Buying guide: Desktop PC vs. laptop

Should you buy a desktop PC or a notebook computer? Our guide will help you decide

FAQs: Desktops and Laptops

Should I upgrade my current computer or buy a new one?

This depends on how old your current computer is. If it's more than three years old, then finding the best upgrade parts can be a frustrating and sometimes expensive task, and at times it just won’t be possible at all. In this case, it will be worth buying a new one that has all the latest technology installed. If you've already got a computer that's less than three years old, but want more speed or more storage space, then an upgrade might be the way to go. Key components to upgrade are the memory, CPU (or processor), hard drive and graphics card.

Should I purchase a desktop or a laptop?

These days, desktops and laptops are almost equivalent when it comes to computing power. The main exception is for games, where desktops are much better. If you want a computer to take with you to work or school, or want to easily use in different parts of the house, for example, then a laptop is the way to go. Go for a desktop if you want a powerful computer for playing games as these can include the latest high performance gear that's required to run the latest games.

What should be considered when buying a desktop/laptop?

When buying either a desktop or a laptop, the key considerations are as follows: CPU speed, hard drive and memory capacity, and screen size.

The faster the CPU is, the quicker you'll be able to get your work done. Look to buy a PC with an Intel Core i5 or an AMD Phenom II CPU. Their speeds are denoted by model numbers (Core i5-660 for an Intel Core i5, and 1055T for an AMD Phenom II X6, for example), so the higher the number, the faster the CPU. For a laptop, look for a Core i5 CPU or an AMD Phenom II CPU. Again, a higher model number will indicate a faster CPU.

Consider getting a big hard drive so that you can store plenty of programs, music, photos and videos. For a desktop look for a hard drive that is at least 500GB or greater. For a laptop look for a hard drive that is at least 250GB.

Also, make sure that your desktop or laptop has at least 4GB or more of memory (RAM). This will make it easy to run many programs at the same time.

Another consideration is the screen. In a laptop, the screen is built-in, so you will have to decide which size is suitable for your needs. Screens around 15in are common, but can be heavy to carry around, so if being mobile is a priority then look for a 10in, 12in, 13.3in or 14.1in screen. For a desktop, the most common screen size is 22in widescreen, but 24in models are also popular.

Do I need to have my computer installed by a professional?

Most computers are easy to put together yourself. All the plugs are generally colour coded and cannot be plugged in the wrong way. If you aren't confident that you can put it together yourself, seek the advice of a friend or ask at the store if they offer on-site setup assistance. When buying a new computer, the operating system, such as Windows 7, will be preinstalled, so once it's all connected all you have to do is turn it on to use it.

What programs will I need to install to secure my private information and stop viruses?

To protect your PC from being infected by a virus, an antivirus program or Internet security suite should be installed. There are many to choose from, but common, trustworthy examples include Norton AntiVirus and Kaspersky Internet Security 2010. These programs run in the background while you work and make sure that none of the programs you run or e-mails you read are infected by viruses. Antivirus programs need to be updated regularly in order to keep up-to-date with the latest virus threats. Updates can be downloaded automatically when you are connected to the Internet.

What is a firewall and do I need one?

A firewall is needed if your computer is going to be connected to the Internet. The firewall protects your computer from being accessed by hackers. Firewalls work by limiting access in and out of your PC to applications you have specified as safe. Any information sent to or from the Internet is checked by the firewall to make sure that it is being sent as part of a legitimate request.

Can I extend the memory of my computer?

Usually the memory of your computer can be extended. Memory comes on small modules that are installed in memory sockets or slots. Many desktop computers come with four memory slots, but rarely will a new computer come with memory installed in all of those. The empty slots can be used to install more memory.

If your computer doesn't have any free memory slots, then the memory can be expanded by removing the existing memory modules and installing new, higher capacity memory modules. For example, if your computer has 2GB in its two slots (two 1GB modules) and you want to expand to 4GB, you will have to remove those two 1GB modules and install two 2GB modules.

Laptop computers can also have additional memory installed. It is common with laptops to remove the existing memory and replace it with a memory module of a greater capacity.

Different computers have different requirements for the type of memory (memory speed and memory module), the maximum memory and the combination of memory that can be installed. Make sure you check your manual or seek advice.

Should I buy an inkjet or laser printer?

If you want to print out photos, then you can't go past an inkjet printer. Most inkjet printers on the market, even the inexpensive ones, do a very good job of printing out photos taken with digital cameras. Inkjets can also provide very good text output. If you will be printing large amounts of text regularly, or if you are a small business owner, then a laser printer makes good sense. Laser printers produce crystal clear text output and are more economical than inkjets when used to print in large volumes, but they are not as suitable for printing photographs.

Are all printers compatible with all desktops or laptops?

