In 2010, then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs claimed that technology was entering the "post-PC era." Due to the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets, many people have indeed turned away from considering a desktop computer a necessity. Even in business, tablets and laptops work well alongside -- or in place of -- a traditional workstation. These alternatives offer more mobility than a desktop setup, but the desktop PC workstation still provides the most power for the least money.
Portability and Flexibility
The primary benefit to owning a laptop or tablet is clear: you can bring the machine with you to meetings, conventions or even take it between home and the office to work seamlessly in both locations. Consider whether, if you primarily used a workstation, you would also need a portable computer to make presentations or to work on the road. If so, skipping the workstation and using a laptop exclusively would save you the cost of a second machine.
Ergonomics and Peripherals
When paired with an ergonomically sound desk and chair, a desktop computer offers a more comfortable working environment than sitting with a laptop on your knees or hunched over a tablet screen for hours. Even if you do choose a portable option, however, you can still work at a desk; most laptops support connecting a regular desktop monitor, keyboard and mouse. Tablets also work with some external input devices, though compatibility varies from product to product.
Hardware Specs and Customizations
In general, top-of-the-line desktop computers have more power than premium laptops, and laptops usually cost slightly more than desktop PCs of equal power. Choosing a desktop workstation also gives you more freedom to add hardware later, such as a professional-level graphics card for modeling or a sound card for producing high-quality audio. You can buy laptops designed as workstations, but most off-the-shelf laptops do not include these parts or support hardware additions. Tablets also don't allow for hardware modification, but mobile apps are designed with stock tablet specs in mind.
As long as you have the necessary hardware specifications, laptops can run the exact same programs as desktop PCs. Very few tablets can use software that was specifically designed for the Windows environment, though. Productivity software on tablets has come a long way, with Microsoft releasing versions of Office programs for mobile devices, but if your job requires industry-specific software, make sure the apps you need exist before deciding to work exclusively from a tablet. For Android and iOS apps, check the Google Play Store or iTunes Preview on the Web (links in Resources). If you're looking into a Windows RT tablet, preview available apps through the Store app on any Windows 8 PC.
- CNET: Steve Jobs at D8: Post-PC Era Is Nigh
- HP: Desktops Vs. Laptops: Which Is Right for You?
- Nvidia: Mobile Workstations
- PCWorld: Let Go of That Laptop: The Ultimate Guide to Making a Tablet Your Main Computer
- Google Play: Apps
- ITunes Preview: App Store
- University of Minnesota: Laptop Ergonomics
- Microsoft Office: Office on Mobile Devices