My contention is that if you are not traveling or commuting, a desktop PC is a more powerful, versatile form factor compared to a laptop PC. To me, this seems like an obvious conclusion, but I know that some people will still dispute this. So, I am going to give you 5 Reasons Desktop PCs Are Better Than Laptops. Here are the five main reasons.
More Compute Capacity
Laptops typically use mobile CPUs that use much less electrical power than desktop CPUs. This is a necessary compromise in order to get decent battery life without having to use extremely large and heavy batteries. It is also necessary to get decent thermal management with the smaller form factor of a laptop. It is true that there have been a few laptops that purposely used a regular desktop or HEDT CPU, but these have resulted in extremely large and heavy laptops. These Frankenstein machines have never sold very well.
Intel has 15-watt U-class mobile CPUs with up to 4C/8T for most of their CPU families. They also have 45-watt H-class CPUs with up to 8C/16T. Both series of CPUs are distinctly different in capabilities and thermal needs. AMD has Ryzen 4000 mobile CPUs that are also divided between 15-watt U-class SKUs that have up to 8C/16T and 35 to 54-watt H-class SKUs that also have up to 8C/16T.
Neither company has any mobile CPU SKU with more than 8C/16T. Due to power and thermal constraints, mobile CPUs typically have much lower base clock speeds than “equivalent” desktop 8C/16T CPUs. Because of thermal constraints, mobile CPUs also cannot maintain Turbo speeds for as long as “equivalent” desktop CPUs.
I would guess that many people still have 4C/8T Intel-based laptop CPUs, since that was the highest core count offered for many generations of Intel mobile CPUs. Until recently, Intel has had absolute dominance in the laptop market, so most people probably have Intel-based laptops.
Typical “Good” Laptop
The best laptop that I own has a 4C/8T Intel Core i7-8565U “Whiskey Lake” mobile CPU that was launched in Q3 2018. It has a base clock speed of 1.8 GHz and a Turbo clock speed of 4.6 GHz. This was considered a high-end U-class CPU that was used in many laptop models.
You can see it’s CPU-Z benchmark results below, with a reference comparison to a mid-range AMD mainstream desktop CPU. The desktop CPU has about 17% better single-threaded performance and about 275% better multi-threaded performance than the mobile CPU.
The absolute best mobile CPUs available right now will have similar or less performance than an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X. That is nothing to sneeze at, but that level of performance does not compare very well with what mainstream desktop CPUs are capable of.
BTW, Hardware Unboxed has a great new video comparing the performance of many modern mobile CPUs.
Mainstream desktop CPUs currently go up to 16C/32T with the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X and 10C/20T with the Intel Core i9-10900K. If that is not enough cores, you can use a high-end desktop (HEDT) CPU. This will let you go up to 14C/28T with the Intel Core i9-10940X and up to 64C/128T with an AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X.
My best desktop CPU is an AMD Ryzen 9 3950X. You can see it’s CPU-Z results below.
The performance gap between mobile CPUs and desktop CPUs of the same generation and family has narrowed somewhat in recent years, but it is still there. The closest equivalent performance I am aware of (at equal core counts) is the mobile AMD Ryzen 9 4900H compared the the mainstream desktop AMD Ryzen 7 3700X.
More Memory Performance and Capacity
Most laptop PCs only have two memory slots. Quite a few “thin and light” laptops have memory that is not upgradeable, so you may be stuck with whatever it had when it was built. Many of those laptops have only 8GB or 16GB of RAM. If you can upgrade your memory, modern mobile CPUs will let you use 32GB DDR4-SODIMMs, so you can go up to 64GB of RAM. Some higher-end laptops have four memory slots, so you can go up to 128GB of RAM.
Both Intel and AMD mainstream desktop motherboards have four memory slots that will accommodate 32GB DIMMs. This lets you go up to 128GB of RAM. Both Intel and AMD HEDT motherboards have eight memory slots that will accommodate 32GB DIMMs. This lets you go up to 256GB of RAM. The AMD Ryzen Threadripper PRO 3995WX lets you go up to 512GB of RAM.
Desktop processors typically support higher speed RAM compared to mobile processors, although the very latest AMD and Intel mobile processors both support DDR4-3200 RAM. Most laptops from larger vendors don’t let you modify your memory settings or do things like enable XMP.
All of this means that you can have more memory, running at faster speeds with a mainstream desktop or HEDT desktop machine compared to a laptop PC.
