Should home workers use a desktop or laptop computer?

Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Working from home is a privilege enjoyed by increasing numbers of people, as cloud computing enables us to work remotely.

However, an effective day’s work requires something more powerful than an iPad.

Home working is only really viable using a proper computer, but debate rages about the relative merits of desktop or laptop devices.

Either may be powered by Windows, Linux or MacOS, though stripped-down Chromebooks are available exclusively as laptops.

There are differing merits to desktop or laptop computers, as we outline below.

Advantages of desktop computers

Performance. A £1,000 desktop computer will outperform a £1,000 laptop in pretty much every measurable benchmark test.

That’s crucial if your day job involves data-intensive activities like architectural drawing, video editing or database management.

Desktop computers can also be permanently plugged into bulky peripherals such as scanners and printers, where a laptop’s limited ports and innate manoeuvrability tend to preclude this.

Ergonomics. Ideally, a computer screen should be level with your head while a slightly inclined keyboard stands level with your elbows.

The unibody nature of laptops means that’s never going to happen, increasing the risk of postural complaints including muscle strain and back problems.

Desktops also benefit from a standalone keyboard and mouse, which are ergonomically far superior to a laptop’s short-travel keyboard and diminutive trackpad.

Affordability. Laptops are incredible feats of engineering, but condensing their various components into a slimline casing increases hardware costs.

Unless you’re willing to rely on a cut-down operating system like Chrome, laptops are significantly more expensive than comparably powerful desktop computers.

It’s also possible to replace detachable components inside a PC’s tower, extending its life, whereas laptops tend to be sealed units with limited scope for repairs or upgrades.

Security. The portability of a laptop means it’s at higher risk of being lost, stolen or damaged, which is worth considering if your job involves sensitive information.

Third-party WiFi networks are much less secure than domestic connections, and using a device in public raises the risk of people watching your keystrokes or reading screen text.

The fixed position of a desktop computer means only relatives, house guests and burglars will ever see it – and a thief would be unlikely to abscond with a bulky tower in their swag bag.

Advantages of laptop computers

Simplicity. By their very nature, desktop computers require peripherals connecting (with a variety of different leads), before manually installing software drivers.

Conversely, with all their components preinstalled and ready to work, laptops tend to work straight out of the box.

For people who don’t know an Ethernet port from a USB socket, that immediacy is welcome and reassuring in equal measure.

Portability. Desktop computers are incredibly unwieldy, and even buying a new desk requires disassembling and reconstructing its various peripherals.

As a unitary device, laptops are suitable for use anywhere – train carriages, your local Costa or even in bed (though professionalism is hard to maintain while lying under a quilt).

A laptop could be used anywhere in the world, and improvements to battery life ensure today’s computers operate wirelessly for several hours before recharging is required.

Flexibility. A desktop will never become mobile, but it’s possible to configure a laptop to perform like a conventional tower computer.

Docking stations support multiple peripherals in a fixed location – when the laptop is plugged in, connected devices (keyboards, printers, external monitors) automatically become active.

This is ideal for people working at home part-time, giving them a desktop-style setup in the house while enjoying the freedom to work effectively in the office or from a hotel room.

Style. As products of the 20th century, desktop computers are increasingly being viewed as passé – relics of the dial-up internet age.

Given the incredible processing power of today’s smartphones, modern laptops are capable of doing most things home workers require on a daily basis, with greater panache than a tower.

And even though aesthetics shouldn’t affect the choice of optimal home computing hardware, we all know they matter.


The choice between desktop or laptop computers may come down to personal preference, but a laptop and docking station combo arguably provides the best of both worlds.

A good-quality docking station costs around £150, but its benefits far outweigh this initial cost.

It effectively means you don’t have to choose between a desktop or laptop computer – instead, you can have both.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!