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Should You Buy a Desktop or a Laptop?

2012 December 12


By: Robert Meyers

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have passed, but many people are still looking to buy new computers for the holidays.  But what kind of computer?  Do you really need a desktop, or can a laptop do the same job just as well?  Many believe that you need a desktop for home use, but I’m here to tell you that laptops have become quite powerful in recent years and can completely replicate the desktop experience.

Since this is ENERGY STAR’s blog, you can guess why I’m writing about laptops versus desktops.  Energy consumption!  New, energy efficient laptops can consume anywhere from 50% – 80% less energy than a desktop.  And based on our experiences here at ENERGY STAR, we estimate that ultrabooks and netbooks can go even further and consume about 80% – 90% less energy.  With a docking station, external monitor, keyboard, and mouse, you won’t even feel that you’re using a laptop.

Whether or not you should go with a laptop depends on your needs.  Do you use your computer for word processing, email, music, video watching, photo editing, web browsing, or even some light to moderate gaming?  A laptop does all of this just as well as a desktop.  Do you run high-end games, render videos/3D models, program and number crunch for work, or need to run a very large number of processes at once?  Then a desktop might be a better choice, although even here some higher-end laptops can cover many of these uses.  For those worried about graphics, integrated graphics solutions have become very powerful recently and now have capabilities equal to entry level graphics cards.  Additionally, many laptops are capable of hosting discrete graphics cards if you need one.

Desktops will provide an edge in raw power and graphics, but laptops do a great job with all of the common, everyday tasks that most people need computers for these days.  I’m writing this blog on my work computer, which is a four year old laptop on a docking station that’s plugged into dual monitors, plus a separate keyboard and mouse.  I almost always am simultaneously running an email client, a word processor, a spreadsheet application, multiple web browser windows, and an antivirus program without any problems. 

For most people, it’s a no-brainer:  Laptops can provide the exact same services and experience as a desktop with much less than half the energy consumption.  Plus, you can pick them up and take them with you when you when you leave the house!  I’d love to see a desktop do that.

Biography:  RJ joined ENERGY STAR in late 2010 and immediately began work on energy efficiency specifications for a range of IT equipment.  RJ has a background in physics, electrical engineering, and sustainable energy and is told constantly by his family and friends that he is a huge nerd.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Jeffrey permalink
    December 18, 2012

    “For most people, it’s a no-brainer: Laptops can provide the exact same services and experience as a desktop with much less than half the energy consumption.”

    If by “no-brainer” you mean not using your brain, then you’re correct. Laptops canNOT provide the exact same service and experience as a desktop and that is by design. The low energy usage and low heat protection are for the portability and battery life which requires the components used to run at a much lower speed. As these are much more lax in desktop design the components operate much faster which results in a far greater performing computer.

    • October 14, 2014

      ^ Good points above. And these days they have tablets which are even more portable than laptops although less powerful at the same time. Then there are Chromebooks that are indeed laptops. They just happen to be small (and not nearly as powerful as desktops). I guess my point is to say that lots have changed after this post was published almost two years ago, but the laptop vs desktop debate is still ongoing :)

  2. Technology Lawyer permalink
    March 19, 2013

    If you are getting a new computer, make sure that you dispose of your old computer wisely. Sometimes we get so excited about setting up our new desktop or laptop (I am impartial in this argument, both have their pro’s and con’s), that you do not give too much consideration about how you are disposing of your old computer.

    When you think of all of the personal information stored on your computer, it is a wonder that we do not safeguard our hardrives even more than we do already. When you get rid of a computer, take the hardrive out of it and store it in your house. If dodgy people get their hands onto it they can still extract information off it, even if you think that you have “wiped it”.

    Hope that helps.
    Free advice from the Technology Lawyers.

  3. ton permalink
    April 3, 2013


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