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Laptop Or Desktop? Not a simple question, mind you...


So I'm deciding to move on from my desktop replacement to pursue something much more modern. I have an HP zd8000 (Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz, 2GB RAM, ATI Mobility Radeon X600 w/ 256MB VRAM, 80GB HD) that I will let my girlfriend use to replace her dying Dell Inspiron (Intel Duo Core 1.5GHz, 512MB RAM, some NVIDIA chip) because it suffers from random shutdowns (or more accurately, the computer just losing power on her). Instead of trying to fix the darn thing, I think I'll just use it as a tinker toy and maybe even try to restore some life to it by cleaning it out. The one thing I'm afraid of with her and my laptop is that she'll kill it too with the one thing she's so stubborn about: having coffee near the laptop. (That's what ails the Dell: multiple instances of coffee spillage.)


Now, I'm actually at a decision standstill. Aside from being broke, I'm not sure whether to get a desktop or a laptop. I know most of the pros and cons to each, but I'm not sure still where to put my money (when I do have it to purchase a machine).


The desktop system that I'm looking at building is a vast improvement from what I'm used to: a custom-built machine that will actually fly in comparison (performance-wise) to anything else I've used in the past.




Case: NZXT TEMPEST Crafted Series CS-NT-TEM-B Black Steel / Plastic ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail


Motherboard: EVGA 132-CK-NF78-A1 LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce 780i SLI ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail

Power Supply: CORSAIR CMPSU-750TX 750W ATX12V / EPS12V SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Power Supply - Retail


Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 Kentsfield 2.4GHz LGA 775 Quad-Core Processor Model BX80562Q6600 - Retail

RAM: CORSAIR 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model TWIN2X4096-6400C5 - Retail



Hard Drive: SAMSUNG Spinpoint F1 HD753LJ 750GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM (x2)


Optical Drive: SAMSUNG 22X DVD?R DVD Burner with LightScribe Black SATA Model SH-S223Q - OEM

Video Card: EVGA 896-P3-1265-AR GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 896MB 448-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported Video Card - Retail


Sound Card: Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer 7.1 Channels PCI Interface Sound Card - Retail


This whole setup will ring up at around $1300... and that doesn't include a monitor or speakers, which would add another good bit. (Any constructive critique to this prospective build would be awesome.)


Now... owning a desktop would have the advantages of being able to pick and choose what you put into the machine (component-wise), get the most for your money, and be able to afford more power. Aside from the obvious fact that I can't move this monster around anywhere I want (as opposed to having the portable form factor of a laptop), I'm wondering about how much this rig will run me to keep it ticking, power-usage-wise. (I haven't exactly thrown a Kill-A-Watt into the mix to figure out how much kW I'll be pulling out of the wall to run this thing, but 750W of potential power is a lot of juice.) Of course, there are all the extra cables, and it doesn't come with a monitor or speakers, which add on to more money. I almost feel like this would be the dream rig to purchase in the future (since I wasn't exactly being too careful with picking out cheap components, like running two GT 8800's - $80 each - in SLI instead of the $300 GT 260 I have in the build), but it might be a reality if maybe I tone things down a bit. (But what self-respective geek would want to "tone it down a bit?")




On the other end of the spectrum, I've been looking at the gaming laptop value of the Gateway P-7811FX, a machine with crazy specs for what it's being offered for. Under the hood:


Case: 15.7 in x 11.7 in x 1.7 in @ 9.3 lbs

Motherboard: integrated

Power Supply: 120W AC adapter

Processor: Intel Core Duo P8400 @ 2.26GHz


Hard Drive: 200 GB 7200 rpm

Optical Drive: DVD-RW / DVD-RAM

Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 9800M GTS w/ 512MB VRAM

Sound Card: Integrated


The laptop also includes a 5 in 1 card reader, the 17" 1920 x 1200 WUXGA widescreen display, integrated webcam, integrated wireless connectivity, and a handful of connectivity and expansion opportunities (2 free SODIMM slots, 1 ExpressCard, 3 USB 2.0 ports, 1 VGA port, 1 IEEE 1394 FireWire port, 1 HDMI port). It comes with Vista Premium and a ton of bloatware too. I can find this laptop on eBay @ around $1100.


The pros of owning a laptop would be the obvious portability (even at 9.3 lbs, not including the AC adapter), the included display and speakers, less cable mess, and the reduced power usage. Largest con here is that I know I'll be paying more for the form factor than anything else... not exactly a best-bang-for-the-buck (even though this laptop is a steal in itself, performance-wise).




