Whether you have a new business start up or you're a fully established business operation, the time will come to invest in technology. You will need to choose your tech: desktop vs. laptop for your business. Fortunately, unlike 20 years ago, there are a multitude of strong choices out there to select from that could fit your needs. Desktops (PC or Mac), laptops, mobile phones and tablets each have their own benefits and disadvantages which I will explore in this article.
Some of the characteristics you will want to consider as you are getting ready to purchase are:
Making a smart decision to fit your business needs can be challenging depending on your level of technical knowledge and/or experience with these devices. It would be impossible to address every business scenario, but I am going to provide the overall considerations for desktops vs. laptops vs. other.
Easier to repair
Certain applications need more power
Desktop PCs and Macs have been the staple of business work for decades and for good reason. For many companies, they can be purchased in bulk at a relatively lower cost, and the hardware can be supported relatively easily through a technical support team. Although costs will always vary, traditionally PCs will give the most bang for your buck when it comes to their capability and power. If you were to compare a desktop and laptop with the same speed processor, memory, video hardware, and storage, you would find the laptop would cost significantly more.
This is partly due to the fact that many PC parts are interchangeable while laptop components are scaled down to fit in a smaller form factor. For example, you can usually upgrade the video card on a PC (or add one in addition to the video provided by the motherboard). With a laptop you are generally locked in to the video hardware that it came with. With a desktop, you can almost always change out the monitor (excluding all-in-ones), but of course, you cannot change a laptop's built-in display other than add one as a peripheral.
Relating to repairs, spilling coffee on your laptop can often force you to have to purchase a new one, send it to the manufacturer, or perhaps submit a claim if you have a protection plan. However, if you spill coffee on your desktop keyboard, you might only incur a $20 loss.
If your business produces digital design, CAD, or pretty much any graphic/ video/3D focused product you’re most likely going to be using desktops with video cards that can handle this rendering. Again, there will be laptops that can match your need, but the question is, will the mobility you gain with the laptop be worth the extra cost?
There are also certain applications that need to run on desktops. Due to power limitations of laptops battery and power schemes, certain applications simply are made to run on a machine that's constantly on. Take for example security camera software and streaming recording software. These types of applications are intended to be run on a machine running 24X7, acting as a DVR to these applications.
When it comes to working remotely, a desktop can be used just as easily as a laptop. You can connect into your business with a VPN connection which will basically allow your PC to be on your work network, as if it were right there in the office. 2020 saw tens of thousands of people at different companies go home to use this model because of COVID, and many don’t want to go back to how it was.
The modularity of desktops plays into the lifespan of the machine. As more parts are replaceable, the life of a desktop is theoretically going to be longer than that of a laptop. Replacing a burned out power supply on a desktop is not difficult, while a laptop would need to be sent in for manufacturer repairs which may end up costing more than the laptops value based on age.
The other advantage of this modularity is the ability to build your own custom PCs from the ground up. PC component manufacturers have an entirely separate market for PC enthusiasts, than for enterprise businesses just for this reason. Taking a look at video cards for example, you can see most of the packaging is marketed with bright colors and images geared towards pc builders choosing that brand.
One last advantage of desktops is that once your desktop and peripherals for it are set up, you don’t have to unplug and replug those peripherals for each use like you would with a laptop while traveling. Also, while desktops are not mobile, there are now many models that are quite small, such as the Mac mini which could fit in a backpack without issue.
Not intended to be mobile
At the same time this power and modularity of desktops are a plus, there are disadvantages. You are going to have to contend with many cords, wires, and the potential for incompatible aftermarket devices when putting together your desktop systems. In many cases, you will need to do research on what components work best with your system within your budget if you are piecing things together. This extra work goes hand in hand with the flexibility. If you don’t mind doing your homework, learning some wire management, and don’t need to be fully mobile, then this may not be a drawback to you.
Another drawback, and the most obvious, is that desktops are not mobile. While many newer PCs and MACs are small enough to fit in your bag, you also need to deal with the rest of the equipment (keyboard, monitor, etc). While it is true that they make All-In-One style desktops, these models do not always fit your needs when it comes to your business. So again, it depends on your use case, as to whether mobility is even in the equation.
