Laptop or Desktop? as a Computer Science Student

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Laptop, desktop or maybe both! Sounds like a difficult decision right? Well, it doesn’t have to be, you just need to understand how you are planning to use the device. The truth of the matter is that it depends on how you plan to use the device or devices.

In this article, I will give you my opinion as a postgraduate student, studying towards a Masters Degree in Computer Science. I will also share how I like to study! New here? Find out more! 

To begin with, let’s consider what each device is used for, sounds obvious right? Then why are so many of us making the same mistake? What mistake you may ask? Well, people buy laptops to be used only at home or in their dorms and they buy desktops when they know they need to move around. Being at University I saw this mistake happen all the time and all I heard is friends and fellow students complaining that they should have got a laptop or desktop instead. Now I understand that there may be many constraints such as financial or even space but still, it’s better to understand 

 

Desktop When you want to sit at a desk

Photo by Niclas Illg on Unsplash
Photo by Niclas Illg on Unsplash

If you mainly use your computer at a desk, the obvious decision would be to get a desktop computer. However, there may be several complications with this idea space being one of them, especially if you live in a small room.

The advantages of a desktop computer

1. Easier to upgrade

Investing in a desktop PC you are effectively future-proofing yourself because not only are desktops easier to upgrade they can also be cheaper to upgrade.

2. Larger Monitor

Unless you have an All in one PC, it will depend on the size of monitor you connect to it. Yes, yes, I know you can connect a monitor to a laptop, but more on this later in the article.

3. Easier to repair

Laptops are more difficult to repair, I mean if your keyboard fails on a desktop, you just buy a new keyboard and plug it into your device and off you go. On a laptop, you need to take it apart and if you’re not tech savvy  or not comfortable with taking your laptop apart, not only will it cost more to buy the keyboard, you will also need to pay the labour charge for the repair if the fault is not covered by the manufacturers warranty.

4. Comfort

Sitting at a desk looking directly at your PC monitor, rather than down at your laptop is a lot more comfortable and reduces strain.

5. Security

Desktops sit on your desk, sure you can take it all apart, but that takes time and effort.

6. Optional: Build your own!

Yes, you’ve read that correctly! You can actually build your very own computer tower! I will never forget that feeling when I built my first computer, it was such an amazing feeling! If you are interested in building your own computer check out PCPartpicker – Obviously after you finish reading this article 🙂

The disadvantages of a desktop computer

1. Space

Desktop computers tend to take up a lot of space which for some isn’t a problem but if you have a small study space it can quickly become a big problem

2. Power

Desktops use a lot more power, especially since you need a high-wattage power supply unit (PSU), a monitor, other components inside your PC and peripherals such as your keyboard, speakers, the list goes on…

 

 

Laptop When you're on the move

Photo by Lara Far on Unsplash
Photo by Lara Far on Unsplash

Laptops seem the obvious choice these days, they are small, portable and are the norm these days. However, if you plan to use your device on your desk than a desktop is a better choice.

The advantages of laptops

1. Portability

The main advantage of laptops is obviously the portability, which as a Computer Science Student can be very important, especially for group work. During my undergrad studies, I was assigned many group work projects and sitting around a table with a laptop was so much better than sitting around a computer, not only did it enable us to be more productive, it also enabled us to complete the task faster. Using your laptop for your coursework. For example, if a piece of software you are developing develops an issue or the code doesn’t work properly, you can show classmates or your lecturer who might help you in troubleshooting the issue.

2. Uses less power

Laptops tend to use a lot less power compared to desktops, I mean you are only plugging one device into the mains.

The disadvantages of using a laptop

1. Keyboard

Depending on the laptop, the keyboard is much smaller than a USB keyboard making it difficult to type. Not to mention the disgusting touchpads, although, I must admit the touchpads on some laptops are very comfortable to use! But I will still prefer a mouse over a touchpad. In my view, touchpads should be used in addition to a mouse. 

2. Upgradability

Laptops can be very difficult to upgrade, as proven with my recent experience with my laptop, the HP Pavilion 14-CE0505SA. It’s a great laptop that turned out to be very problematic and costly to upgrade. Have you seen the video?

As shown in the video, the laptop was very problematic to upgrade, it only has one slot for RAM, limiting the options of which RAM you actually can install. In terms of storage, there is a bay to install a 2.5-inch hard drive but no connector cable or caddy for the hard drive was actually included with the device and to my luck, HP discontinued those parts, luckily I was able to find a compatible part on eBay.

3. Battery

Battery life can be a huge disadvantage for laptops, especially when it starts to die and it eventually will. My current laptop is just over a year old and the battery life has already gone down from 6 hours to around 1 hour and 30 minutes which is pretty bad, and yes I have been using the battery properly.

4. Compatibility

In some cases, when upgrading or installing a different operating system such as Linux laptops can prove to be problematic. When I installed Ubuntu on my laptop, it turned out that the network card wasn’t supported resulting in me having to purchase a USB one which wasn’t ideal due to the number of USB ports the laptop has

5. Limited ports

This is quite a big disadvantage to laptops, I mean some laptops don’t even have an ethernet port and don’t get me started on limited USB ports!

My Recommendation

From my own experience, I found that it was much easier to use my personal laptop, simply because having to constantly setup environments and download and install software wastes so much time, time that could be spent on your learning. It’s worth bearing in mind that if something goes wrong it’s easier to show your laptop to fellow students or your lecturer, yes I know you can bring in your desktop PC, but you might get some strange looks.

Now you may be thinking, but I thought using a laptop at home for work isn’t recommended, well yes but that’s where adapting your setup for work from home comes in.

I recommend purchasing a separate computer monitor, mouse and keyboard which you can connect to your laptop. Not only will this give you a desktop feel but it will allow you to use your device multi-purpose! If you want to be really posh, I recommend investing in a port-replicator. This is something that I did during my second and last year as it was just so much easier. I would use my laptop in lectures and continue to use it at home using a docking station. I picked up a universal Display Link docking station for under £20 second-hand which I was extremely happy with. I then connected two monitors to it, the experience was absolutely great.

How I study during Covid-19

Obviously, Covid-19 has changed a lot of things. I planned ahead and decided to do my Masters Degree as a Distant learner from home. Therefore, I now use a desktop PC since I’m working from home.

 

Recommended Gear A few things I recommend for your ideal University Setup

My Current Setup What I currently use

Have any tips or suggestions? Let us know in the comments!