More Storage Performance and Capacity
Most laptop PCs have either one 2.5″ SATA drive bay or one M.2 PCIe NVMe slot. Some larger, heavier, more expensive laptops have multiple M.2 slots and/or multiple 2.5″ SATA drive bays. Depending on your workloads, having more storage performance and more storage space can be very useful.
By comparison, modern desktop motherboards typically have anywhere from one to four M.2 slots on the motherboard, and anywhere from four to eight SATA 3 ports. If that is not enough, you can easily use PCIe expansion cards to add more M.2 slots or more SATA 3 ports. Your limiting factor will be the number of PCIe lanes that your processor and chipset supports.
Speaking of that, there is a significant difference in PCIe lane support between mobile, mainstream desktop, and HEDT processors. There is also the fact that mobile CPUs don’t yet support PCIe 4.0 (although Intel’s upcoming Tiger Lake CPUs will have limited PCIe 4.0 support from the CPU).
The overall point here is that with a mainstream desktop or HEDT PC, you can have a lot more flexibility and just raw storage performance than you can get with a laptop PC.
More External Connectivity
When I am looking at a possible new laptop, I always want to know what kind of external connectivity options that it has. How many USB ports does it have and what type are they? Does it have any Thunderbolt USB-C ports? Does it have an Ethernet port, or will I have to use a USB adapter of some sort? Many “thin and light” laptops have very limited external connectivity options. Corporate-focused laptops will often work with a docking station that can give you more connectivity features.
By contrast, mainstream desktop and HEDT PCs have many more built-in external connectivity options. Even low-end, modern desktop motherboards are going to have more USB ports and other connectivity options than most laptops. Higher-end mainstream motherboards and HEDT motherboards will have FAR more connectivity than any laptop PC. They start out with more built-in features, and you can add more by using your available PCIe expansion slots.
Here is one example. Imagine how long it will take to transfer a 20GB video file to your NAS using the WiFi on your laptop compared to how long it would take using a 10GbE Ethernet port on a desktop machine. It is true that having greater than 1GbE Ethernet in a home setting is still rare, but many new mainstream desktop motherboards now have built-in 2.5GbE ports.
It is also much easier to have multiple monitors with a desktop PC compared to a laptop PC (although docking stations help offset this somewhat).
Greater Expandability and Flexibility
When you buy a laptop PC, you are pretty much stuck with whatever features and connectivity it had when it was built. Some laptops can have their memory and storage upgraded, but many don’t even allow this. Nearly all laptops cannot have their CPUs or GPUs upgraded. You can use your available USB or Thunderbolt ports for various things, but you may have to make some hard choices.
On the other hand, most desktop PCs can be easily upgraded. One exception is that some pre-built PCs from larger system vendors will use proprietary components that make upgrades or expansion more difficult. With desktop PCs, you have so many more options and choices with what you can buy and plug-in to an available slot or port. HEDT PCs give you even more choices.
You will pay a higher price to get a good laptop PC that has a roughly equivalent level of performance to a relatively modest desktop PC. Put another way, you can easily build a mainstream desktop PC that matches or exceeds the performance of any laptop PC for far less money. You are paying an added cost to have the convenience and portability of a laptop. If you are working from home or working from an office most of the time, why should you pay more money for less performance?
So, I have given you 5 Reasons Desktop PCs Are Better Than Laptops. Actually, I have six reasons here. I would love to hear your thoughts on this though.
But I love my laptop! It is so nice to be able to take it anywhere I want and do whatever I want with it. Why do you hate laptops, Glenn? Well, I don’t hate laptops. I just want people to realize their limitations. If your laptop has enough performance to satisfy your needs, that is great!
That said, I think many people would be much better served by using a modern desktop PC as their primary machine. You have the choice and flexibility to buy or build a system that is optimized for whatever type of workload that you will be running. This is whether is is gaming, rendering, running VMs, compiling code or anything else you want to do.
You can spend far less money to get to a given level of performance, or you can spend more money to reach a much higher level of performance than any laptop machine can match. The choice is yours!
For example, you can spend roughly $1000 to build a desktop machine that will have better performance than the vast majority of laptop machines. Using this system as a base, you could easily upgrade its components over time as your needs change.
If you have any questions about this post, please ask me here in the comments or on Twitter. I am pretty active on Twitter as GlennAlanBerry. Thanks for reading!