Now, I want to know how much of an impact a 750W machine has in consuming power (and therefore, how much impact it has on the electricity bill) compared to a machine that draws a maximum of 120W. (I often leave my machines idle to download things and lately, I've been running the HP to keep my external hard drive on to stream movies and music to my 360 for the kids and GF while they're at home and while I'm at work.) Also, I want to know your thoughts on the considerations between owning a desktop and owning a laptop. The decision might be dependent on HOW I use my computers too... I usually leave my HP upstairs, but occasionally bring it down to do my thing, physically sitting next to my girlfriend. (Yes, we're weird like that.) I actually use my computer mostly for Internet, but I do some occasional Photoshop work, video processing, and the killer here would be occasional gaming... with emphasis on first-person shooters that I would like to have a good frame rate. (I have NEVER played a game at high quality settings with a frame rate greater than 25. Best graphics I've seen so far is Call of Duty 4 at 1400x900 with NOTHING else turned on... or F.E.A.R. at medium settings @ 1024x768, both at frame rates varying from 4 to 23 FPS.)


So what do you guys and gals think?


You should go for the Desktop, although it is more expensive, they are easier for self maintenance and will experience less heating problems in the long run. If you are using your computer for gamming, then the desktop would be the way to go. Currently the Dual Core Quad Processors are not really good, you need to wait for them to be synchronised because they currently run seperately (eg. Each set of dual cores within the quad run seperately), they should released a synchronised version in mid 2009. If I may ask, what OS are you planning on running with this machine, you may want to run a 64 bit OS (eg. Vista Home Premium 64 bit edition, Windows XP 64 bit edition or some 64 bit Linux), otherwise you will find that it can only run a maximum of 2 GB of RAM. The hard drive is a good choice BUT make sure you have a good fan. I hope some of this information is useful...TriplebTalk


Out of curiosity, what would the lack of synchronization between the two dual-core CPUs cause as far as problems? (I figured that the multiple cores would work different aspects of things when it comes to programs, or even games, like having one core track and position the location of the objects of a game, where another would do the calculations for simulated physics, etc.) The only thing that I can imagine is if they don't work in tandem that one dual-core CPU would have to wait on the other if it finished it's calculations/task first (if the final task was dependent on the completion of the secondary task), which would probably mean lag time and ultimately inefficient computing... at a real-time cost in experience of an extra split-second or so.I understand that heat is a major killer when it comes to computers, and that's why my battery in my HP died prematurely (since the zd8000 model was infamous for its heat output), but for the longest time, I ran my laptop elevated on boxes and maximized air circulation to keep the laptop cool, which I think wasn't too bad of a deal. I do like knowing that with the case I selected for the desktop that air flow and circulation would be pretty awesome.I never really thought of the operating system at all, because I assumed to be running Windows XP Professional (since I haven't found any real upside to moving to Vista other than DirectX10 support). The laptop comes with Vista Premium (64-bit), but I currently don't have a 64-bit OS. (I forgot about the limitations to running a 32-bit OS.) I thought that the limit to a 32-bit OS was 3.5GB?


The lack of synchronisation makes it quite a bit less efficient and you will find that because they aren't synchronised, it can be slower than just a Dual core. The RAM is in fact 3.5 GB, sorry I was wrong, and to extend this in a 32 Bit OS have a look at this website: http://vistarewired.com/ .


Ah.I've seen benchmarks for quad-core processors and dual-core processors and both are actually rather comparable, and it is obvious that a quad-core isn't four times better than a single core or two times better than a dual core. I'm sure I could save quite a bit just sticking with one of the best: the Intel Pentium Duo Core E6600, but then again, I don't really know whether I want to do that or not.This kind of back-and-forth bantering with myself as far as being selective with components and future-proofing is why I have the zd8000 in the first place: to snag a laptop that was powerful enough to run my games and wait to build a rig that would be future-proofed to some degree. I did not know about the synchronization issue with quad-core processors... which means that I would have to see what prices are like for a synchronized quad-core, but then again, my nature with technology does not bode well with paying full price for the latest and greatest. (It might seem kind of strange to see my selection of components with that statement being said, since the 260 GT is still relatively new.) I'm not sure how to say that... maybe that I like to go a bit past mid-range and mix a combination of value with performance?Also, thanks for the link, but I'd rather just snag a 64-bit copy of the OS that I'll go for. (As much as I hate the idea of going to Vista, I may have to suffer... or learn to tweak it enough to minimize my suffering.)


I also was thinking of getting an high-end tech laptop instead of the Desktop Pc i got some weeks ago. What made me make a choice is the fact that you can always do upgrades to your desktop pc, while in laptops you will barely be able to do it, but also the fact that you can get the best out of a desktop for much less money.I wanted a PC made for gaming, and found a good deal on eBay, for $550 I got: AMD Phenom Quad core 2.3Ghz black edition, Patriot 4GB RAM, Ati Radeon HD3870, everything installed on a Crossfire capable motherboard, inside of a Thermaltake case with HDD and DVD burner, along with mouse, speakers and keyboard included. Now thats a great deal eh?? a laptop with those specifications would have costed me around $1500.You could find something that suits your needs and wont rip off your wallet if you take a search on that website, thats my advice Anyway mate, good luck with your purchase.


