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Disadvantages of a Notebook Computer

I’ve mentioned many times that, for a long time, my main computer was my notebook computer. Sure, I had a desktop computer, too, I just didn’t use it very much. I also had my home theater PC and a Linux-based file server for backup. But, my Dell Inspiron 8600 was the real workhorse.

In my article Why Buy a Notebook Computer? I wrote about making the decision on whether or not to buy a notebook computer — and when to go for the cheaper models.

But, first, let’s consider some of the limitations of a notebook computer, as compared to a typical desktop computer.

These include:

  • Price — for an equally capable computer, a notebook is more expensive
  • Fragility — the notebook is meant to be easily moved from place to place. But, it’s more likely to be dropped and broken than is a desktop computer. The built-in LCD display is one of the most expensive cost items, at least in terms of repair, as well as being the most fragile.
  • Limited user repair — notebooks are much more complicated than are desktops. The first challenge is dis-assembly. The second challenge is reassembly.
  • much smaller hard drives — the huge notebook drive of today is about 500 GB.
  • slower hard drives — notebook drives are available in 4200 RPM, 5200 RPM and 7200 RPM. However, most notebook computers, especially the cheaper models, use the slowest (4200 RPM) to minimize cost and heat.
  • solid-state drives (SSD’s) are a popular choice for higher-end notebooks, but price is a real issue as well as a relatively small size — 128GB models are common and relatively cheap, while 256GB models scale rapidly in price
  • can’t upgrade the motherboard
  • can’t upgrade the processor
  • can’t upgrade the video
  • can’t upgrade the CD/DVD burner
  • can’t buy replacement parts
  • warranty becomes much more important
  • on-site / next-day service becomes much more important
  • or, you can choose to go cheap and disposable (but back up your data frequently!).

So, if you have a notebook, what can you do to expand or repair it? Not much.

On almost all notebooks, you can add memory or replace the memory with larger memory. In some cases, this is easy and in readily accessible locations. The Dell notebooks I have owned fall into this category. In other cases, the memory slots — or one of the memory slots — are hidden in unusual places, such as inside the machine under the keyboard.

You can replace hard drive with a larger one. You can usually add a hard drive with more space, since hard drive technology is packing more and more information into the same size packages. However, if your notebook comes with a 4200 RPM or 5200 RPM hard drive, you better replace it with one of the same speed. Faster hard drives tend to be hotter drives — and heat is the enemy of your notebook. In today’s world, I’d add an SSD (which I have in my current notebook).

Heat from the drive can permanently damage other components. This happened to me with my old Inspiron 5000, when I substituted a 7200 RPM drive for the 5200 RPM drive (which itself was an upgrade option from the default 4200 RPM drive).


  1. I wanted to know about the pros and cons of purchasing a desktop.As far as I understood is, one facility of portable other than that all things are better with desktop. Now, i am very clear of the situation i will have to face if I go to use a notebook just because of it fame,look and all.
    Thank u mr. terry.

  2. There is one incorrect bit of info on your artcile. You CAN buy replacement parts. I have bought a new keyboard for my Compaq notebook. I have also bought a new internal DVD burner.

    • Adding on to that point, you can also upgrade and replace the CPU, i have done that with my Dell XPS M1530, swapped out the core 2 Duo 2.0GHz for an i3 3.1GHz

  3. With all due respects to Mr. Stockdale, it would appear that it has been quite some time since he has shopped for laptops. As an employee of Best Buy where I sell computers, I would like to take exception to some of his concerns:

    1. PRICE – WHen the comment is made that laptops are much more expensive than a comparable desktop, this is absolutely not true. To begin with a laptop comes complete with monitor, keyboard, mouse (scratchpad) and monitor on one chassis. Desktops come packaged with the mainframe (tower, desktop, or sometimes referred to by customers as the CPU [a definite misnomer]), keyboard and mouse. The monitor adds normally no less than an additional $100. The comparison needs to include all components. In addition, nearly 50-60% of all customers I work with purchase a wireless mouse for their new mouse (additional expense for the laptop.

