Desktop or laptop?

Choosing a new computer can be exciting but also expensive, so it's definitely worth doing a bit of research to help pick the right one. With so many options on the market you need to decide if you need a desktop PC, an all-in-one or a laptop PC.

While laptops allow you to work on the go and take your entertainment library with you, desktop PCs can give you a lot more processing power and a more reliable performance for a range of tasks. However, 21st century computer technology is more advanced than ever, with super-fast, performance-led laptops, tablets with enhanced battery life and all-in-one desktops narrowing the gap and allowing you more freedom of choice.

It's not surprising it can be difficult to decide whether to go for a home computer or a portable device, so take a look at our guide for an easy way to find the option most suited to your lifestyle.

What do you need from your new computer?

We all have different computing needs: movie buffs want huge, crystal clear screens for a home theatre experience; PC gaming fans require extra processing power for hours of gameplay; and social networkers just need a basic device that provides quick and easy access to apps.

Let's take a look at some of the major factors in more detail:

Power or Portability?

Traditionally, customers have had to choose between power and portability when looking at computers and laptops. On average, CPUs (central processing units) are packed into a small space in laptops and don't have much room to breathe and cool down. Desktops on the other hand, have more physical space to use and can pack in stronger CPUs as they can cool off quickly.

Processor

The processor is the central system of the machine, fuelling the speed at which it performs your daily tasks (and more bespoke ones). Processing speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz) and Intel and AMD are the two main manufacturers.

Premium dual core or quad core processors will power advanced programs on a high performance machine - look for these specifications if you use your computer professionally. Basic processors are found in most inexpensive computers and these are adequate for completing simple, daily tasks. Today, there are various choices for both PC computers and laptops, as high-end portable models with Intel Core i5 or i7 and AMD A8 will offer a good amount of power for multi-tasking.

Memory

Random Access Memory (RAM) is the computer's temporary storage location, which is stored, accessed and used during each session. RAM is measured in Megabytes (MB) and Gigabytes (GB), with 4GB being the average size and up to 8GB serving premium laptop machines. Designers often rely more on desktop and all-in-one machines because their RAM can range between 12GB and 16GB.

Hard Drive

The hard drive is the hub for all your permanently saved data. If you plan on storing lots of media files, numerous projects and complex programmes, you should aim for a desktop or laptop model with 500GB or 1TB. Otherwise, a 250GB one should do the trick for general web surfing and small-scale business storage. Remember, even if you have a laptop with limited storage, you can always add to this with an external hard drive where needed.

Cloud storage is another way to access your data; anywhere at any time. You can buy a less expensive model with a smaller HDD (hard disk drive) or SSD (solid state drive) and set up an online cloud account for saving photographs, videos, music and other large media files. This solution means that your personal documents are safe even if you damage or lose your PC, and they can be accessed from another machine with ease.

Operating systems

Before deciding on a specific desktop, laptop or tablet, consider what operating system you prefer. You might be used to working with a particular OS or have specific requirements.

The two major operating systems are Microsoft Windows and Apple OS, although you can choose a bare bones PC and install an advanced system. Windows is the most popular choice as it is versatile enough to meet most needs. Apple is a powerful option, perfect for using creative programs like InDesign, Photoshop and movie making software.

In recent years, the Google Chrome OS has grown in popularity, providing a simple, fast and secure system, which is mainly web-based, allowing you to automatically save files to the cloud. Chromebooks run this software and are perfect for surfers and those who need a second computer for out of the office. They are not as strong on traditional word processing and editing software as they don't run Microsoft Office or Photoshop, but they do carry plenty of online storage so it's worth checking out Google's suite of similar programmes before you make your decision.

Which device is for you?

So what's the bottom line? Let's take an overview of the pros and cons of desktops, laptops and tablets.

Desktops

You will usually get a better performing computer for your money if you buy a desktop PC over a laptop. It might take up more physical space, but a wide screen with powerful graphics and a generous hard drive is great if you are serious about gaming or performing creative tasks.

Mobility is a limitation of desktops but ask yourself: do you need a laptop or just portable files? You can transport saved files on flash drives or online storage, which is handy if working from home is a regular occurrence.

There is more space inside a desktop PC, making repairs easier. Components are also more readily available and relatively simple to install, such as upgrading a graphics card or adding more RAM. In this sense, desktop PCs can be a better long-term investment.

Laptops

The ease of taking a laptop around with you is definitely its major appeal. Although the battery life is limited per session, you can choose a model with a long battery life of six hours or more.

Repairing a laptop can be quite expensive, as the small parts need to be handled by an expert and the nature of a portable laptop means it can be more susceptible to knocks and falls. Smaller screen sizes can also be an issue for those who require a big display, but many laptops do come in a range of screen sizes generally from 11 inches to 17 inches and you can always hook it up to a TV if nobody in the household minds, or connect to a second larger monitor for when working from home.

Webcams come already built into laptops, which is great for those who use Skype and similar communication apps a lot.

Tablets

These ultra-portable lightweight devices work like a large smart phone, featuring touch screen interaction, downloadable apps and an internet browser. Most operating systems optimise the touch screen interface of tablets but they certainly are nowhere near as powerful as laptops. However, you can store music and stream TV shows - perfect if you own a desktop but need a cheaper option for when you're on the go. If you regularly use word processing functions, then 2-in-1 laptops and tablets come with a detachable keyboard for your convenience.

In a nutshell: you can combine mobility and functionality, if you are prepared to invest in a high-end laptop model. However, if it's longevity and a large capacity that you want, a cheaper desktop is perfect.

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