Desktop or Laptop for College?

By: Liang Zhang

The case for a desktop:
Basically, desktops give you better performance for the buck. Budget desktops start at around $300-$400 (LCD monitor included) while the cheapest laptops will cost you at least $100 more. Desktops are easier to upgrade manually than laptops, and are harder to steal. They also tend to be more reliable than laptops, which are moved around often and are more prone to failure. Desktops also support multiple monitors easily, which may be important for hardcore programmers. Finally, serious gamers may prefer high-end desktops for the performance, especially when it comes to supporting the newest graphics cards. Overall, desktops give a better deal for raw computing power and better reliability, with support for multiple monitors.

The case for a laptop:
The main advantage of laptops is portability, which can be a huge plus for college students. Moving in and moving out out a dorm, house, or apartment with a laptop are obviously much easier than with a desktop. Your laptop will take up much less desk space than a desktop, even assuming you have a LCD monitor for the desktop. Most universities are going wireless, so having a laptop to carry around campus means you can get Internet access pretty much all over. You can also use it to take notes in class, and depending on the kind of laptop, some even allow you to use it as a notebook (see Tablets under the Laptop Buying Guide). Laptops are also much less of a hassle to take home for breaks. Overall, the advantages of having a laptop mainly revolve around its size and portability.

Which one you pick depends on your situation. What are you going to use it for? How far do you have to travel to school? What does your budget look like?

For most students, especially freshmen, I would recommend a laptop over a desktop. Unless you're a hardcore gamer or programmer, there isn't a huge gap in performance between desktops and similarly priced laptops for everyday programs like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Word, Excel, IM and so on. Your dorm room most likely isn't going to be huge, and a desktop will take up more space and be much more of a pain to move in and out. Also, laptop prices have been dropping recently, not quite to the level of desktop prices, but you can get a serviceable budget laptop for around $500. See our Laptop Buying Guide for details.

Laptops
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