Consulting 101: Computers for Consultants -- Laptop versus Desktop Revisited
Last updated: 6/16/2002; 10:21:43 AM
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Consulting 101: Computers for Consultants -- Laptop versus Desktop Revisited

I had an age old discussion via IM last night with my buddy Ray (the satellite guy).  He's now working onsite for a company ( and, worse, working far from home.  He needs a remote machine for personal use (he has computers at the office, company provided) and is in the "Do I Desktop It or Laptop It ?" quandry.  Boy…. Nothing really changes, does it?  I've been in this one so many times it's not funny.   I tend to almost always go for the laptop but not at all for the reason that you think.  Here's the quick and dirty pros and cons:

Feature / Aspect Desktop Laptop
Price Cheap Always too expensive
Speed Fast Not always fast enough
Storage Too much,
kind of embarassing
Limited but lots better
Screen Big and Cheap Rarely enough resolution
Reliability over Time High Basically Low
Networking Integrated Finally Integrated
 Input / Output Ports  Never Enough  Never Enough 

Just a general comment – even though we all want to pretend that we really need that sexy new P4, we don't.  We honestly don't.  Machines are so fast these days that unless you need to do video editing, almost anything sold within 2 years is fine.  I know that Microsoft and Intel hate this with a flaming passion.  So what?  It doesn't make it any less true.  Even servers don't have to be all that fast.  Here's a PII 300 server that withstood being slashdotted.  PII 300…

Now, with all the disadvantages of laptops, why do I choose laptops time and again?  Simple.  Offsite Backup.  Huh?  What? The way I look at it, I'm going to always have some type of desktop.  They're so cheap now a days that you just can't NOT buy one.  And, even the dirt cheap ones are good, I ran for > 3 years a celeron that cost me only $299 (yes, an e-Machines) and while I wouldn't use it for kernel rebuilds, even with 192K of RAM, it is pretty much fine (I'm still using it now on and off). 

The real benefit of a laptop, from my perspective, is that if I have a laptop and I'm willing to carry it regularly, it pretty much gives me offsite backup – if I mirror my important data onto it.  I've been doing this since about 1990 and it's always worked really well for me.  Recommended.

If you want to do an even better job of this then here's what I also do:

  • Get a small, light laptop.  Why?  You're more likely to carry it.  Ever since I moved to Thinkpads, I tend to carry it about 20% more of the time.
  • Get one with a removable hard drive.  Why?  That's even smaller!  And, if you are traveling for business, you can drop it in your bag, in a static proof container, and leave the laptop at the hotel.  (Looking for a great place to hide a laptop in a hotel room ? email me – I don't want it on a web page).

And, finally, if you want to get a laptop cheap then I recommend:

My general recommendation, hands down, PC Connection Clearance.  General & Laptops.  Despite their recent "I wanna be a spammer" madness, this is a great company with great service.  Examples of prices:

NOTE: These prices aren't as cheap as I've seen in the past.  The close out stuff always ebbs and flows, so watch it regularly.

One last, last thing?  Get the extended warranty if available.  Laptops break all the time.  All the time.



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