PCP: For Laptop + Computer

Kai Huang - 1A Computer
Posted on: November 25, 2017

Computers are such a crucial part of our daily lives. Everything that we need to do, whether it be school work or simply pursuing other interests on the side, almost certainly depends on them. A good computer that can provide the necessary performance offers a better experience, and can contribute positively to your success in all areas.

Performance comes at a cost, and depending on what you’re doing, the cost can be quite significant. As University students, we have enough monetary concerns as it is, which is why getting the best performance out of your budget is tantamount.

While most students choose to purchase a high-performance laptop, I would argue that it is the least effective way for the money to be spent. Putting a portion of the money into a cheap laptop meant for working on the go and investing the rest in building a custom high-performance desktop is a considerably smarter choice.

Purchasing a powerful laptop to carry around seems like the reasonable option to most people. You’d see the specifications and feel that it can handle all your tasks, and portable enough to carry around from class to class. This is what I too, thought, when I purchased my Lenovo Y580 years ago. The compromises that have to be made are often overlooked, but are in truth, incredibly significant.

Fundamentally, a laptop has its form factor as a major constraint on performance. The cooling that is capable within a laptop’s chassis is severely limited, which means that the heat produced from the processor and the graphics card do not dissipate as well as they would in a desktop. As a result, laptop CPU’s and GPU’s at the same price point as desktop ones trade off performance for lower heat output and power drain.

While on that topic, a major tradeoff with high-performance laptops is that they consume significant amounts of power. This means that the battery life that these laptops are capable of is usually within the order of 2-3 hours at best. Furthermore, trying to run the laptop off of battery life means that the components will be throttled even further. In essence, the portability of the laptop is hampered significantly by the fact that you have to keep the power adapter with you if you plan to be out for more than 2 or 3 hours, or if you plan to be doing anything that actually makes use of the full performance.

Portability is also a concern in the form of size and weight. High-performance laptops are massive and heavy machines (until you get above around $2500, but at that point, you clearly don’t care about the price to performance ratio anyway). Carrying around a 5.5 pound laptop to your classes every day and trying to fit it on the tiny desks that some lecture rooms have is a challenge, to be sure.

Besides, what do you expect to be doing on your laptop when you’re heading to classes, anyway? Taking notes, perhaps, maybe doing some assignments? Reading up on your textbooks? Browsing the internet? Shitposting on Reddit? For the basics, thin and light laptops can be bought at extremely low prices. For example, Chromebooks start around $200. Their battery life easily lasts a day, they’re thin, they’re light, and they can do all the basics. Refurbished Thinkpads start at around $300. They’re practically indestructible, they’re somewhat light, and their batteries are even stronger.

Say you’re given a budget of about $1000 to work with. This means you can have around $700-800 to spend on a desktop. A custom desktop at that price point can get you something powerful enough to play most triple-A games at full settings, not skip a beat when working with heavy 3D-design workflows, and render videos quickly and with ease. You could easily afford a Ryzen 5 processor and a GTX1050 at that price point, not to mention an SSD. Furthermore, the desktop is more customizable, with parts that can be swapped out individually and upgraded when the need arises.

Some may argue that the desktop is an inconvenience to move around. I disagree. You’re moving it around once every four months. It can be simply left in one piece and thrown in the trunk of a car, under the best circumstances. If worst comes to worst and you need to fly, disassembling the parts and packaging them separately doesn’t take long, and it can be shipped with ease.

From a price to performance standpoint, buying a high-performance laptop is incredibly wasteful. Too many compromises have to be made, within cost, performance, and portability. A laptop and a desktop combination is incredibly versatile, and considerably more effective for nearly every conceivable situation.