I actually did some numbers up and designed a desktop with similar specifications to the laptop that I'm looking at... and in going for that route, I would save about $200, which I can safely say goes to paying for the portability if considering the laptop. Having a desktop will let me upgrade it when I want to, which would be nice, but I don't think I'm a person that will be throwing money left and right to snag the latest and greatest, even when it hits the bargain bin. (Maybe every couple of years or so, I'll actually put money into upgrading components as I go.) At the same time, cost of ownership could be lower with a desktop just because I can upgrade components as opposed to being stuck with a laptop and having to buy a whole new system... but then again, failing components will yield the same result as owning a laptop and having to basically buy a whole new working system anyway.This also brings up the question again of the cost-effectiveness of a 750W beast and its monitor compared to a 120W paperweight running constantly. How much will it cost per kW, and moreover, the final bill per month? How much do those computers really draw for wattage to play occasional games and run at near-idle for a good portion of the day, overnight, or even a few days straight?


I finally got off my bum and actually looked up a kW calculator as well as figures that match this power consumption scenario. (Please correct me in my numbers if I'm off or incorrect.)I'm going to round off and say that the desktop with similar specifications will run me about $900 as opposed to the laptop that I'm interested in, which I can snag at around $1100. So far, that's a $200 difference in initial hardware purchases in the desktop configuration's favor.I'm going to set this up so that both computers run at maximum power draw for a couple of hours (750W and 120W, respectively) and have normal tasking and idling for 8 hours (which I'll assume will draw 30% of wattage), for a grand total of being on for 10 hours per day.Here in New Hampshire with PSNH, a kW costs about 15 cents per kW.So, with those numbers, the desktop PC will generate a maximum of 750W and idle/normally load at 250W, and the laptop will do the same with 120W and 40W, respectively. This means that the desktop will cost $0.58 a day, whereas the laptop will run $0.09 a day. Multiply both by a theoretical 365 days for the year, and you'll get annual costs of $211.70 for the desktop and $32.85 for the laptop.Already, within the first year, the cost of ownership for the desktop is now $1111.70. The laptop will cost $1132.85. Where did the $200 savings go for the desktop? And of course, it only grows from there.Even with a 500W desktop, the annual costs for the same run-time will come up to $124.10, about 4 times the cost of the laptop.-The desktop might seem like an evil choice here in terms of the electricity bill, but at the same time, the whole concept of being able to upgrade and not have to purchase a whole new system every time is still a decent arguing point. Now having done my homework, I'm starting to lean towards snagging the laptop...Any thoughts on this whole subject?


I figured that this would draw some discussion considering the numbers and pros and cons of owning a laptop vs. owning a desktop.


Does the cost of ownership of a laptop compared with a similarly-equipped desktop give a rather reasonable and almost-sensible argument against even wanting to own a desktop, or will owning a desktop be more satisfying and even economically balance out? You give up the ability to upgrade as you please and even the ease of being able to fix some hardware-specific issues like replacing fried components, plus have the additional increased risk of heat-related problems (thanks to the tight form-factor of a laptop), but as a counter-argument, if you purchase a desktop replacement every time, would it be worth it to play with what you have until the next major upgrade of hardware?


Let's try this. So I'll go out and buy the Gateway P-7811FX for $1100 and sit on it for a few years. With the same specifications for a desktop machine, I'll decide within that few years to upgrade my processor, throw in some more RAM, snag a new video card, and maybe even a new motherboard. Hard drive space is also a must-upgrade, thanks to our tons of pictures, videos, games, and bloatware. To just throw some numbers in the air, a new processor (that's worth upgrading to) can cost a couple hundred dollars; RAM being typically less than hundred dollar upgrade; a video card being a couple to a few hundred dollars; and if you want to add an additional hard drive, it could cost from less than a hundred dollars to a bit over that mark. Throw in a new motherboard that's worth upgrading to can add a couple more hundred dollars.


Not counting the motherboard, and estimating costs (processor: $150; RAM: $100; video card: $200; hard drive: $100; motherboard: $150), an overhaul to snag decent upgrade hardware can run around $500 at a typical minimum. (The numbers I threw up seem typical to me having paid attention to hardware prices and technology advances over the years.)


Let's also say that a new decent laptop with similar upgrades in hardware will cost around $1100.


We'll take our 750W desktop machine into comparison with our 120W laptop with cost of ownership for those few years, then add onto the cost of upgrades/replacement.


750W Desktop: $900 (initial cost) + [3 years * $211.70 for annual electricity bill] + $550 upgrade = $2085.10


120W Laptop: $1100 (initial cost) + [3 years * $32.85 for annual electricity bill] + $1100 replacement = $2298.55


Looks like the laptop loses by about $200 here, and that's assuming that nothing fails on either machine, that both machines are on similar loads for three years (2 hours of intensive activity, 8 hours of normal tasking and idle every day), and that the prices for an upgraded laptop and the price of upgrade components for the desktop are about typically-sound (minus the motherboard, which would bring the numbers to about even).


Again I ask, what do you guys think? If these numbers are reasonable, would you pay around $70 more per year on a 3-year replacement cycle for the portability of a laptop but suffer possible heat-related issues (assuming you don't replace the motherboard on the desktop)?


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