    2. FRAGILITY – No real agrument here other than adding that the hadr drive will also be the victum of a drop.

    3. LIMITED USER REPAIR – No argument here. A consumer is asking for trouble if they think they can open the backside of a laptop and replace components or replace damaged components. However, an experienced computer technician will have the training, skills and valued experience to make extensive repairs on any configuration laptop.

    4. MUCH SMALLER HARD DRIVES – Here is an example that Mr. Stockdale is mixzguiding readers on. It is very common now to find many new computers with 750 GB to 1 TB hard drives.

    5. SLOWER HARD DRIVES – Reality is that the slower the drive, the less robust, and consequently less weighty and also cooler running, the drive will be. If all other components in the laptop are top of the line and fastest available (Intel third generation i-5 and i-7 processors and RAM, the speed of the hard drive is neglibible unless your are an “extreme gamer.” And if you are, you will not be buying a laptop.

    6. SOLID STATE DRIVES (SSD’s) – One thing not addressed in Mr. Stockdale’s comments failes to address hybrid-hard drives. These drives normally are standard 500 GB rotarary disk drives, but contain various levels of flash memory (essentially asolid state hard drive) on the drives frame. These are generally the “C” drive containing the operating system and additional “programs” (depending on size) thus providing extremely fast boot times etc.

    7. CAN’T UPGRADE THE MOTHERBOARD – Who says? n experienced and and do replace motherboards. The only issue here is the expense.

    8. CAN’T UPGRADE THE PROCESSOR – As above, replacing the motherboard and also include upgrade of the processor. The only concern beside cost is that the power supply may also need to be replaced.

    9. CAN’T UPGRADE THE VIDEO – Not entirely true, but it would take some research to find a compatable replacement, most likely from the laptop’s manufacturer.

    10. CAN’T UPGRADE THE CD/DVD BURNER – Absolutely not true. Many computers we have with inoperative DVD drives have replacements installed if the price is acceptable to the customer.

    11. CAN’T BUY REPLACEMENT PARTS – Not true again. Just have a certified repair agency pursue the part need if the manufacturer will not sell parts to consumers.

    12. WARRANTY BECOMES MUCH MORE IMPORTANT – ABSOLUTELY. In addition, the manufacturer’s warranty is not the best way to go. Any store offering a service akin more to an insurance policy where repairs/replacement are offered will pay off, especially for those who travel a lot with their laptops. And it is absolutely important that the consumer have a regimented backup program established and religiously adhered to.

    13. ON-SITE/NEXT DAY SERVICE – This should be only a concern for business users, not the average consumer. On-site repair/service will always cost money, which the average consumer will not be willing to support, but it is available from many sources. Next day service is most likely only available from manufacturer representatives/swervice agencies and is extremely expensive and not a service that would be proce prohibitive for the average consumer to pay for.

    14> GO CHEAP AND DISPOSIBLE – You might be surprised just how many consumers come in to our store and consider an $*00-$1000 laptop computer as dispensible. Obvioiusly they have too much disposible income (or no practicle sense). The individuals that do purchase “cheap” are really the ones that can least afford it, unfortunately. And they cannot afford any additional expenses other than the hardware (laptop with no additional add-ons).

    I will add my two cents to the proposition in that Desktops and the best and most long-term practical computer to own. They are much easier to repair and/or upgrade. Their service life is virtually infinite becasue absolutely everything inside the box is replaceable. Also, these boxes are significantly better in keeping this cool. Heat kills and and this is the biggest argument in favor of deaktops versus laptops. But steps can be taken to minimize heat damage to laptops if implemented wisely.

  4. Hello,

    well I have an Alienware M14X laptop, and it came with Western Digital 750 GB hard drive which spins at 7200 RPM. but then again its a kick ass gamer laptop!


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