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Desktop vs. laptop performance is hard to compare because laptops generally have special power-saving hardware installed.

I just wanted to know if there's a difference between the performance of a desktop and a laptop of the same specifications? If so, why and by how much percentage?

In this excerpt from Answercast #83, I look at the difference between laptops and desktops in terms of performance and power settings.

Desktop vs. laptop performance

Well, to answer the letter of your question, no. Two computers with the same specifications should have the same performance regardless of how they're physically packaged. Be it a laptop or desktop.

Ultimately, though, the reality of the situation is that desktops and laptops are very different machines and they rarely have identical specifications.

Power saving processors in laptops

Laptops tend to use processors that are more power aware, more power saving, and one of the ways that laptop CPUs use less power is occasionally by being slower.

The same may be true for RAM. The same may also definitely be true for the hard disks that are installed. Many laptops include lower power hard drives that are somewhat slower than a comparable desktop machine.

Desktops and laptops are different

So, the ultimate answer to your question is sure, absolutely. If you can find a desktop and a laptop that have identical hardware configurations, they should have identical performance.

My claim is that you will not be able to find two machines, in those two different configurations, that have identical hardware configurations - simply because the hardware chosen for each respective configuration is targeted to the typical use for that machine: desktop versus laptop.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6192 - December 29, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Doug Brace
December 30, 2012 5:43 AM

Laptops tend to have extra hardware components as well. Wireless networking, bluetooth, and trackpads are the first ones that come to mind.

These extra hardware components are require drivers and software in order for them to function.

The extra drivers and software will make it so the laptop is technically doing more, thus using more RAM or CPU even when idle.

January 1, 2013 3:22 PM

There are very few systems where desktops and laptops have the same hardware. Even if it says e.g. i5 CPU in both, they are not the same CPUs. The laptop is a lot slower. Even more so with graphics.

The laptop main problem is heat. And the more muscle you put into it, the more it will produce heat. That's why laptops have a big disadvantage over desktops where you can install big fans.

Bruce Tech Guy
January 1, 2013 3:49 PM

One of the other main differentiating aspects is the Hard Drive. Most 'desktop' computers use full-size, 3.5" hard drives spinning at 7200 rpm. Most 'laptop' computers use mobile-size, 2.5" hard drives spinning at 5400 rpm. So this means reading and writing large chunks of data will almost always be slower on laptops than on desktops.
This is especially true in consumer products.
So for most folks, if they see the desktop has a 500GB drive, they figure it must be the same as the laptop 500GB drive - but it isn't.
(Only exception is for folks who spend the extra money to buy high-end laptops with either faster drives or with solid-state drives - but that changes the equation, the cost, and the comparison...)

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