Replace Desktop With Laptop?

Category: Laptops

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.
Desktop Replacement Laptops

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...

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Most recent comments on "Replace Desktop With Laptop?"

Posted by:

03 Jan 2012

I do have a laptop in place of a PC because we travel and can't afford both. I plug my printer, monitor, web cam, and keyboard into it along with a USB extender port. (don't know the proper name for it.) When we leave on a RV trip I unplug everything and off we go. I do take my cordless mouse along. This works very well for me.

As a retired teacher, I DO like your comments to the right of this box!!!! Grammar IS important but am afraid it is no longer considered so by most folks today.

Posted by:

Cathy Stucker
03 Jan 2012

Bob, I switched to a laptop as my primary computer several years ago, when I was traveling a lot. In those pre-cloud days, it was difficult keeping files and email synced between a desktop and a laptop, so I just moved everything to the laptop and never looked back.

I am comfortable with my 17" screen and I like the keyboard on my Dell laptop. The one thing I would like to see is, as you mentioned, more USB ports. It seems that the whole world runs on USB connections these days!

Posted by:

03 Jan 2012

When I saw the title for this article, I was hoping for some conversation on batteries in a "laptop as desktop" environment. To me, that is the biggest issue. I treat my laptop as a desktop and go for many days without using the battery. If I do want to go mobile, it seems as though the battery depletes way sooner than it's rating. I have had the bright idea to intentionally cycle the battery thinking that might help, but I invariably get distracted to other tasks away from the PC and find a powered down laptop when I return. Am I missing something real obvious here?

Posted by:

03 Jan 2012

I love my LG P210. It's a million times better than the netbook I previously had, which really wasn't powerful enough to be my main computer. But the LG, with its I5 Dual Core processor is does everything I could want it to, and with alacrity. And it's so small and light that I happily cart it with me wherever I'm going.

Posted by:

03 Jan 2012

I have both a PC and a laptop. Both get used extensively. I think it comes down to how much you need/want the portability of a laptop.

I think that when my PC quits on me I will probably replace it with an iPad (or some such thing) and eventually ween myself away from my laptop.

I should note that I use neither of my computers for heavy duty business purposes, and I'm sure some near future tablet will fill the bill for me. Asus already has the Transformer and my kid loves it. Seem to be the way to go for me.

Posted by:

03 Jan 2012

If the desktop being replaced is several years old you can pick up a decent laptop (even 17" screen) for between $500-$600 with plenty of room for expansion, a CD/DVD/Bluray drive, and all the USB ports, WIFI, bluetooth, etc you could need. Don't spend $2k for a top of the line system unless your applications require it. For the most common user it's a waste of money.

Posted by:

Vanita S.
03 Jan 2012

Once again you've hit right on what I was thinking of doing and gave me some things to consider! My desktop needs some tune-up and such work done so I was considering replacing it with my HP Paviliondv5
laptop have my older hard drive cleaned up and made into an external harddrive now I think I better look into this more! I do not use computer a lot but do have quite a few photos I have taken and they eat up room fast. Think I best go buy you a Snickers bar! Thanks!

Posted by:

04 Jan 2012

It's more tricky hooking up a laptop to a big screen television than it is hooking up a desktop due to the dual monitor situation.

Posted by:

Tom Rader
04 Jan 2012

I replaced my desktop w/ a laptop ~ 3 yrs ago. I travel in an RV 6-8 mos/yr. No need to sync, etc w/ my set up. I simply walk my laptop and external monitor(22 inch) to the RV along w/ a wireless full size keyboard and mouse. A 4 port USB plug- in gives me plenty of USB ports (6). I also have an external HD for BU and DVD optical drive for my wife's notebook. I use a wireless modem and air card for internet connectivity for both of us (our own hot-spot). An external antenna/amplifier adds bars to the air card in marginal areas. Connectivity is slower than hard wire @ home but more than adequate.

Posted by:

04 Jan 2012

Over the last 15 years or so, I had a number of desktops, most of them I built. Ok, naturally, home brew laptops are problematic but most of the time, I could have gotten a laptop and used them instead. I always rationalized that desktops are upgradable, but for the most part I never upgraded anything. As for software, including OSes, I have upgraded. But, I never upgraded any hardware. "Upgrade" means changing out and replacing, or adding in. The issue revolves around inertia.

Ok, say I want to upgrade the graphics accelerator. Good, I find one and I have the money, so then I'm looking around for the best prices. Then I find out to really get the most out of the graphics card, I need to get the latest CPU, but the CPU won't fit in the socket, so I have to get a new motherboard. Well, the old one still works and I can always convert it to a Linux/FreeBSD server. Since the old one works, I might as well get a new case and power supply and to really get things working I need newer types of memory. Now to see the new great rendering of the graphics card, I need a new monitor. This is the issue, in the end, I've never upgraded the old one, I had just now built a new separate machine. The old one has the old hardware and the new one has all the latest greatest hardware.

