Difference Between Desktop & Laptop Computers

By Melissa Worcester

Many homes and most businesses often have more than one computer. Desktop computers were the first to be called "personal computers." But today many desktop computers are shared by several users, and laptops are more likely to be used by one person. Widespread Wi-Fi Internet access makes it easy to use a laptop in a variety of locations, but there are still many reasons to choose a desktop computer. Weigh the pros and cons before deciding which type of computer is best for you.


We have been using personal computers on our desktops since the early 1980s. The so-called "portable" computers followed, but true laptop computers were not made until the late 1980s. They had limited functions and were not standardized until the Microsoft Windows 95 operating system in 1995. Since then, laptop manufacturers have been refining laptop components to make them more portable yet still usable and comfortable.


Each of the two main categories of desktop computer and laptop computer is further subdivided into several sub-categories. Several types of desktop computers each serve a specific purpose. Tower computers have a case that is tall rather than wide and are for general purpose computing. Media center PCs sport a case designed to fit in a living room entertainment center and play, store and edit audio and video. All-in-one computers have a large monitor with a small computer box attached to the back to save space on a desk. Laptop computers are categorized according to size. Netbooks are very small and inexpensive laptops. Ultraportable notebook computers are a bit larger, much more expensive and more powerful than netbooks. Standard laptops have a mid-range price and average range of specifications. Desktop replacements are large laptops meant to be as powerful as a desktop computer with the added benefit of portability. Both laptops and desktop computers also come designed as gaming computers with powerful processors and extra graphics capability for video games.


All types of computers perform similar functions, but the difference is generally that desktop computers have more robust specifications and more computing power for the dollar compared to their more portable laptop cousins. Comfort is another function that is traded away in favor of portability when it comes to laptop computers, which generally have a touchpad that is not as easy to use as the mouse that comes standard with a desktop computer.


An important feature of all laptop computers is the battery, which is completely absent in desktop computers. The battery requires power conservation considerations that are not an issue with a desktop computer. Laptop computers also often have smaller keyboards which lack a numeric keypad and may have a less convenient layout than a desktop keyboard. On a desktop computer, you can easily install accessories such as a back-up drive, a second monitor and printer, but these features would inhibit the portability of a laptop.


The benefits of a desktop computer are lower cost and comfortable use at a desk. You can leave a desktop computer on all the time, giving you instant access when you need it. Portability is the main benefit of a laptop computer. You can use it wherever you want and bring it with you when you travel.


Many people have both a desktop computer and a laptop. If you have to choose, weigh the benefits according to your lifestyle and budget. Consider what you need to use the computer for. If you travel frequently but also want the comfort and power of a desktop computer, one solution may be to make a desktop your main computer and purchase an inexpensive netbook for travel.