Are laptops really more expensive than desktops?

Are laptops really more expensive than desktops? Of course they are, you say. But the answer depends entirely on how you use your PC. If you are like many who leave their PCs on all day in order to run file sharing programs and distributed computing applications, the answer may be a resounding “no.” Why? Because you have to factor in how much electricity you pay for to keep your machine whirring along. Though they have improved over the years, desktop PC producers have to shave as many pennies off the price of their product to stay competitive, and they have to use leading edge performance parts which simply are not engineered for low power use.

Laptop producers have quite the opposite approach, because one of the main things a laptop buyer looks at is battery life. Let’s say we matched two modern systems from the same vendor. A Dell Inspiron E1505 runs about $700, while a more or less equivalent desktop, the B110 comes in at just under $300. That’s a $400 dollar price difference. Let’s suppose you ran that system for 3 years, or 26,280 hours. Every watt of extra average power that the system draws would cost you, over that time period, about $3 to $6. So what’s the difference in wattage? Well, even at full power, the Dell laptop will not consume more than 65 watts of power. The desktop, on the other hand, will easily use 150 watts on average. Again, this is for people who run things like SETI or otherwise keep their boxes busy day-round, but even in cases where machines are allowed to idle, the power management on laptops is usually much more thorough than in a cheap desktop. So in the end, the price difference really isn’t that extreme, and certain users may actually save money in the long run by getting a laptop — you’re just paying up front for electricity savings.