What Are the Characteristics of a Laptop?

For those that use computers often, determining that a piece of electronic technology is a laptop is an easy thing to do, but what exactly makes it a laptop? Though telling one from a desktop computer by sight is not difficult, knowing the exact reasons laptops are different from other computers is more than a question of size.

The laptop in this image is a medium-sized laptop by today's standards.


The primary function of a laptop is to be a computer that is capable of easily changing locations. Traditional desktop computers contain a great multitude of fragile parts which can be easily damaged when attempting to move the computer, especially if movement is frequent and lengthy. In addition to this, desktops take a considerable amount of setup time, and once in place they cannot be quickly moved. Laptops solve this problem by compacting the parts of a computer into a smaller package which is designed to protect the computer parts. Laptops are usually foldable and made of only two pieces -- the laptop itself and the laptop charger, which is detachable.

Dimensions and Weight

Directly related to a laptop's portability are its dimensions and weight. As laptops have progressed and become more advanced, dimension and weight have changed from being simple physical facts into major selling points for laptops. Dimension-wise, most laptops boast screens around 15 inches across diagonally, with the largest currently sitting around 20 inches and the smallest going as low as 5.6 inches across. When looking at weight, the difference between the lightest and heaviest is even greater, with the lightest laptops weighing less than two pounds and the heaviest being around 11 lbs.


Though they continue to grow in power with each year, the technical specifications of a laptop are still much more limited in scope than their desktop counterparts. This is due both to the need to fit an entire computer's worth of hardware in a small space and the lack of current technology to shrink some high-end hardware to such a small size. While as of 2011 desktop computers frequently boast processing speeds greater than 3.5 Ghz, the fastest laptop processor clocks in at 2.5 Ghz. In addition, graphic processing units are also much less powerful on laptops. Though desktops can be customized to hold nearly endless amounts of RAM and hard-drive space, laptops in recent years have been able to contain much larger amounts of both types of memory than they previously could.


One major difference between a laptop and a desktop computer is the type of inputs available on laptops. Due to their portability, a standard computer mouse is not included with most laptops, and instead laptops use variations of touch sensitive trackpads, tracking points (little rubber nibs in the center of the keyboard), or tracking balls for mouse-input. Laptop keyboards are often somewhat smaller than those of desktops, almost always losing the adding machine-style numbers on the right side of the keyboard and thus shrinking the overall size.