Desktop, Laptop, or Netbook – What’s the Best Solution for Your Needs?

Here are some key points you should consider when making your choice in the type of computer to buy for your business.

Choices abound for your small businesses today’s market like never before when deciding on where and how you spend your money on technology, infrastructure, security, and physical location.

One key area that offers many options is the tools you equip your workforce with…and by this I mean the dollars you spend on computing power for your personnel resources.

Average Specs

Gone are the days when the discrepancy between your average desktop specs and your average laptop specs represented a huge gap. There’s still a gap, but today’s laptop is more than up to the task of handling general desktop-type computing needs.

I’m going to try to compare apples to apples as much as possible here so for the purpose of desktops and laptops – most likely to receive the strongest consideration for small businesses at least in the near future – I’m comparing models in a similar low to mid-range price of approximately $500.

A quick check with recent store ads and online info reveals the following in terms of general specs for desktops, laptops, netbooks, and Macbooks.

Desktop – Clearly for the average home user, the laptop has taken over as prices have dropped through the floor and specs have continued to rise. However, many businesses still rely – at least to some degree – on desktops. In the $500 price range, today’s desktops offer these basic specs:

  • 4 GB of RAM
  • 500-640 GB hard drive
  • 20” LCD monitor
  • DVD/CD writer

Laptop – 10 years ago only the executives walked out of the building at night with a laptop in their bag. That has profoundly changed and it’s mainly due to the price disparity closing between laptops and desktops and the specifications disparity closing significantly as well. Today’s $500 laptop offers:

  • 3 hours of battery life
  • 3 GB of RAM
  • 320 GB hard drive
  • DVD/CD writer

Netbook – Netbooks deserve a look due to popularity and very powerful offerings at a low price. When cloud computing takes over IT, they may take over as well – or at least larger versions of them, but with no DVD/CD drive that may be a current deterrent for today’s small business. Netbooks in the $350 range offer these specs:

  • 5 hours of battery life
  • 2 GB of RAM
  • 250 GB hard drive

Macbook – I moved from a Windows laptop (following yet another failed hard drive) to a Macbook in March 2009 and I’ve never looked back – though I do keep an older HP Windows XP laptop around just in case. If it were up to me, the entire world would use Macbooks, but it’s not. And the price, for this article’s comparison, is high and will remain higher than it’s Windows counterparts probably for forever. Today’s $1000 white Macbook, offers these specs:

  • 3 hours of battery life
  • 2 GB of RAM
  • 160 GB hard drive
  • DVD/CD writer

Best Uses / Versatility

Desktops continue to serve their purpose as the workhorse for both small and large businesses. They are especially useful when dealing with ergonomics (separate keyboards, better height for optimum work and viewing, etc.). If your small business requires graphic intensive work, then once again desktops likely win out due to more RAM, larger hard drives and bigger and more ergonomic displays for detailed work in programs like Photoshop.

Laptops are great if your small business is based on a mobile workforce with lots of onsite customer activity. They can certainly take your business to places that desktops never can with nearly the same computing capacity for the same price. They also allow your workforce to remain productive 24/7, if necessary.

The netbooks are this year’s cool toy and probably the focus of many teenage techies out there – and my 23-year-old son – but are not now nor will they ever be a force in the business world. That said, that could all need to be reconsidered if true cloud computing takes over how we all manage our businesses and perform our necessary technical functions.

With Microsoft soon to be offering most of it’s MS Office suite as free web-based applications including Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote, one has to think that netbooks and possibly larger and more powerful versions of netbooks in the form of laptops with netbook qualities, will soon take over computing for at least most small-business needs.

And Macbooks – love them, but the average business is not going to have more than a few – if any – as part of their mobile computing solution. Your business might be more likely to embrace a fleet of Macbooks for the entire solution if you have the money to spend and require graphic intensive work – a strong point of Mac machines. However, I still think a majority will and probably should go with Windows machines.


In the $500 range you can acquire notebooks that offer what desktops offered late last year – which is a lot more than what notebooks could offer 3-5 years ago. Laptops today come immediately equipped with enough RAM and hard drive space to function for the next 2 years without upgrade or replacement needs. Their larger counterparts, the desktop, have gone overboard with hard drive size to compensate, but the extra space is not really necessary.

In the end, the decision needs to be based more on your needs, your customer base and the needs of your workforce (mobility, computing power, etc.). That’s good news, because price has basically been eliminated as a cost factor unlike years past.

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