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Hardware Module Comparison

What to Buy, a Notebook or Desktop PC?
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Desktop computers not only have the upper hand when it comes to maintenance and upgradeability, but also when it comes to performance and capacity. While desktop PCs can easily and rather cheaply be beefed up to a terabyte or more of hard disk space, 500 GB is the current upper limit for notebooks. Expanding hard disk space is of course possible with the use of external hard drives that are connected by USB, Firewire, or, depending on the notebook model, eSATA. This limits mobility, however, and also drains the battery more quickly. Furthermore, notebook hard drives use the 2.5″ form factor, and are markedly slower than 3.5″ desktop computer hard drives. For an overview of speeds and capacities of current hard drives, our article Comparison of fast notebook hard drives , The terabyte battle: Barracuda 7200.11 vs. Caviar GP and DeskStar 7K1000 and Spinpoint F1 with 1 TB: Samsung sets the tempo.

desktop vs notebook

As with hard drives, if you compare processor capability, you realize that notebook CPUs are also inferior to desktop processors. This does not have as noticeable an impact on daily work as the differences in hard drive performance, though. While mobile processors tend to be adequate, a slow notebook hard drive can severely restrict productivity. This may result in long waits while starting Windows, copying large files, or using applications that require that a lot of RAM be placed in the swap file on the hard disk.

As is the case for processors, the actual differences in performance between notebook RAM and desktop RAM is minimal. While clock rates for notebook RAM are usually 667 MHz, desktop units connected to DDR3 memory modules can attain clock rates of up to 1600 MHz. Despite this, most desktop computers still use DDR2 memory modules for cost reasons, which have a clock rate of 800 MHz. The difference between DDR2-667 and DDR2-800 modules in everyday office tasks on the computer is negligible, and can be disregarded by average users. (Also see: DDR3 luxury class: High speed, low impact) You have to realize, however, that most desktop systems will allow for more than 4 GB of RAM, whereas 4 GB of RAM is limit for today’s notebooks: there is simply no space for more.

desktop vs notebook

Optical drives perform at a high level in both desktop computers and notebooks. Though price differences between slimline drives for notebooks and drives in the 5.25″ format used to be considerable, the prices today are basically equal: the difference is only about $23.19. This is principally due to the fact that notebook sales in recent years have risen considerably, which resulted in increased production of slimline drives, and consequently, lower prices. In terms of the performance capability of these two kinds of drives, we have to conclude that the performance data is not as dramatically different as in previous years. For end users, there is virtually no difference if a slimline drive or one in the 5.25″ format is used.

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  • 0 Hide
    Oakley707 , June 11, 2008 4:03 PM
    How does Tom's computer for 1850$ actually cost 1850$? Seems much lower than that... a 8800 gts (320 meg...?) seems weird!
  • 0 Hide
    spearhead , June 11, 2008 4:16 PM
    with the desktop you could get an even better card then 8800gts 320mb for the cash. 8800gt or 3870x2 and such could give you an advatage for 1850 i could build a far better system and that is true. if not for the graphics notebooks these days are great. they only need to get some upgradebility of the mxm module for us costumers for acceptable pricings then we can more to more mobile solutions. we just want more gaming power for lower prices :) 
    we shall soon see faster mobile solutions. the hybrid graphic solutions of the puma platform might offer good preformance for low pricing.
  • 0 Hide
    njalterio , June 11, 2008 4:37 PM
    Overall good article except...

    1)There was no mention of overclocking.
    2)The Tom's guide computer was poorly built for the price. I could easily have included a 3870 X2 and two more GB of RAM. No mention of what case was used....although that probably would not have significantly impact the benchmarks.
    3)Is there some kind of behind the scenes advertising here? Whats with the Samsung/Nvidia only usage? (Intel I can understand for obvious reasons)

    With two more GB of RAM, the 3870X2 (which I am certain would stay within the price range), and a good overclock the desktop computer would have wrecked that laptop in benchmarks!

