Computing Platforms - Notebook vs. Desktop by Sam C. Chan

February 9, 2010

I'm often asked by clients when acquiring their computer, whether they should get a notebook instead. For most people, desktop remain the better choice by far. For some, they should consider adding a portable (but not necessarily a notebook) to supplement, rather than replace the desktop.

Characteristics of Notebooks vs. Desktop PCs:

  1. superior space savings & portability
  2. far inferior durability
  3. significantly poorer performance on all fronts
    • the notion that portable machines have achieved parity in performance is purely imaginary
    • that had never been the case in the entire 26 years or so of portable computer history
    • it is literally impossible to obtain components that are truly comparable to their desktop counterparts, due to inherit design constrains and laws of physics
    • the area where portable computers are most sorely at a disadvantage is hard drive:
      • 5400 RPM vs 7200/10000 RPM
      • seek time of 10 to 15 ms vs 7 to 10 ms (smaller is better)
      • much smaller on-drive buffer memory (space & heat constrain)
      • always working under overheated condition, due to practically non-existent cooling in cramped, practically sealed environment, relying exclusively on conductive cooling
    • CPU is another area where the mobile edition is a severely compromised and downgraded version of its desktop cousins.
  4. drastically higher overall cost of ownership
    • at the time of new system purchase, they represent 20% (memory) to 75% (CPU) cost premium
    • at the time of repair/replacement, that becomes 75% to 300% cost premium, since everything is proprietary. The only exception is hard drive, which remains at about 25% to 40% premium (strictly on a comparable size basis, while overlooking the performance disparity)
  5. more complex and risky repair process
    • it's more costly, technically challenging and time-consuming
    • the designs of many notebook parts render repairs impossible, forcing replacement of entire assembly
    • many repairable/replaceable items can only be performed at factory, which incurs freight and major delays, plus the tedious administrative coordination and communications

In short, I recommend using desktop wherever/whenever possible, including situations where the computer is needed at 2 different locations. It'd be far better, easier and cheaper in the long run to simply setup 2 separate systems. However, where portability is required, then notebooks are the only option.

Note that I don't have a bias against notebooks. In fact, I've been an avid user of notebook PCs since 1988, and I'm currently on my 7th notebook. I also went through 4 PDAs since the early 1990s, long before the current generation of Smartphones arrived on the scene.


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