What Kind of Computer Should I Buy: Laptop or Desktop?

These days there are so many gadgets out there it can be hard to know what will actually suit your lifestyle. If you’re in the market for a new computer, Canstar has broken down the pros and cons of laptops, desktops and tablets to make the choice a little easier.

It would be hard to find a home in New Zealand without some sort of computer, either laptop, desktop or tablet. It’s certainly not unusual for Kiwis to have more than one type of computer, too. Often there’s a laptop for work, a shared family desktop and a tablet for the kids. 

But the choice of which computer is best for your home has become increasingly difficult, especially since categories have started to overlap. Plenty of new desktops look as small as a laptop. Some laptops convert to tablets. Laptops are just as powerful as many desktops. We break down what’s what and the things to consider if you’re planning to invest in new computer hardware:

Desktops

Plenty of people have moved away from desktops in the past decade or so, but they’re still a great option for a lot of people. They tend to be the bigger and heavier option. But if you don’t need to cart your computer around, and you’re happy for it to stay in one place, a desktop could be a good option to consider.

Some desktops come as standalone tower units. These models require you to purchase a mouse, screen and keyboard separately. Tower desktops allow you to easily update or upgrade their components, for example add a better graphics card or more memory.

Compact all-in-one models feature the computer component integrated into a screen, and come ready to use with a mouse and keyboard.

Modern desktops are fast and reliable, and typically offer more performance for the money than laptops. They are also generally less expensive to repair. Desktops offer a great way to set up a work environment on a desk. They generally come with better speakers, and allow you to work on a larger screen. This is helpful if you want to do any work with visual/graphic design.

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Pros:

  • Ideal for gamers, who want to be able to upgrade their computers
  • Great for multi-tasking. Powerful desktops can handle having multiple programs open. And a bigger screen lets you work on multiple tasks
  • Generally repairs are less expensive

Cons:

  • They aren’t that moveable. Once you set them up, expect them to stay in that spot for a while
  • They take up more space in a home

Laptops

If you need portability and power, a laptop is the best option. Laptops are significantly thinner than they were even a couple of years back. So they are incredibly easy to pack up and take to work, on trips, and overseas.

A generic laptop consists of two parts: the screen (that includes touchscreen versions) and its hardware, which includes the keyboard, and the internal memory and electronics.

The best up-to-date laptop models have chip-based solid-state drives (SSDs). This makes them faster and more reliable than less expensive models with spinning hard-disc drives.

Know that most laptops no longer feature CD/DVD players. If you prefer using a mouse over the laptop’s touch pad, you can plug one in or use a wireless option.

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Pros

  • Portability. Where you go, your laptop can go, too. You can also make use of free wi-fi out and about
  • Laptops are available at a wide range of price points, from cheap Chromebooks for simple web browsing, up to super expensive gaming laptops and powerful, and expensive, Apple MacBooks
  • In a small home without the luxury of a home office, a laptop is perfect for use at the kitchen bench or table

Cons

  • The compact nature of a laptop limits the possibility of hardware upgrades, which can impact its lifespan
  • Powerful models tend to be more expensive than their non-portable counterparts

Researching the fastest broadband plans

Ultimately, whatever computer you choose for your home, you’ll need the best broadband. So it’s always worth doing a little research into the best and fastest broadband deals. To help you get a clearer picture of broadband providers in NZ, Canstar Blue rates all the big providers in the market annually. We survey thousands of broadband customers and ask them to score their providers across categories including Value for Money, Network Performance and Customer Service.

Canstar Blue’s 2020 review of NZ internet providers compares NOW, 2degrees, Bigpipe, Contact, MyRepublic, Orcon, Skinny, Slingshot, Spark, Stuff Fibre, Trustpower, Vodafone and Voyager, and awards the best our 5 Star rating:

See Our Ratings Methodology

The table above is an abridged version of our full research, so to find out more about NZ’s best broadband providers, just click on the big button at the bottom of this story.


Tablets

Tablets are essentially a bridge between smartphones and laptops. If you just want to browse the web, check emails quickly or watch the latest season of something on Netflix, they’re an ideal option. But the need for speed can be a big issue if you’re into gaming or use video or photo-editing software regularly.

And if you’re trying to write an essay for university or create a presentation for a big business meeting, you’ll be better off with a laptop or desktop. Tablets often work better as a companion device, i.e, if you’ve already got another computer and you’re just looking for something portable to take with you for quick or simple uses of the internet.

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Pros

  • Tablets are light, small and highly portable. Ideal for travel, they’ll fit in any bag pocket
  • A tablet battery will generally last slightly longer than a laptop battery
  • They don’t take up space on a desk like a desktop does
  • Tablets are generally cheaper than desktops and laptops
  • Entertainment (like YouTube, Netflix etc) looks great and is easy to watch on a tablet
  • More expensive hybrid models come with detachable keyboards, for use like a laptop

Cons

  • Typing is on the screen, not a keyboard (in most cases)
  • Overall they have weaker capabilities than desktops and laptops
  • It’s easy to damage the hardware and screen (don’t drop it!)
  • Screen size is smaller 
  • Tablet repairs are almost not worth it. For close to the same price you could buy a new one
  • Tablets can’t handle much data
  • Data recovery can be more problematic than with a laptop or PC

How do I decide?

Ultimately, when you’re tossing up models of computers, always purchase with your needs in mind. It’s an important consideration since you’ll likely be spending hundreds of dollars (if not more). If you need something with a lot of power and don’t mind it not being portable, go for a desktop.

If you want access to the internet out and about and the ability to watch movies wherever you are, pick up a tablet.

If you’re a full-time student commuting to university, or you’re writing a novel, maybe you might pick a laptop, as they are trusty and offer more capabilities than a tablet. 

Whatever you decide, make sure you’ve got a strong broadband connection at home to make using and setting up your computer that much easier. 

What to look for when buying a computer

  • Your budget: that’s going to dictate the brand, model and features you can afford. Have a price range in mind and a clear cut-off figure
  • Processor: also called a central processing unit (CPU), this is the brain of the computer that handles all basic system instructions and enables your computer, mouse and keyboard to interact with all applications and programs installed. The better the processor, the faster your computer
  • RAM (computer memory): RAM short for Random Access Memory (not to be confused with storage), is where the active data from your applications and system processes are stored. The more RAM you have, the more browsers and applications you can have open at the same time. If you’re buying a PC for work, you’ll need a computer that has enough RAM to support your emails, web pages etc.
  • Storage: there are typically two computer storage types: HDD (hard disk drive) and SSD (solid state drive), similar to what you’d find in smartphones and tablets. Computers with SSDs are more expensive, but are faster than PCs with conventional HDDs
  • Operating system/software: this is the perennial question: PC or Mac? Both operating systems have their benefits and disadvantages. PCs running on Windows are often much cheaper, and that’s typically the common option in many workplaces and homes. On the other hand, creative professionals like graphic designers and videographers tend to prefer Mac computers that support programs they regularly use like Final Cut Pro, etc.
  • Special features: there are also other specs to consider, such as screen size, graphics quality, display type, the desktop monitor, frame and colour, keyboard, mouse, etc. Again you need to chose the correct options for your needs and, more importantly, budget.

Compare broadband providers for free with Canstar!

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