Computer Buying Guide – The choices among desktop and laptop computers

August 26, 2009 at 1:41 am Leave a comment

Types

The choices among desktop and laptop computers can be confusing. New desktops can be smaller and less-conspicuous than some laptops. Meanwhile, some portable computers offer features and capabilities that rival traditional desktops. Here are the types of computers—and the pros and cons—you need to consider.

Desktops  |  Laptops  |  Netbooks

Desktops

The desktop computer has become just another appliance you use every day. However, considers these pros and cons of desktop computers in general:

Pros: Desktops start at a lower price. Dollar for dollar, they offer more than laptops in terms of hard-drive capacity. They are less costly to repair. They allow for a more ergonomically correct work environment.
Cons: They take up a lot of desk space, even with a thin LCD monitor.

Read more on how to choose desktops

Desktops are available in various styles and configurations, all designed to appeal to different tastes—and uses.

 
Budget

Budget desktop

Budget desktop

These computers meet the needs of most users and you can snag one for less than $300. All of their components will be scaled down. The hard drive will be relatively small, the processor won’t be the latest or fastest, and the case won’t offer much room for expansion. Graphics will probably be integrated, meaning no fast-action gaming. You probably won’t find extras such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and will probably have to pay extra for things like a monitor and a wireless mouse and keyboard. But you can expect one or two nice frills, such as a memory card reader. If all you do is word processing, Web surfing, and e-mail, a budget model will serve you and your wallet well.

 

Mid-priced

Mid-priced desktop

Mid-priced desktop

The key words for this level of computer are “more,” “bigger,” and “faster.” You’ll get a bigger hard drive, more memory, and more than likely a faster dual-core processor. You’ll also get lots of room to upgrade, with empty bays for adding drives, extra slots for adding RAM, and open slots for expansion cards. You can also expect a discrete graphics card, lots of USB ports, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and if it’s an entertainment system, a Blu-ray burner and TV tuner card. You can find a mid-priced computer for less than $1,000.

 

High end

High end desktop

High end desktop

The sky’s the limit for these, which are geared primarily toward gamers and digital video editors. You get the fastest quad-core processors, the most sophisticated graphics cards, multiple large hard drives, and faster, plentiful RAM. Cases are usually large—and, in some cases, offer a fair amount of bling—with lots of room for expansion. You could easily spend more than $5,000 for one of these machines.

 

All-in-ones

All-in-one desktop

All-in-one desktop

These incorporate all components, including the monitor, into one case. The components are tightly packed behind and underneath the display, virtually eliminating any possibility of expansion. Meant to be space savers, they’re also designed to look less stodgy than a traditional computer.

 

Mini, small-form-factor models

Mini desktop

Mini desktop

These models are more customizable and upgradeable than all-in-ones. They also save energy and material resources compared with regular desktops.

 

Laptops

Notebooks and laptops traditionally focus on portability and mobility, usually at the expense of capabilities and ergonomics. In general, consider:

Pros: Laptops can travel. They take up less desk space. They’re easily stowed after use. They can do anything desktops can do.
Cons: Laptops cost more than comparably equipped desktops. Our reliability surveys show laptops are more repair-prone than desktops. Components are more expensive to repair.

Read more on how to choose laptops

Here are the different kinds of laptops now available:

 
Budget

Budget laptop

Budget laptop

These laptop types have slower processors, with smaller hard drives and integrated graphics, but are suitable for routine office work and home software.

 

Workhorse

Workhorse laptop

Workhorse laptop

These have faster processors, discrete graphics, and more built-in devices, such as webcams, so there’s less need for external attachments. They also have larger screens and enhanced sound and video components for home-entertainment uses. They’re not lightweight or battery-efficient enough for frequent travelers.

 

Slim and light

Slim-and-light laptop

Slim-and-light laptop

These laptop types are for travelers. They are about an inch thick and weigh about 3 to 4 pounds. Some require an external drive to read DVDs or burn CDs.

 

Tablet style

Tablet-style laptop

Tablet-style laptop

These sit in your hand like a clipboard and have handwriting-recognition software. Most convert to a “normal” laptop with a keyboard.

 

Ultra portable

Ultra portable laptop

Ultra portable laptop

These are not much larger than a hardcover book. Many cut costs by eliminating hard drives, shrinking keyboards and screens, and running the free Linux operating system instead of Windows.

 

Netbooks

Netbook

Inexpensive and portable, netbooks are downsized laptops with a 10-inch or smaller screen that weigh 2 to 3 pounds and costs $300 to $400. They are designed chiefly for Internet use and light word processing. They are not meant to replace the full-functionality of your laptop or desktop. While some models run the Linux operating system as a money saver, all netbooks can run Windows XP:

Pros: Not much larger than a hardcover book, netbooks are lighter, smaller, and less expensive than most standard laptops. They’re very good for travel and might also make a good computer for a child.
Cons: Netbooks have small displays, keyboards, and touchpads. They have no optical drive, so you can’t easily install shrink-wrapped software or play CDs or DVDs. Their processors are slower than laptops’. Netbooks are a relatively new computer category, so we currently have no reliability data.

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