Desktops vs Laptops: What's Best for SMBs?

Edmund_McGowan
edited December 2023 in Business

Investing in the right computer hardware for your small and medium sized businesses (SMB) is a vital step in running a successful enterprise. Regardless of your industry, SMBs today are more reliant than ever before on computers to perform diverse tasks in their daily operations. From maintaining an online presence and managing e-commerce websites, to using cloud-based collaborative platforms for remote and hybrid work, computers provide the technological infrastructure at the heart of your SMB.

Efficient use of technology is a proven contributor to business success. A recent nationwide survey and econometric analysis of the U.S. small business ecosystem found that 95% of small businesses today use at least one technology platform, while 87% of these businesses reported increased efficiency due to technology platforms. Recent developments in AI are helping many SMBs to streamline their operations by handing over tasks like content generation and data analysis to AI platforms. For SMBs to make the most of the AI revolution, suitable computer hardware is necessary.

Business owners need to keep informed and up to date with computer technology, and ensure that their computer hardware fits with their business operations.

At times, the sheer number of products on offer can be overwhelming. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of different computer styles and how they can benefit your SMB can save you time and money. It makes sense to conduct thorough research to find computers that will support and enhance your SMB’s performance. Computer brands, specs and cost aside, the first consideration that many SMB owners ask is: “Should my SMB invest in desktops or laptops?” It is an age old question, and not a simple one to answer.

In this article, we will go beyond laptop vs desktop comparison. After providing an in-depth analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of desktops and laptops, we will discuss computer function and budget considerations for SMBs. Finally, we will cover hybrid solutions to help you make an informed decision before investing in new computer hardware. If you are wondering, “Should I get a laptop or desktop?” then read on to find out more!

Desktops: advantages and disadvantages 

Advantages

  • Cost-effective. Desktops are more cost-effective than laptops, offering you more computing power for your buck. The trend in the evolution of many tech products, from smartphones to drones is to create increasingly smaller, streamlined products with higher specifications. Desktops use components that have not been engineered for minimum size, and their pricing reflects this. Thanks to lower manufacturing costs and economical assembly, their initial cost is lower than laptops with similar specs. The total cost ownership (TCO) of desktops is lower as well, as desktop components are often widely available, making upgrades and part replacements a minor hassle, instead of a major one! While prices fluctuate constantly, let’s compare a desktop and a laptop, both priced around $850, to get a better idea. Acer’s Veriton X4690G VX4690G-I516G5 Desktop and TravelMate 2 Laptop - TMP214-41-G2-R85M are currently priced a little under $850, and both are great computers. For this price, the laptop has a processor speed of 1.90GHz, while the desktop offers 2.50GHz of processing speed, and features 4.40 GHz (turbo). The laptop has a standard memory of 8GB, while the desktop features a standard memory of 16 GB. As you can see, there are notable differences in the performance of these similarly priced computers.
  • Upgradability. Owing to their modular, (relatively) accessible design, desktop computers are easier to upgrade than laptops. Key components including the CPU, graphics and sound cards, as well as RAM and storage drives can be upgraded individually and relatively simply. Upgrades can be tailored to individual SMB or user performance requirements and use. Components such as RAM, SSD drives and graphics cards mostly adhere to industry-standard form factors, making choosing parts and upgrading relatively hassle free. A common scenario is an SMB might choose to upgrade RAM (Random Access Memory) in a desktop to improve performance and run multiple applications simultaneously. If there are additional RAM slots available on the motherboard, the process can be as simple as securing the new modules in the appropriate slots. 
  • Thermal Efficiency. Preventing overheating can prolong your computer’s life and performance. As we mentioned above, larger size components and comparatively roomy design of desktop computers promotes increased airflow. These characteristics, along with increasingly power-efficient (lower power consumption = less heat) components contribute to thermal efficiency in desktops. Airflow is also essential: fans and vents bring cool air in and take hot air out to minimize heat buildup in the desktop. Heat sinks are used to draw heat away from the CPU, and in higher-end models, liquid cooling systems are even used to keep operations cool and smooth. Thermal efficiency maximizes your desktop’s performance, ensuring a stable, efficient platform for your SMB. An SMB owner might occasionally need to push their desktop computers’ capability to the max, efficient cooling stops them from overheating.
  • Multiple monitors. Setting up multiple-monitor workstations from a desktop is a breeze that can greatly benefit your business. Desktops provide added flexibility when setting up multiple monitors, as they generally have two or more plugs and more variety of plugs, so you can also connect to older monitors that use VGA or DVI) for monitors, while laptops usually only have one  (HDMI). Providing your SMB employees with multiple monitors can increase productivity by encouraging effective multitasking. If an employee is able to run multiple applications simultaneously, tasks can be completed faster. This improves workflow efficiency and simplifies navigation between platforms that might be tricky on a single screen. Collaboration within your SMB can also be encouraged and streamlined through multiple monitor use, as colleagues can simultaneously access multiple documents, cross reference and make comparisons.  