    Would have been interesting to see a MacBook tested against these computers as well.
  • 0 Hide
    coldmast , June 11, 2008 4:39 PM
    8800gts 320mb? ~$120

    ROTFLMFAO

    give us a cost breakdown on each part of the system spec (desktop)
    are you including the display cost for the desktop (22"ers are at a great price point $200-$350)

    keyboard, mouse? $40-$120

    Desktop and NetBook
  • 0 Hide
    Shadow703793 , June 11, 2008 4:49 PM
    spearheadwith the desktop you could get an even better card then 8800gts 320mb for the cash. 8800gt or 3870x2 and such could give you an advatage for 1850 i could build a far better system and that is true. if not for the graphics notebooks these days are great. they only need to get some upgradebility of the mxm module for us costumers for acceptable pricings then we can more to more mobile solutions. we just want more gaming power for lower prices we shall soon see faster mobile solutions. the hybrid graphic solutions of the puma platform might offer good preformance for low pricing.

    njalterioOverall good article except...1)There was no mention of overclocking. 2)The Tom's guide computer was poorly built for the price. I could easily have included a 3870 X2 and two more GB of RAM. No mention of what case was used....although that probably would not have significantly impact the benchmarks.3)Is there some kind of behind the scenes advertising here? Whats with the Samsung/Nvidia only usage? (Intel I can understand for obvious reasons)With two more GB of RAM, the 3870X2 (which I am certain would stay within the price range), and a good overclock the desktop computer would have wrecked that laptop in benchmarks!Would have been interesting to see a MacBook tested against these computers as well.

    Agreed.
  • 0 Hide
    coldmast , June 11, 2008 4:51 PM
    these article are always good but some lack proper depth,
    it would be nice to do a series of articles addressing different aspects.

    Cheap Notebooks vs Cheap Desktops

    Desktop Replacements {17"+ screen size} vs Workstations (CAD related)

    Designer Notebooks (Stylish & Elegant) vs Designer Desktops / media centers (Stylish & Elegant)

    and most importantly

    GAMING Notebooks vs GAMING Desktops @~$1500 ~$2200 ~$3000
  • 1 Hide
    garydale , June 11, 2008 4:55 PM
    I've been listening to talk about how notebook computers are catching up to desktop performance for decades now and it still hasn't happened. At any given price point, you can always get greater performance from a desktop system. That's not likely to change.

    However, several issues that weren't raised that should be. When a notebook breaks down, it's often cheaper to get a new notebook if its out of warranty. With a desktop system, just swap out the failed part and continue on.

    I've seen lots of notebook failures too. They just don't seem to be as reliable as desktop systems. Even rescuing the data following a notebook failure is a real pain. The HD interface keeps changing and doing a disk-to-disk copy from one notebook drive to another is impossible - notebooks can't handle two hard drives at once. This means booting from a Linux live cd with the drive you want to copy in a working notebook, then copying the files to an external (usb) drive or a network share.

    Students seem to think notebooks are great - very portable. Yes, and that makes them easy to steal too. If you know a student who wants a computer, do them a favour and get them something big and heavy.

    And how about ergonomics? The miniature keyboard with the screen positioned too low relative to your eye level is asking for problems. Then there is the built-in pointing device. Sorry, but there's a reason why they're not used on desktop system - a mouse simply works better.

    With USB keys going dirt cheap these days, get two or more desktop systems and keep one every place you normally do work. Use a USB key to transfer documents, or share them on the Internet. Of if you want to be able to move a system around, there are some very small desktop systems you can get.

    I'm not saying that notebooks don't have their uses. However, a replacement for a desktop system isn't one of them.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 11, 2008 4:55 PM
    That acer is uuuuuuugly.
  • 0 Hide
    onearmedscissorb , June 11, 2008 4:58 PM
    It's not hard at all to find a decent selection of very similar laptops with 8600M GT/9500M GS graphics, but with T9300 processors, for $1,300 to $1,400.

    So the laptop price isn't making sense to me, either, but I guess that evens it out some.

