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December 4, 2015

Desktop Repair 2.0 – Desktop vs. Laptop

When it comes to computers, everything is getting smaller and more portable. Before you ditch that desktop tower in favor of a laptop or a tablet computer, you might consider some advantages that desktop computers have over their smaller counterpart, particularly when it comes to repairs and upgrades.

Most of us moved to a laptop years ago. Why?  Because we love them: you can play games on them while you watch TV, take them with you to and from the office, and cart them around the house if you need to look something up in the kitchen or bedroom. Alternatively, some might be stuck with a desktop computer. Like gamers, one of the advantages of a desktop tower computer over a laptop is the space inside the tower allows for easier hardware changes, while laptop users are stuck with the laptop components they have, unless you pay someone to upgrade them. Even if you consider yourself pretty tech-savvy, soldering things to your laptop’s motherboard isn’t a project most are able to perform. On the other hand, if a gamer wants to play a new PC game and the graphics card isn’t up to snuff, it’s well within the average computer user’s abilities to swap it out.

On a laptop, most hardware components are now fused to the motherboard to achieve a smaller case and lighter weight, making it nearly impossible for the average user to switch out internal hardware. Replacing desktop computer components, on the other hand, is easier than you think. Desktop tower systems have a motherboard with slots that RAM, the graphics card, and your hard drive attach to. The motherboard is usually easily accessible in a tower. Just unscrew the small bolts at the back of the tower and voila, your computer’s “spine” is at your disposal.

YouTube has a huge library of video tutorials by reliable tech resources like PC Magazine and Tiger Direct, showing you step-by-step how to upgrade or replace common components. Tech help forums are a good resource as well. PC Tech Bytes offers a discussion board where you can post a question while you’re troubleshooting a problem. Bleeping Computer offers how-to tutorials on a multitude of computer-related subjects.

Here are some basic components that desktop PC users could reasonably upgrade or replace on their own:

RAM. If it just doesn’t feel like your computer has the speed and responsiveness it used to, adding additional sticks of RAM or replacing your RAM with larger capacity sticks is the fastest way to improve your PC’s responsiveness. As demonstrated in this video from PCMag, it takes less than two minutes to swap out.

To ensure that you buy RAM that will be compatible with your machine, head to Crucial’s memory tool, and use their handy system scanner. It’ll tell you what type of RAM your system uses and what it is capable of supporting. Then you can purchase and replace with confidence.

Hard Drive. Is your computer slow to boot up? Upgrading an old disk hard drive to a solid-state drive (SSD) can shave minutes off your computer’s start up time.

Replacing a desktop hard drive can be a little trickier because there are more steps involved, but it’s still relatively easy to accomplish on your own. Take a few moments to study ‘How To Geek’s’ (www.howtogeek.com) tutorial ‘How to Upgrade Your Existing Hard Drive in Under an Hour.’ It walks you through the complete process of cloning your hard drive and your operating system, which should make it really easy to get your new drive installed, up and running.

Graphics Card. If you like to play computer-based video games like I do, you know that every time a new game or expansion pack is released it requires heftier graphics specs. If you find that viewing fast-moving videos produces lag, or if you are unable to play the latest version of your favorite game, this video from computer processor manufacturer AMD gives you an idea of how quickly you can accomplish this upgrade.

Wi-Fi Adapter. Laptops using older Wi-Fi protocols can use an external dongle to override the internal Wi-Fi, but it’s bulky and it takes up one of the USB ports. Desktop computers can swap out the internal card to a newer version.

There are other benefits to owning a desktop PC versus the laptop. Laptop users have to sacrifice screen size for portability: a larger screen means a heavier laptop. Desktop users can get whatever size monitor they want, and if you lose a few pixels or find that images don’t appear as clearly as you’d like, just trade out your monitor – an impossible feat for laptop users unless they want to attach a separate monitor to their system or use a docking station. Desktop system keyboards can be swapped out for comfort, allowing you to opt for ergonomic layout and/or a 10-key number pad.

Overall, a desktop with a powerful processor is likely to last you longer than a laptop because you can swap out the hardware components as needed.


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Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds On Call, which offers onsite computer and laptop repair service for homeowners and small businesses. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.

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