When your computer breaks down for good, you're left with a fundamental decision: what next? Replacing a desktop with a laptop is tempting and offers a lot of upsides, like portability and a sleek all-in-one design. However, there's more to consider, including how you use the computer, how important having an ergonomic setup is to your daily workflow, and even how much power your new computer will consume over time.
Pricing Relative to Power
There's no marked difference in performance between a desktop and laptop if your average day involves mostly running office programs and browsing the Internet -- thus, you can focus more on budget than performance. However, if you intend to run any resource-intensive programs, such as those necessary for graphics, audio or video editing, then you might be better off with a desktop. A high-powered laptop with enough screen space, solid 3D graphics power and high-quality audio is going to easily reach into four-digit prices. This isn't to say that a high-end desktop won't reach similarly lofty prices, but it's easier to find capable desktops at lower prices.
If you use a computer for several hours a day, you need to make sure you're using it in a way that's not detrimental to your overall health and well-being. A laptop is not ergonomic by its very design. According to Cornell University's Ergonomics Web, "...if the keyboard is in an optimal position for the user, the screen isn't and if the screen is optimal the keyboard isn't. Consequently, laptops are excluded from current ergonomic design requirements because none of the designs satisfy this basic need." Additionally, if you're using your laptop while sitting in a bed or on a couch, you're likely not sitting in a position that's optimal for your posture. A compromise is to use your laptop at a desk while connected to external peripherals such as a mouse and keyboard, and disconnect these when it's necessary to use the laptop on the go.
The annual cost of electricity when it comes to running your computer is no trifling matter: the average desktop consumes significantly more power than the average laptop, increasing your electricity bill and the overall cost of your machine. A 2011 Stanford University report notes that a laptop is more energy efficient than most high-tech power management systems on a desktop, and that "Over three years, replacing a desktop with a laptop can save on average of $300: over 80% of the energy cost and 32% of the total cost of ownership."
The University of Pennsylvania provides a comparison list of approximate power usage between desktops, laptops and netbooks. Desktop systems tested during moderate use ranged between 110 to 150 watts, with some as low as 60 watts and some as high as 190 watts. By comparison, laptops tested ranged between 30 to 50 watts, with some testing as low as 19 and some as high 60 watts.
Customization and Upgrades
If you like to get wrist-deep in your tech, desktops are great: they're easy to open by design, and swapping parts is generally straightforward. However, there is a caveat: at some point your computer will be too old to accommodate new hardware.
While there's no reason that you cannot open a laptop and change the hardware, the inside of a laptop is much more condensed and the case more complex to open. Components might be soldered in place and harder to remove, and harder to find than individual desktop components.
Risk of Future Damage
Whatever computer you invest in, you'll want it to last. A laptop is more susceptible to accidental damage -- such as drops or spills -- by virtue of being shoved in a bag and taken from work to home to the coffee shop. However, while desktops get moved around a lot less, they're still at risk for accidental damage in the long term. Desktops tend to get shoved under the desk and left to run. A desktop on the floor collects more dust that acts as insulator and can cause your desktop to overheat. Using your desktop as a foot stool is also ill-advised; accidentally kicking over your tower isn't any better than dropping a laptop.
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