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Portability both a blessing and a curse

What is the better purchase, a sleek new laptop or a more practical desktop computer?

Many customers in our store research this question. A laptop is stylish, portable and compact. A desktop computer is stable, economical and easily upgradable. The best choice depends on the user’s needs and preferences.

With a laptop, there’s no need for a large tower at your feet, a huge monitor covering the desk, and a spider web of cords and cables. A laptop makes “armchair Internet surfing” possible. Everything is right there in a notebook-sized package: computer, monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Memory may be upgraded very easily, and there are many add-ons through the PCMCIA slot or through a USB connection. And yet, with all these advantages, there is a price to be paid.

“The laptop’s greatest benefit and biggest downfall is portability,” says Mike Harshbarger, Computer Renaissance owner. Benefits include wireless Internet, battery power, and portable access to movies and music. The cost of that convenience is susceptibility to damage, and a higher cost of upgrades and repairs. Laptop portability contributes to the high rate of laptop repairs. To be painfully honest, our service department’s success is largely due to the need for laptop repairs. Normal use and travel, as well as accidental damage, often lead to issues with the power jack, LCD screen or keyboard, the most readily damaged components of the laptop.

The power jack is a trouble spot due to the fact that it extends beyond the casing of the laptop and connects directly to the motherboard. Pressure on the plug and the port effects the soldered connection to the motherboard. Any short or surge can damage the motherboard itself, which is the largest and most expensive part of the computer. Repair of the power jack involves dismantling the entire laptop, desoldering the connection, resoldering a new jack and reassembling the computer. This requires several hours of undivided attention, and a great deal of expertise.

A less severe issue is a broken key on a laptop keyboard. A damaged key might be reset manually, but its integrity can’t be guaranteed. A replacement keyboard for that model should be ordered and installed professionally.

Some high-end computing requirements are not easily met by laptops. Gamers who play massive multiplayer online roleplaying games such as World of Warcraft require top-end graphics cards and expanded memory. Business applications for engineering and design require similar or greater capabilities including a high speed processor and extensive hard drive space. Some high-priced laptops meet these requirements, but upgrades to laptops are often impossible or cost-prohibitive. Desktop computers have a great advantage over laptops in these cases.

To determine the best choice between a laptop and a desktop, consider the person who will use it most. Laptops require a very high level of care. Food or drink on a desktop keyboard is simply messy, on a laptop keyboard it can destroy the motherboard. Initial investment for a desktop computer and new monitor is similar to that of a basic laptop. The long-term cost of ownership can be much higher with a laptop. The deciding factor is the practical value of a laptop’s convenience.

Patty Harshbarger, owner of Computer Renaissance of Bradenton, can be reached at