Replace Desktop With Laptop?
I'm thinking about getting a new computer, because mine is several years old. My friends seem to love their laptops, but I'm not sure they can fully replace my trusty desktop computer. Can a laptop really do everything, and are they as fast and powerful as desktop computers?
Can I Replace My Desktop With a Laptop?
Desktop computers have several advantages over laptops. It doesn't matter if you're PC or Mac fan. You tend to get more computing power and features for your money. Desktops are more expandable than laptops. Parts and service are cheaper, and more readily available. But of course, it's much harder to take a desktop with you. Try lugging yours into a Starbucks and you'll get some pretty funny looks.
If you live a mobile lifestyle, you can simplify your life by ditching the desktop and using one powerful laptop for all of your needs. You may have to get used to a smaller screen, a cramped keyboard, and a touchpad instead of a mouse. But switching to a laptop won't limit what software you can run. If your favorite software or game runs on a desktop, it will work just the same on a laptop.
The only exception to that rule comes into play if you switch from a Windows-based desktop PC to a Macbook laptop, or from a desktop Mac to a PC laptop. Generally, software written for Windows doesn't run on a Mac, or vice versa. But there are some clever solutions that let you run Windows programs on your Mac desktop. See my related article Run Windows on Mac for details on that.
Laptop Features to Look For
Desktop replacement laptops are the most powerful of their breed. The best desktop replacement laptops come with features usually found only in desktops, like dual hard drives, expansion ports, and extra-large screens (up to 20 inches diagonally). For gamers, near-full sized keyboards and ports for mice or other analog controllers are essential.
Portable power comes with a price, of course. Desktop replacement laptops are several times heavier than the average laptop, in some cases weighing as much as a bowling ball. Battery life is generally limited to a couple of hours. And a maxed-out desktop replacement can cost more than three MacBook Air laptops.
Toshiba's Qosmio X775-3DV78 is the latest in the company's line of massive desktop replacements. It features a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 graphics, and dual hard drives with a combined 1.25 TB capacity. It's equipped with a Blu-ray drive and a 17-inch, 1,920 x 1,080-pixel display. It weighs 8 pounds and costs nearly $1,899, though.
For Mac users, the MacBook Pro is the way to go. The 15-inch model starts at $1799, and sports a 2.5GHz processor with 4GB of memory. The 17-incher bumps the price tag up to $2499. Avoid the MacBook Air, if you're trying to replace a desktop. It's a fine ultra-light laptop, but the biggest screen is a 13-inch, and it's also light on hardware specs.
The Alienware M18x ($1,999) comes with an 18-inch screen, an 2.5 GHz Intel Core i7 processor that can be overclocked to 2.8 GHz, two 750 GB hard drives, and 16 GB of 1,600 MHz DDR3 RAM. It also sports 5.1 speakers for tooth-rattling sound effects. Ports include 2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, 1 eSATA/USB, and an SD card reader. Networking capabilities include Ethernet, 802.11n WiFi, and Bluetooth. All of this weighs nearly 13 pounds without the AC adapter.
The Dell XPS 17 3D is a more modestly priced desktop replacement at $1,199. (The non-3D version actually starts at $899.) Its 17-inch screen is large enough for gaming without adding too much bulk or weight. A 2.0 GHz Intel Core i7 processor with 8 GB of RAM make the XPS a speedy system. Twin 500 GB hard drives provide plenty of storage. At 8.4 pounds withough AC adapter, the XPS is reasonably portable for short distances.
If you're looking for advice on buying a more powerful business-class machine, see my article on Seven Great Laptops for Business Travelers.
Other Hardware Considerations
Here are a few other practical considerations for those thinking about replacing a desktop PC with a laptop. A laptop may not have enough USB ports to plug in all your external devices, such as a printer, scanner, external hard drive, full-size keyboard, or mouse. It may not have a DVI or HDMI video port, if you want to plug in an external monitor, or connect it to a TV screen.
Many laptops, especially less expensive models, no longer have CD/DVD drives. If installing software from a CDROM, burning a CD or DVD, or listening to music CDs is important, look for a laptop that includes a combination CD/DVD drive. You may also need to consider a Blu-ray drive if you have movies on Blu-ray discs. External CD/DVD drives and Blu-ray players are also an option, assuming you have a free USB port to connect them.
If you don't have wifi at home, you'll also need a network jack so you can connect a network cable from the laptop to your Internet router. Oh, and if you need to send or receive faxes over a phone line, make sure there's a standard RJ-11 phone jack on your laptop. (For a better way to send faxes over the Internet, see my article Free Internet Faxing.)
On the up side, adding or replacing RAM memory sticks is much easier on a laptop. There's no need to open up a cavernous system unit filled with scary-looking wires, electrical components, and sharp metal edges. On a laptop, you just remove an access panel on the bottom, and snap the memory stick in or out. It's pretty much the same for hard drives. Loosen a screw on the access panel, and laptop hard drives slide right in without any wires or power cables to mess with.
So as you can see, there are tradeoffs that you'll have to consider if you want to replace that clunky desktop PC or Mac with a portable wireless laptop. Unless you're willing to shell out big bucks, desktop replacement laptops are generally not business class machines. They're usually built with students and gamers in mind, and will probably not satisfy the budget minded or the power user.
Do you have a desktop replacement laptop that you love? Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 3 Jan 2012
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