All printers can be used with either a desktop or laptop as they can be plugged in using a USB cable. However, not all printers can work on all operating systems. For example, not all printers can work on an Apple Mac. Check with the printer vendor to make sure that the printer you want to buy is supported by the operating system you are using.


Are all ports and drives built in so I don’t have to plug and unplug external attachments?

When you buy a desktop or laptop, the most important port to look for is called USB 2.0. These ports are used to connect the keyboard, mouse, printers, webcams, digital cameras, MP3 players and even TV tuners. Most laptops have at least three USB 2.0 ports, while most new desktops have at least four. A new desktop or laptop should also come with an Ethernet port, which is necessary when connecting an ADSL or cable modem for fast Internet access. USB 3.0 is a new, faster version of USB that will be widely available on computers from late 2010.

All computers will include an internal hard drive and most will have at least a CD/DVD writer, which can also play CDs and DVDs. Blu-ray reader/writer drives are sometimes included as standard.

Many desktops and laptops will also include a place to plug in flash memory cards such as SD cards to help copy across digital photos.

What is a MB (or GB) and what is RAM?

MB is short for megabyte and this is a unit of measurement for your computer's memory, or RAM. A gigabyte (or 1GB) is made up of approximately one thousand megabytes. Most new computers will come with at least 2GB or 4GB of RAM installed.

RAM stands for random access memory and this is the memory that your computer uses to store information while it is running. It is the memory that the Windows operating system and your programs are loaded into when you launch them. The more RAM you have, the more programs you can have running at any given time. RAM does not provide long-term storage of computer files; files are stored on the hard disk drive, can be burnt to CD or DVD, or transferred to flash memory disks, such as USB sticks. These store the files whether or not the computer is switched on or off.

How many GB/RAM will I need?

Look for a computer that has at least 4GB of RAM as this will allow you to load many programs at once without significantly slowing down your computer. This amount of memory is also useful if you know you will be playing around with photos, as photo software tends to use a lot of memory. A computer's memory can be expanded, so if you find you need more, then you can either add more memory modules or replace your current memory modules with larger capacity ones.

Do I need to consider the weight of the laptop when considering where I’ll use it?

A laptop's weight should be one of the key factors that influence your buying decision. The size of the screen is a good pointer to how heavy a laptop will be. If you're after a laptop that you can use if you are always on the move, look for an ultraportable that has an 8.9in, 10in, 11.1in, 12in or 13.3in screen. If you want something with a slightly bigger screen that's still easy to carry to and from home, then look for a laptop with a 14.1in or 15.4in screen. Laptops with 17in or 18in screens are heavy and primarily suited for home use. Laptops with such big screens are often referred to as desktop replacements.

What programs will I need to access the Internet?

To access the Internet, you will need to get an account with an Internet service provider (ISP). An ISP will provide log-in information to connect you to the Internet, and often a modem to plug in to your computer. If your ISP doesn't provide you with a modem, you will need to purchase one separately. Once connected to the Internet you can use a Web browser. You will also need an e-mail program to send and receive e-mails, unless you use a Web site–based e-mail provider like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo!

The Internet Explorer Web browser is built into the Windows 7 operating system. Mozilla Firefox is a popular free Web browser that can be downloaded.

Do I need anything extra to run programs?

When you buy a computer it will come with everything that you need in order to run programs. If you want to connect to the Internet you will need an account with an ISP and a modem (which the ISP will most likely supply).

Is there a difference between corporate and consumer class computers?

Yes. Corporate computers generally come with specialised management software and security features that aren't useful for a home user. Corporate computers rarely come with powerful 3D graphics capabilities that are good for playing games and they usually have smaller capacity hard drives than home PCs. Additionally, corporate computers are usually small and don't have much room for upgrading. Conversely, many consumer class computers come with powerful graphics cards and huge hard drives with large cases that allow for upgrading.

Can I download from my computer onto my MP3 player?

Yes. Most MP3 players come with cables, usually USB cables, which allow you to download MP3 songs from your computer onto your MP3 player. The way this can be achieved varies depending on the MP3 player, but it often requires that a special piece of software is installed. For example, to download MP3 songs from your computer to an iPod, you will need to install software called iTunes. The software your MP3 player requires should come in the MP3 player's packaging. If it didn't, then consult the manufacturer's Web site to see if you can get it from there.

What are the benefits of a built-in DVD/CD burner?

A DVD burner has the ability to burn to CDs and also to DVDs. You should make sure your desktop or laptop has a DVD burner as this will let you burn data to DVD and CD discs. Burning data, such as your photos, to DVD or CD is a good way to share your data with others, and it's also useful for making copies of your data in case your computer ever crashes. For a laptop, a built-in DVD burner is a compact alternative to an external drive, which you would have to connect using a USB cable, for example.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags notebooksdesktop pcslaptops

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Elias Plastiras
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?