You can say I upgraded, but I replaced everything, and I mean everything, including the case. Now where is the desktop "upgradeability" when I've got an entirely new one? With the exception of the power supply (provided it has enough rail capacity) and the case (provided you didn't get a bigger motherboard), could have be used instead, but for the new machine, I didn't have enough rail capacity and I got a bigger motherboard (for the memory expansion, which I loaded up, from build day, and the SATA RAID, which I also loaded up from build day. So, now I have two machines. FInally, the new one is old, and the whole cycle repeats. So, the old one is older. Now this becomes a space problem. I once had 4 generations of machines. I've cut that down to one. But along the way, I've gotten laptops and I don't care that I can't "upgrade;" I get a new laptop. If the laptop lasts 3 years, I upgrade by buying a new one, clean the old one up and reinitialize it and sell/donate/give to the kids. Therein lies the false economy. Some newer software won't run on the old machine, for example OS X Snow Leopard won't run on any non-Intel Mac. The cool GUI in Windows 7 won't run on the old hardware well, it runs but not without upgrading. So, no matter what you get, unless you are a graphics designer (even non-professional, i.e. hobbyist) or a serious gamer, go to the top of the line and then step down a notch or two and within that notch, step down some of the options. Generally, your local Best Buy will have that model. For us, there are three Apple Stores near us so, at least for the atmosphere, I get my Apple stuff from the Apple Store (since Best Buy sells at the same price). I mail order my Windows laptops. Yes, I have a bunch of laptops, both Mac and Windows and even a couple of Linux laptops. But, they don't take up that much space when closed. Consider that I wanted a bigger monitor than my 15"ers so I get one and hook up a larger monitor to the laptop. But the other thing is that I do carry my laptops around. Most stay at home, but once we had a power outage which also means that our ISP is out. We just head out to McDonalds and use their Wi-Fi. But now I have my own hotspot so we can stay at home. Also, all my electronics sit on UPSs (have a bunch of UPSs) so for the next power outage, we can stay at home. But pre-personal hotspot, we could never take the desktop to McDonalds.

Posted by:

Bennett B.
04 Jan 2012

When I reboot my Dell XPS laptop usint Win7, my desktop icons have started to flicker, turn white, and then reset before completing the reboot process. They only started doing this a few days ago. I tried restoring to a previous point but that did not help.

I did remove the iconcache file and Win 7 restored it. It's helped some and the desktop reboot is faster now, but I still get some white icons for a few seconds.

In WinXP we used Tweak IU to rebuild the icons. I suspect that I need to do this for the Win7.

Do you have an article on how to do this or know how to fix it?

Posted by:

Armando Garcia
04 Jan 2012

Would you please elaborate on the MacBook Air being light on hardware specs. I have been rather impressed with this ultra-light laptop that uses flash memory. Instant boot. I can live with the small screen and no hard drive. I have never owned an Apple but want to cross the learning curve since I am fed up with Microsofts OS experments. I am currently using a Toshiba Satellite series and am ok with it's performance.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In its class, you can't beat the Air. But it has a smaller screen, less processor power, less memory, and a lot less hard drive than the MacBook Pro line.

Posted by:

04 Jan 2012

At work we use docks for our laptops. I have plenty of USB ports to use for my ergo keyboard (I hate typing on a laptop keyboard), mouse, printer, ext hard drive, and use a full size monitor. I have one on my desk at home as well. It gives me the flexibility of the laptop and the convenience of a desktop. It works extremely well for me.

Posted by:

04 Jan 2012

I ditched my desktops 7 years ago and have never looked back. More than happy with the portability o f my laptops and not being tied to a desk and chair every time I want to do something. I'm also not a PC gamer, so that helps.

Posted by:

Thom Derry
05 Jan 2012

I recently changed from my old Dell Inspiron desktop to an HP Pavilion dv7 laptop. Why? I had bought a Dell All-in-one, but it died only two weeks after purchase. Luckily, I got my money back.
With the dv7, I still have a large screen, computing power for my needs and a separate numeric pad - one item that I require on any computer.
Frankly, I am quite satisfied with the machine.

Posted by:

B deGonzague
05 Jan 2012

I havea Lenovo thinkpad as my work laptop and it is completely adequate. Plenty of USB ports, etc. I have it hooked up to an external monitor and keyboard for when I am at my desk but also travel with it extensively and it does the job quite well. I also have an external DVD drive which is quite lightweight and portable. No problems!! :-)

Posted by:

02 Apr 2012

My HP desktop died when I installed a trial version of Windows 8 on it. I hated it, uninstalled it, and tried to go back to Windows 7 (which I had installed over the Vista the computer came with. For a replacement, I bought a Gateway NV57H15u laptop. It has an HDMI port for my 1924 x 1024 monitor, and various USB ports for my external keyboard and trackball. It seems to work just fine, and I can disconnect it for travel anytime I want. Its own keyboard really sucks, especially the arrow keys. But the availability of external USB keyboards for about $8 takes care of that. The HDMI port should have holes to screw the external monitor's plus into.

Posted by:

Toshiba Support
04 Oct 2018

recently I changed from my old Dell Inspiron desktop to a Toshiba Laptop. Why? I had bought a Dell All-in-one, but it died only two weeks after purchase. I still have a large screen, computing power for my needs and a separate numeric pad - one item that I require on any computer. Even Toshiba customer support suggest me visiting this site for more help.

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