When it's time to think about buying a new computer, the very first question you must ask yourself (and the other people who will use the new computer) is the one in this chapter's title: Should I buy a desktop computer or a laptop?
This chapter should help you make that important decision; it explains how to evaluate the special features of each type and describe their benefits and drawbacks. Later in this book, you can find a lot more detail about using each of those features, but right now it's most important to decide whether the lightweight and compact design of a laptop is important enough to sacrifice the lower cost, flexible construction, and generally larger keyboard and screen in a desktop system.
In this book, the term desktop computer includes computers with both desktop (horizontal) and tower (vertical) cases, even if you normally place the case on the floor rather than a desktop or tabletop.
You can find more information about different kinds of cases in Chapter 3.
Before beginning a discussion on the pros and cons of each type, it might be useful to define certain terms.
A desktop computer usually has most of its components in a modular case, with a separate keyboard, video display, mouse, and speakers connected to the case through cables or wireless links. The case for a desktop computer might be either horizontal (with the widest surface sitting on the desk or table) or vertical (with a short face on the table or on the floor). Cases with their feet on the short surface are often called tower cases. A few specialty manufacturers offer compact designs that don't meet the industry standards (such as a computer with the processor and related parts built into the video monitor package), but most desktop computers resemble the ones shown in Figure 1.1.
Figure 1.1: A desktop computer is bigger and more flexible than a laptop.
A laptop computer is a self-contained, lightweight, portable unit that can operate on battery power. The most common laptop design is sometimes described as a clamshell because it opens up like a big bivalve, with the keyboard in the bottom half and the screen in the top. Figure 1.2 shows a typical laptop computer.
Figure 1.2: Most laptop computers use a clamshell design.
The newest portable computers, known as tablets, have touch-sensitive screens that are often attached to the keyboard section with rotating hinges. This allows a user to write on the screen with a special stylus without opening the clamshell. Microsoft has designed support for tablets into the most recent versions of the Windows operating system.