Should You Buy a Desktop or a Laptop?


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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.