For your next personal computer, should you go with a laptop PC even though you primarily use your computer in one location?
More people have been answering this question in the affirmative. Sales of laptop PCs surpassed desktop PCs for the first time in 3Q 2008, according to the market research firm iSuppli (www.isuppli.com).
Several factors explain the trend. Traditionally, desktops far outperformed laptops with cost, speed, storage capacity, and reliability. Desktop PCs still have an advantage in these areas, but the difference has decreased dramatically. The smallest laptops, the netbooks, are now priced equivalently to the least expensive desktop PCs.
The main advantage of laptops is the most obvious. Rather than being tethered to one spot, you can use your computer wherever you happen to be, whether from building to building, within an office, factory, or house, or even outside.
This portability is accentuated by the recent improvements in wireless internet technology, with wireless network adapters now built into most laptops. This and other advances make it easier to set up a network in a business or home and to connect to an existing Wi-Fi network for internet access in selected airports, hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, supermarkets, libraries, and college campuses.
Stationary desktop PCs still have their benefits. Their greater speed and capacity make them better suited for video editing, computer-aided design, and high-end gaming. Their larger size for some people makes them easier to type on and easier to view with. People using desktops are also generally less prone to ergonomic problems, such as neck and back strain from slumping over a small machine.
Unless you're near an outlet, laptops are also limited by their battery life. And laptops are more easily stolen than larger desktop PCs, which is a big factor in organizational settings.
Workarounds are available, however, to mitigate these issues. You can use a supplemental mouse, keyboard, and/or monitor with a laptop PC. Laptop stands can improve the ergonomics without requiring supplemental devices. Aviiq (www.aviiq.com) has recently introduced its Portable Laptop Stand, which, unlike most other laptop stands, folds up so you can carry it along with the laptop.
Some people carry an external laptop battery with them, which can double the time you can use your computer before having to recharge it. Energizer's Energi To Go XP18000 (www.energizer.com/products/energi-to-go) is a portable power pack that can charge a laptop and two other devices at once if you don't have access to an electrical outlet.
Most laptops today have a security slot you can use to secure the unit to a desk or other immovable object with a security cable and lock such as those from Kensington (http://us.kensington.com).
The word "laptop" has evolved into an umbrella term for "portable computer." Portable PCs today come in four main flavors, listed here by decreasing size: desktop replacements, laptops, notebooks, and netbooks. Variations include tablet PCs with touchscreens that can be used without a keyboard and "rugged" laptops built to withstand strong vibrations, heat and cold, moisture, and dust.
I've been experimenting with a Sony VAIO desktop-replacement laptop (www.sonystyle.com/vaio) as my main work machine to see how well it replicates my current desktop PC experience. Sony makes some of the most reliable laptop PCs, according to a study by SquareTrade, a third-party warranty provider for laptops and other electronics (www.squaretrade.com).
The Sony VAIO CW series laptops, which start at about $720, have large 14" screens and keys that are about the same size and have the same spacing as desktop keyboards. As with most laptops, you use a touchpad instead of a mouse, which requires an adjustment period unless you have previous experience with one.
The Sony VAIO runs Windows 7 and works well with it. As with most PCs, you can order it with extra capacity, going in increments from a 2.10GHz to a 2.80GHz Intel processor, a 250GB to a 500GB hard drive, 2GB to 8GB of memory, and so on. A slightly higher than basic configuration works great for me, though if I were doing high-end graphics, I would opt for more.
At 5.3 lbs. it's not light. But weight is the inevitable trade-off you face with laptops when choosing higher performance. Like many PCs these days, the VAIO comes standard with an advertising-laden edition of Microsoft Works, with various editions of Microsoft Office costing from $145 to $400 extra.
Though this is a machine that will travel with me, I'm not ready to give up my desktop PC just yet. But I can see how others would.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or reidgold.com.