Laptop or Desktop?
More and more there is a big debate between the better choice for students when it comes to getting a computer. Would it be better to have the portability of a laptop, or a more powerful and fully featured desktop?
The price gap between a getting an inexpensive laptop versus getting an inexpensive desktop was once fairly large, and so most students opted for a desktop. These days, you can purchase a lower end laptop for around three hundred dollars, creating a situation where more people are looking towards laptops as their computers of choice.
I used to be a devout desktop user, but now that most mid-range laptops have more than enough power for most student needs, outside of gaming, the addition of portability outweighs other options and I find myself using my laptop as my primary computer, only going on my desktop when I need to play games, do video editing, or other very processor and video card intensive work.
So why would anyone choose to buy a desktop? Well, for the cost, you definitely get much more raw performance, allowing you to do a wider variety of things, faster. Also, many desktops come with nineteen inch or larger screens, which is almost good enough to be a dorm room television replacement, and makes editing graphics and reports much easier.
But which ones should you choose? There are so many brands, with so many different price points, how do you know if you are getting a value or a potential lemon?
This guide will hopefully help you choose wisely.
Note: All brand names mentioned are of my own personal preference though my own experiences, and while these opinions might be correct today, there is no way to know how the quality of the brands will change over time.
I have had a variety of experiences with companies building desktop computers for me, and the simple truth is that unless you are willing to shell out thousands of dollars, you would probably be better having a smaller boutique store building a custom computer for you.
Companies like HP/Compaq sometimes use proprietary parts, making replacement of damaged components expensive, or impossible.
Companies like Dell don’t always do well with the smaller details, creating defects that can range from the case color not being consistent, to cables randomly creating shorts.
Within these companies though, there are great machines, but never buy from the lowest end. Also, mass produced computers are less likely to make the interior of the computer neat and tidy, leading to airflow issues, and sometimes overheating.
Look at the mid-range or higher end when it comes to mass produced computers. Not only will they have higher end components, but usually they will be put together a little better than the standard lowest end ones.
If you are buying a computer from any company listed above, you should look at spending around $500 per year you’d like the computer to work well after that. So if you want a computer that will do well for the next four years, you should be looking at a computer valued today at around $2000. That includes the monitor, speakers, mouse, keyboard and printer.
Some people can of course do more with less, and won’t need to follow this formula, but I think it is a relatively good one for the intermediate to advanced computer user.
Apple sells three different desktop computers, all aimed at very different markets. Their first machine is the Mac Mini. A small computer, smaller than most stereo equipment, or television set top boxes, the Mac Mini is a great computer for those just getting into the Apple world. Starting at a dollar less than $600, the Mac Mini costs more than the lowest end Dell computers, but that is in part due to its small size, assumed higher build quality, and feature set.
The Mac Mini is fairly underpowered for those doing video editing, playing video games, or other such tasks, but should be more than fine for those browsing the web, and creating reports. The Mac Mini does not include a monitor, but you can now buy inexpensive LCD monitors for almost any budget. Expect to add another $200 for a good monitor though.
The iMac is their mid-range line of computers. It is an all-in-one computer, meaning that the whole computer is stored within the LCD monitor. It comes in two sizes currently, starting at twenty inches, and going up to twenty-four inches with prices ranging from $1200 all the way up to $2200. While you pay a premium based on the brand, assumed build quality, and the fact that it is an all-in-one unit, it is still a machine worth considering, and the main machine I would recommend for those requiring to run Apple Mac OS X applications for their courses.
In the high end, you will find the Mac Pro, a more traditional desktop machine made primarily for video editing and other processor intensive work tasks. It has a starting price of $2800 and can quickly raise from there depending on the options you select.
A special note about buying an Apple machine for those that want to increase the RAM included on any of the machines, it is usually better to buy it separately from a major manufacturer like Kingston Technologies and install it yourself as Apple charges a large premium for RAM.
Most laptops are really similar and so it can be very difficult to choose the right one for you. It can come down to price, and features, over brand and perceived build quality.
Most people are tainted in their choice based upon past experiences with companies ten years ago, and I want to remind everyone that the build quality can change from year to year in certain companies and it is important to read the latest reviews and information before purchasing anything.
My personal recommendation would be to look towards Lenovo. Lenovo bought IBM’s laptop business and made it their own, and in doing so, they learned a great deal about build quality from the ThinkPad line. I have had many machines, and have found that the Lenovo ThinkPad is durable, performs well, and while it is ugly, it isn’t heavy for its size.
I have also owned a Dell, and found it to be relatively nice. The biggest issue I had with it was that the trackpad wasn’t very sensitive, creating frustration as I was trying to browse around normally. An external mouse solved this issue while at home.
Also, something interesting that might just be thanks to my excessively heavy use of these machines, but I have found them all to deteriorate rather quickly. My Dell, Lenovo and Apple all showed strong signs of wear after about a year and a half.
Apple has three different laptop lines, much like their desktops, they are aimed at very different markets, based on features and of course, price point.
The MacBook is their lower end model, but unlike the Mac Mini, I think the MacBook is good enough for the majority of people going to school. The MacBook starts at around $1100 and back to school deals can secure you certain extras including free iPods, rebates on printers, and software.
The mid-range machine is the MacBook Air, also known as one of the thinnest, lightest laptops for its screen size. Starting at $1800, I find the MacBook Air to require its buyers to make too many compromises, but if you want something light and portable, then the MacBook Air might be a good choice.
The high end is filled by the MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro starts at nearly $2000 and is aimed at professionals that do some light video editing from their laptops, and require larger screen real estate. I currently own a MacBoook Pro and find it to be great for a variety of tasks and if you are a power user, I highly recommend it.
Build Your Own Computer
If you, or someone you know, has the ability to custom build a computer to fill your needs, I would recommend it. Most components come with at least a year of warranty, and if done with patience and a detail oriented mind, you can build a computer far superior to those built by the mass production lines of the various big companies, while still using most of the same components.
The price can be a bit more, but it is similar to the difference between a generic suit and a tailored one. Both might work, but the tailored one will work specifically for you.