Fits in most work spaces
Improved battery life
Laptops, first and foremost, are mobile. You can conceivably take them anywhere, depending on whether you need an internet connection or not (and even that has a mobile solution). If your business requires you to travel frequently, and you need to do more than just look up information on your mobile phone or tablet, then this is the scenario laptops shine. Like PCs they can connect into your business with a VPN setup to put them right on your network in the office securely.
Laptops are also a straightforward setup; no interconnection of cords, and they can fit in most work spaces. Regarding performance, many new laptop models have memory, processors, SSD drives, and quality displays that rival many PC counterparts. Battery life has greatly improved as well. For example, Acer makes a model with a battery that lasts up to 16 hours. It all depends on your use case, how high end does it need to be versus how much you are willing to afford.
Not designed for Graphic/CPU intensive applications
Limited ability to upgrade hardware components
Some may argue this point, but originally, most laptops were designed to give people the ability to be mobile at the cost of computing power. In other words, laptops were originally intended for “light” usage. With “light” usage, I’m referring to word processing, spreadsheets, internet browsing, streaming, and social media, etc.
If I were to define “heavy” usage on the other hand, I would include Graphic/CPU intensive applications such as video editing, CAD, graphic design, Adobe suite (i.e. Photoshop or Lightroom) and gaming applications requiring a high frame rate. These types of uses require more power, faster processors, increased memory, and more powerful video cards in order to work at an acceptable level.
While it is true that high-end laptops can meet the needs of many of these use cases, overall, these high-end laptops are going to be costly.
Another drawback which would be the opposite of desktops is that laptops are typically limited in the components of hardware you can upgrade on them. Laptops can be customized when purchased depending on who you are purchasing from. When you order directly from HP, for example, you can select from a number of standard laptop builds plus you have the option to upgrade the video hardware, processor, storage, etc. However, once you have the laptop, typically you are limited to upgrading the hard drive, memory, and of course any peripherals you wish to use with it.
In addition, if a part fails on your laptop, for instance the power supply goes out, then the laptop has to be sent in for either a warranty claim (if still under warranty)or a service request. This is unlike a desktop where in this example, you could drive to your nearest Best Buy and purchase an inexpensive replacement power supply.
Finally I wanted to mention that mobility can go hand in hand with vulnerability. If you are taking your laptop with you, the odds are greater for it to get damaged, dropped, run over, stolen, or anything else you could think of outside the safety of your home or office.. Just going through security at the Airport can be stressful when they make you place it on the x-ray conveyor belt and watch it disappear into the machine.
I cannot leave out how far mobile devices (IOS or Android phones and tablets) have come regarding their ability to interface with work programs through cloud and app solutions. There are many cloud services that can be integrated with our business where we can get the immediate information about clients on our phones or tablets when in the field. This solution would allow you to operate your business with a desktop computer (or laptop) at the office but be able to easily access data. Again, this will depend on your business and type of information you need access to.
Consider Your Business
In the end, you need to think about what you are actually going to be spending your time doing day in and day out. Will you be constantly traveling? Will you be on planes needing to write proposals, conference slides, estimates? Or if your business is centered around software, are you going to be coding and running graphical demos mostly in the office.
If you believe you will be traveling regularly, and you need to be able to get your tools, account information, and actually do work (not just look up information) from home, office, or anywhere else, then the laptop route has a strong argument.
If however, you believe you will be at the same home office or business office most of the time to actually work, and only need to look up information away in the off hours, then you may be able to get by with a desktop and a phone or tablet to look up information. It's easy to throw your files into a cloud storage provider or download an app to quickly access your files.
Work-Life Balance View
All of us have breaking points. Some can work without sleep for days, while others regularly need their time away from work. I bring this up because as you are considering getting a desktop or laptop so that you have the ability to work after hours, please take a moment and ask yourself if you should and need to.
I cannot tell you how many times both people in my industry, as well as the people I support, tell me that they work more, and for longer hours now that they have switched to working at home from the pandemic. With those screens in front of us, in our pockets, or at the diner table, the devices can beckon us to do more work outside of business hours, and then make us feel shame when we don’t. Consider if this is something that might add to your stress level in the long run, and perhaps, impact your health.
I recognize that running your own business can demand all night work sessions at times, but in general, if you strive to make a clear line between work time and personal time, the payoff to your health could be big in the long run.