What Is the Purpose of a Laptop?

By Aaron Parson

No matter how you use computers, the overarching reason to own a laptop is portability. Unlike smartphones and most tablets, laptop computers run the same programs as their desktop counterparts, so you can take your work and entertainment with you wherever you go without relying on mobile apps. Depending on your needs, you can either own a laptop alongside a desktop computer or replace your desktop entirely.

Working on the Go

When you own a laptop, you can take projects between work and home without sending yourself files or using cloud storage -- no more forgetting a file at the office and having to drive back to retrieve it. If your job frequently takes you out of town, a laptop carries your work to conventions, client meetings and your hotel without relying on another person's computer. Before buying a laptop for work, talk to your company's IT department, if it has one: Your company may have rules about connecting personal computers to the company network. If you're lucky, your company might cover part of the laptop's cost.

Laptops for Student Life

Laptops make it possible to bring a computer to classes and lectures to work on papers, do online research and take notes. In addition to avoiding the risk of illegible notes by typing, most people can type far faster than they can write by hand: According to a study by occupational therapist Dave Bledsoe Jr., people can write about 68 letters per minute. This speed pales in comparison to the average typing speed of about 39 words per minute, according to another study by staffing specialist Teresia Ostrach. If you live in a dorm or a small apartment, choosing a laptop over a desktop saves you several square feet of valuable space.

Portable Gaming and Entertainment

A traditional gaming PC consists of a large tower chassis, a high-end video card and, for the enthusiasts, extravagances such as water-cooling and case-lighting. Laptops can't match the power or customizations of top-tier desktop computers, but gaming laptops include video cards capable of running modern games, though not always at the highest settings. Even laptops that rely on the integrated graphics hardware in Intel's fourth-generation processors work well for many games, offering twice the graphics performance of the previous generation. With these machines, you can bring your games to a friend's house, on vacation or to a convention. If your idea of relaxation is a bit more hands-off, laptops also serve as portable video players, streaming videos, TV shows and movies from sites such as YouTube, Netflix and Hulu when connected to the Internet. Some models also include a DVD or Blu-ray drive for playing movies.

Surviving Without a Desktop Computer

Laptops can serve another purpose in addition to portable computing: replacing your home computer. Most laptops include a monitor port as well as USB ports, so you can plug in an external screen, keyboard and mouse when at home and use the laptop as if it were a desktop computer. Relying entirely on a laptop won't work for everyone, however. If you need the absolute fastest processor, a top-of-the-line video card or other specialty hardware such as a professional sound card for recording, stick to a desktop computer except when traveling.