex­pense of per­for­mance. So lap­tops will al­most al­ways run slower than their desk­top coun­ter­parts.

Then again, some desk­top hard­ware man­u­fac­tur­ers do this as well. Name brands like HP, Com­paq and Dell build desk­top com­put­ers with lower-power, low­er­per­for­mance com­po­nents so that they can put in the cheapest, low­est-wattage power sup­plies avail­able. This can be ben­e­fi­cial in of­fice en­vi­ron­ments where you don’t want to be chew­ing through too much power, but after 3-4 years ca­pac­i­tors in power sup­plies often fail to sup­ply the min­i­mum power nec­es­sary to run the com­puter.

Now, why are lap­tops more eas­ily dam­aged? Well you drop them, right? You step on them, they fall off the bed, the sofa, or the whoopie cush­ion you pre­car­i­ously balanced it on be­cause you thought it would be hi­lar­i­ous when some­one tried to type on it . . . you get the pic­ture. But they also have weaker power sup­plies, so power spikes get through more eas­ily and can dam­age hard­ware. Then again, desk­top com­put­ers have no bat­ter­ies, so they’re more vul­ner­a­ble to black­outs and brownouts than lap­tops.

You can reg­u­late the power com­ing into the desk­top com­puter by buy­ing a UPS (un­in­ter­rupt­ible power sup­ply — es­sen­tially an ex­ter­nal bat­tery), but that’s an­other $70-200 out of your pur­chase bud­get. Worth it though, in terms of in­creas­ing the lifes­pan of a com­puter, par­tic­u­larly if you live out in the coun­try where power prob­lems are more fre­quent.

Lastly, why are lap­tops harder to re­pair? Hard drives and mem­ory (the two com­po­nents most likely to fail in a com­puter) are eas­ily re­place­able, in most desk­tops and lap­tops. But ev­ery­thing else in a lap­top is much harder to fix or re­place than in a desk­top com­puter — moth­er­boards, screens, key­boards, touch­pads, wire­less de­vices, CMOS bat­ter­ies, CPU ther­mal grease and power units. Many com­po­nents for lap­tops are cus­tom-made for that par­tic­u­lar model, so whereas you might spend $50 on a re­place­ment moth­er­board for a desk­top, you’re more likely to spend $150 on a re­place­ment for a lap­top model, if you can find one.

So to sum­marise: lap­tops are more ex­pen­sive, slower, harder to re­pair, more likely to fail, and more ex­pen­sive to fix. Desk­tops are faster, less ex­pen­sive and eas­ier to fix, pro­mote bet­ter user pos­ture, but get af­fected by power fail­ure more eas­ily. So if you to go places with your com­puter, get a lap­top (or a tablet). Oth­er­wise buy a non-name-brand desk­top com­puter and maybe a UPS to go along with it.

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