Saturday, January 31, 2009

Desktop vs. Laptop

I've been bouncing back and forth with this topic for a good number of years now, and I think I've finally seen enough in the market to give the thumbs-up switchover to laptops.

As the computing industry improved over the years, technical miniaturization and economies of scale have caused a shift towards laptops so much so that they are now actually the better of the two in terms of money spent. Back in the day, an average, medium gaming desktop would cost around $1,300 to build while a laptop at a bare bones level would cost well over $2,000. It just wouldn't make sense for any normal person to blow money on a laptop unless they really needed it for business or if their employer purchased it for them. The laptops would usually have a smallish-crappy screen, the battery life would not be able to complete a whole DVD movie without pooping out, and the processor was usually some piece of shit lower-voltage thing that would be stripped of any extra cache or would have a hella reduced front bus speed (FBS), making it a lame duck. Many improvements have been made since then and now desktops and laptops are pretty much on the same playing field.

In terms of what you get, these days you pretty much have the same thing. Intel's introduction of the Core 2 Duo Processor changed the rules as they were able to make the same core processor for laptops as they used in desktops. Yes, the laptops are usually a tad slower and/or one generation behind in FBSs, but all-in-all they were about the same from the usability standpoint and in most benchmarks. Every other portion of a laptop is on par with their desktop counterpart: Gigabit NICs, DDR2 memory, LED LCDs, 7200RPM HDDs, etc. The only part that can't be directly duplicated is the video card just because they are monsters in a desktop and usually drain a bucketload of power. "Gaming" video card chipsets have been produced but they still aren't as good as a desktop, but for non-gamers, this wouldn't make any difference at all.

If one was out to save money, they would easily be able to compare the power drain between 2 average machines. My last rig drained 118 Watts while idle and 227 Watts while gaming. Compare this with a laptop at 18 Watts while idle and 46 Watts while gaming. I didn't even figure in the fact that a desktop system would still need an external LCD that drains around 25 Watts by itself. Considering that most of the time a computer would be closer to idle than hardcore gaming, a 84% savings in electricity use is not a bad tradeoff.

Lets face it, everyone needs to access a computer every waking day of their lives. Not being connected sucks, and sometimes you won't be at home, may that be a trip, a family gathering, or when zombies attack and you have 20 seconds to grab shit before needing to escape. Having the ability to toat your laptop around wherever you go is a huge advantage over that of any desktop system. Sure, there might be some people who will never need to go anywhere, like if you're a decrepit senior citizen, but for the rest of the populace, it's a huge plus to have a laptop.

For any Ebayers such as myself out there, resale means a lot since you always want to recover any money from objects that have little to no worth to you. Piecing out a desktop system sucks ass because the second you install everything, nobody really trusts used parts on the open market. There is just so much that can go wrong in terms of having defective items, the person on the other end being a fucking idiot who doesn't know what they are doing, or absurdly overclocked video cards and processors. In a one-liner, you would be very lucky to get half of what you paid for, for a desktop system after 3 months of use.

But with a laptop, it's a completely different story. I remember when I had a Thinkpad X31 that I purchased for $1,000 and 1 year later I sold it off for a little more than $800. For some weird reason there is always a market for laptops. Yes, Apples and famous PC models like the Thinkpad line do hold their value better than others, but even old-ass Dell Inspirons can sell for hundreds of dollars many years later. It's kinda like a car. You will still be able to get at least $1,000 trade-in for an old-ass piece of shit jalopy, just like you will always be able to get at least $100 for an old-ass laptop...but usually it's higher around $200-300. Compare that with trying to sell off desktop parts. With a laptop all you have to do is to explain the condition of the laptop, what works and what doesn't, how long the battery will last for, and what software it comes with. Someone somewhere will buy that thing even if it doesn't work.

Since this is where I started down the road of computing, it should be where I make my transition out of it. Having a badass SLI rig that is able to play the latest FPS is good and all, but the shitty thing is that #1 You rig won't be shit 3 months later, #2 Fewer and fewer "good" games are coming out for the PC, and #3 any good game that does come out does not really require your rig to be the best out there. Constantly having to upgrade to the next best video card financially sucks and there is not a lot of payback for it. Again, considering that most of one's time is spent screwing off online and not gaming, it becomes a waste of money to spend so much on a video card that only gets to see real game time 10-15% of the time. Look at many people still play that game and it came out in 2004. Do you know what type of video card you need to run it? A very low-end one by today's standards can still maintain a decent FPS rate...very low-end. So yeah, with that being said, any half-decent laptop with a dedicated video card will be able to run most fun games of the current generation, assuming that maxing out Crysis is not a big priority.

All types of equipment have a lifespan, may that be a cell phone (2 years), a car (10 years), a house (50 years), or a computer (2 years). If you get a laptop and get a 2 year warranty, that's one less item that you'll have to worry about because at the end of those 2 years, the laptop will be so old and used that you'll want a new one anyway. Being able to sell it off and buy a new one makes it all the more better. As a system builder, having to deal with a plethora of different warranty times with computer parts sucks. 3 years with a retail Intel CPU, 5 years with a Seagate HDD, and 1 year with most motherboards. Sure, you might find good lifetime deals through XFX and eVGA, but overall it's more of a hassle to have to troubleshoot which part is broken and then having to replace said part. Having a full warranty with one company is so much easier to handle. Of course you'll have to have a backup laptop, but isn't that what netbooks are for?

There hasn't been as much research and development taking place in the lithium-ion arena for laptop batteries. These days you can probably get 3.5 hours out of a regular-sized lappy, but usually that's with brightness turned all the way down and having your system run on a skeleton crew. It is nice to have your very own built-in APC though, for those rare days when you're doing something important and the power goes out.

Now we get to the heart of the matter: $$. I got my lappy brand new for $825 right before Christmas when crazy deals were happening everywhere. It's fully loaded with 4GB of RAM, a 320GB HDD, a LED LCD, and a gaming Nvidia GeForce 9650M GT w/ 1GB RAM. I could probably build a similar desktop rig for around the same price, but you don't get any perks afforded to you by having a laptop. With the price point of being under $1,000, if you're a smart shopper, there really is no reason not to get a laptop unless you're are a crazy-happy gamer who loves FPSs.

I foresee a huge migration towards laptops in the future and a steep decline in the sales of desktop systems. They just aren't practical anymore. It's kinda the same thing that the Xbox 360 did. $250 and now $199 is the ballpark price point for a console system. The second the retail price hit this range, their sales skyrocketed. Sony really needs to get with the program to stay alive. That and I think I want a PS3. It saddens me to think that consoles have taken over the gaming arena from that of the PC, but I don't think I would care as much knowing that 2 years from now, a newly released console game will play exactly as it should as opposed to a PC game, where any new requirements will make your rig outdated overnight.