Disadvantages 

  • Immobility. Once you have set up your desktop computer and connected monitors, speakers, keyboards, mice and other peripherals, don’t try to move it! Desktops are not designed to be portable, and moving around heavy, fragile components (which obviously need to be plugged in to run) is a risky business. 
  • Space requirements. Although most desktop computer towers are housed under users’ desks, there’s no escaping the fact that they take up a lot of space. In addition to the computer itself, monitors, external drives, speakers and cameras can quickly overrun a small desk or office space. 
  • Power dependency. You will need to connect your desktop computer to a power source for it to function. During power outages or surges, backup solutions such as a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) can prevent hardware damage as well as data loss. A UPS won’t give you prolonged battery life though, and is principally designed to protect your hardware while you safely shut down your desktop. 

Laptops: advantages and disadvantages

Advantages

  • Portability. Since the Osborne 1 (the first commercially successful portable computer) was released back in the early 1980s, portability has been at the heart of laptop design and evolution. Modern laptops are getting increasingly lighter and thinner, and can be conveniently carried in a briefcase or backpack. Laptop users are able to travel literally anywhere with their files and work, from coffee shops to deserts. Since the evolution of wireless internet, employees are not shackled to the office environment. Digital nomads have truly embraced the portability of laptops, creating a new lifestyle around travel and remote, laptop based work. Laptop portability is reliant on battery power, while traveling with your AC adapter and finding a power source can provide limitless portable computing power. 
  • Integrated components. The sleek design of modern laptops manages to integrate a multitude of useful components into a single, lightweight device. built-in webcams, microphones and speakers can contribute to seamless video conferencing experiences. The all-in-one design of laptops also conserves desk space. When you need to go elsewhere, simply remember your laptop and charger and you’re good to go!  
  • Less peripheral clutter. No one likes a desk cluttered with dusty cables and computer bits. Laptops feature built-in keyboards, trackpads and monitors, so users will generally not require separate peripherals. If peripherals such as video bars are required, these can generally be quickly set up and connected via the laptop's USB hubs. Let’s face it, from an employer’s perspective, less peripheral clutter in your SMB workspace can only be a good thing.
  • Battery backup. Like the reassuring glow of a candle during a power outage, laptop batteries give users the peace of mind that their computer will continue to function, no matter what is going on outside. Battery life is constantly improving, and while some tasks will drain your laptop battery faster than others, ten hours of battery powered computing is increasingly the norm. Here’s an interesting rundown of laptops with the best performing batteries currently on the market. Even if you have regular power supply to your SMB office, equipping your employees with battery powered laptops may even encourage them to do extra work if they take their laptops home.