    If they're going to allow a budget of pretty much $2,000 and basically directly compare laptops to desktops, what they should have done is used a laptop based on desktop components, as that's what the decent ones tend to start at.
  • 0 Hide
    dmacfour , June 11, 2008 5:58 PM
    With $1850 you could get a laptop with a much better video card. $1300 will get you one with an 8800m GTS.
  • 0 Hide
    hawler , June 11, 2008 6:59 PM
    I think the desktop in this article was bought, not built. That would account for the bad price/performance it shows. I guess that would make sense, a comparison of what you can go to the store and buy. Then again I know I'll never be buying a desktop from a store....but I also know that if I want power I should build a desktop to get about twice the performance or more for my money.
  • 0 Hide
    fabarati , June 11, 2008 7:36 PM
    Both the notebook and Desktops were bad choices. You can definitly find better priced laptops/desktops for the same price or better specified configurations for that price. So Basicly, this article was badly researched.
  • 0 Hide
    reasonablevoice , June 11, 2008 11:44 PM
    Since you have to take into account miniaturization, thermal output and most importantly POWER usage, you can see a notebook will never outperform its desktop price point equivalent. Never. Also, ergonomics is an issue. I know you can get a docking station or add a usb mouse/keyboard combo but that adds cost and inconvenience. Also most displays have lasted me through multiple computers. Notebooks surely have their place and their uses but when I'm chilling at home I'm mostly on my desktop. This whole question of whether to get a desktop or notebook is really moot point though. Enthusiasts will own both while others will purchase one or the other based mostly on their mobility requirements.
  • 0 Hide
    reasonablevoice , June 11, 2008 11:46 PM
    This is kind of off topic, but at the Intel Channel conference I saw that Intel is planning to release a standard for notebook parts so that you can easily build your own just like with desktops. I think this is aimed at resellers but may be an option for end users too.
  • 0 Hide
    Luscious , June 12, 2008 12:32 AM
    Quote:
    Specially-equipped gamer notebooks, like MSI’s Extreme Edition GX-600 Series, promise unadulterated gaming pleasure.


    That must be a joke right???

    For $2149 you can get a Toshiba X205-SLI6 "fully loaded" with dual GPU.
    One of the best gaming notebooks you can buy today. $1849 will get you the SLI5 model. That's the best value if you ask me.

    Heck, Eurocom will build you a laptop with quad-core Penryn, 3 hard drives, 8 gigs of ram, dual 8800M GTX and 1080p display with blu-ray burner built-in... just be prepared to trade your '98 Honda for it.
  • 0 Hide
    leeon , June 12, 2008 7:08 AM
    fully equiped laptop to only a case of a pc. in the price should be also inclidud a display, camera, microphone, keyboard, mouse...i am sure that if they would calculate all this things in a price of a pc the difference would not be so huge. after all - when you buy a new pc and you dont have an old one at home, do you buy online the case + hardware? i think that this comparison is not in place, since this pc and this laptop can not be actually compared.
  • 0 Hide
    leeon , June 12, 2008 7:13 AM
    i think that this comparison as not been done cerrectly since they compared fully equiped laptop to only a case of a pc. in the price should be also inclidud a display, camera, microphone, keyboard, mouse...things that are included in a laptop. i am sure that if they would calculate all this things into a price of a pc the difference would not be so huge. after all - when you buy a new pc and you dont have an old one at home, do you buy online the case + hardware inside of it? i think that this comparison is not in place, since this pc and this laptop can not be actually compared.
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , June 12, 2008 8:44 AM
    Wish I could afford a decent laptop. Can't stand those eeePCs, the screen size makes me feel like I'm reading a Mr. Men book. I like my 22" goodness too much.
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    A_Dying_Wren , June 12, 2008 11:47 AM
    Hmm... Not entirely fair comparison. If Toms did some proper shopping, for $1850 you could do MUCH better with a good clevo from the likes of xoticpc. That acer is severely overpriced and acers are not known for their performance.

    The desktop could've been better but somewhat reasonable for $1850. a 8800GTS 512 would've settled the deal.
  • 0 Hide
    crom , June 12, 2008 1:40 PM
    I didn't see a monitor in the desktop pricing build out. I would think that that should be included in the pricing if you're comparing the two systems.
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