Disadvantages

  • Limited upgradability. While the sleek, integrated style of laptops provides a minimalist computing experience, for users who want to upgrade their laptop’s CPU or GPU, you might want to think twice. These major components are soldered or integrated into the motherboard, and are  challenging, if not impossible to replace and upgrade. Laptop designs may make access to certain components tricks, and component design also may be proprietary, limiting the availability of upgrade options. Higher end gaming and business laptops increasingly feature upgradability options, so do shop around if upgrading your SMBs laptop is necessary.
  • Thermal restrictions. Laptop design is a constant trade off between performance and power efficiency: higher performance = higher heat. In comparison to desktops, laptops are more prone to overheating, particularly during resource-intensive tasks. The portable, compact design of laptops limits the space available for integrated cooling systems. CPUs and GPUs, the heat generating brains of the computer, get hot and are located next to each other, creating heat dissipation challenges for comparatively small fans and heat sinks.
  • Cost. As we mentioned in the first advantage of desktops, laptops are often more expensive than desktops. While computer prices are constantly fluctuating, high-end laptops, in particular, cost more than desktops with similar specs. Demand, custom components, engineering, and manufacturing costs all contribute to laptops’ higher costs. Users want to carry their computers around, so laptop portability comes at a premium! 

Considerations for SMBs

Before committing to a desktop computer for business, or a laptop for business use, there are a range of considerations that SMBs must take into account. Firstly, the nature of work that your employees do on a daily basis. If your business is an office based enterprise where your staff clock in, work at a desk, and then go home, then desktops are clearly a practical solution. An SMB owner should consider purchasing a desktop for work involving resource-intensive software, like high-quality video editing and 3D rendering, as desktops generally offer a more favorable price-to-specification ratio. If employees need to travel, or work remotely to perform their duties, then laptops may be more suitable. The next consideration is budget. This is not just the original outlay for a computer, but the total cost of ownership, including potential upgrades, replacements and other associated expenses. 

IT support and maintenance are also factors to consider, as desktops will need to be correctly set up, and provided with on-site support and repair. Laptops can be repaired, but are tricky, a good laptop for a small business may need more frequent replacements than a desktop. Finally, the workspace environment must be considered. Many smaller office spaces simply don’t have the room for clunky desktops. The growth of remote working and mobile workstations has led to an increased preference for laptops, tablets and other devices that don’t need to be plugged in to work. 

Hybrid solutions

By integrating a combination of desktops and laptops, SMBs can offer a flexible, adaptable computing solution to their employees. Many businesses favor equipping their employees with laptops as their primary devices, which can be docked in a docking station in the office. This connects them to desktop monitors, keyboards and other peripherals, providing an increasingly mobile workforce with flexible options to meet their diverse needs. Cloud-based solutions offer another smart solution, enabling employees to access their work from any device with an internet connection. 

SMBs can really benefit from implementing a hybrid solution to their computing needs. A flexible set up can improve productivity by allowing employees to choose suitable devices for different tasks. This increases employee satisfaction and encourages collaboration. From a cost angle, hybrid solutions can be easily scaled up and down, and a phased application of upgrades can also be applied, staggering costs over a period of time.

The takeaway

SMBs need computers. If, before reading this article, you were wondering how to choose a good business desktop or a suitable laptop, hopefully now you have a clearer idea of what your SMB requires. Efficient use of computers benefits your business, and both laptops and desktops have advantages and disadvantages. 

Desktops are cost-effective, yet immobile, and require sufficient space and a power source. They are also easily upgradeable, keep cool and can be attached to multiple monitors. Laptops let you take your work anywhere, backed up by hours of battery life, but have limited upgradability, thermal restrictions, and they aren’t cheap. Yet their integrated components can streamline your computing experience, as well as minimize peripheral clutter.

There really is no one-size-fits-all answer to the laptop vs desktop debate, the final decision depends on your individual business needs. Take the time to assess your SMB’s computing needs, budget and weigh up the advantages and disadvantages we have discussed in this article. 

Once you have figured out your requirements, Acer’s Veriton desktops and TravelMate laptops stand out from the crowd as cost-effective options worthy of consideration. Veriton business desktops are customizable and expandable to grow with your business and empower you from day one. For employees on the move, check out the TravelMate P6 14 for a seamless and secure hybrid work experience. If you settle on the hybrid and docking station route, Acer’s Dock D501 enables multiple monitor connections and is Chromebook compatible.

Edmund is an English copywriter based in New Taipei City, Taiwan. He is a widely published writer and translator with two decades of experience in the field of bridging linguistic and cultural gaps between Chinese and English.

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