Laptop vs desktop: which should you buy for back to school 2023?

With Back to School 2023 already here, there are plenty of students in need of PCs, particularly fast and reliable ones that help them make quick work of homework and projects. And one of the most difficult tech purchasing choices to make is whether to buy a laptop or a desktop.getintopc

The debate between laptops and desktops has been going on since laptops were first created and mass-produced, with plenty of positives and drawbacks from each side. There are plenty of families trying to sort through all this information, to make the best decision for the students among them based on their own needs and preferences.

Fortunately, we at TechRadar are experts with thousands of both PC and laptop reviews under our belts, which means we understand the nuances behind each choice. So if you’re trying to decide which one is best for your needs and budget, we’re here to break it down to help you make the right choice. And with so many back to school sales going on right now, we’ll even help you find the best possible deal on whichever side you ultimately decide upon.

Differences between laptop vs desktop

A desktop PC is a static, stationary computer that will stay on a desk in an office or bedroom. It usually consists of various parts: a tower, a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse. PCs are generally more customizable than laptops as well. You can put together top-of-the-line parts for every aspect of the PC when you choose a desktop computer, and upgrade those components as they become outdated. This means that they last much longer than a laptop.

A laptop (also called a notebook) is a portable, all-in-one device that usually has USB inputs on the sides for optional peripherals. Laptops have a built-in screen, a built-in keyboard, a trackpad that acts as a mouse, and can vary in size. Laptops are generally limited by their size but many modern batteries are big enough to provide 12 or more hours of power before needing to recharge. However, unlike desktops, laptops are either very limited or impossible to upgrade, meaning that they last for a much shorter period of time than a desktop.

A laptop is the best option for students who are going to school outside of the home every day and need a computer for classes. While laptops are more delicate than desktop PCs, you can now find rugged laptops that will take a fall or two without being destroyed. And unlike a desktop, a laptop can be used right out of the box with minimum setup.

Laptops are best used for productivity work like reading, word processing, streaming videos, or using social media. If you or your child wants to have the freedom to roam while using a computer, a fully charged laptop should last an entire day for working or learning.

Not to mention that some of the best laptops for students and best laptops for kids are Chromebooks, which solve the expense issue that laptops tend to suffer under. The OS is simple to use for both young students and parents, and there’s an extremely low risk of a Chromebook being infected with malware or having glaring security issues.

How to install RAM

System memory, or RAM, doesn’t require any careful goo placement or wires and is one of the easiest components to install. The only caveat to that is choosing the right slots, as most motherboards come with four, and the best ones to use differ from motherboard to motherboard, so check your manual about which slots to install your new RAM in.

Before starting, ensure that your motherboard is well supported across its entire surface, as it is possible to put too much pressure on the motherboard when installing RAM if you push too hard. This is unlikely, but as with any steps in this guide, take care, and if in doubt, double-check everything before proceeding.

Step 1: When you know which slot to install your RAM in, push the plastic wings at either end of the slot down and outward (some motherboards only have one). Then, to confirm you have your stick turned around the right way, make sure the gap in the RAM stick’s metal connectors lines up with the notch in the slot.

Place the stick in the slot sticking straight up. Push down firmly until the RAM clicks into the slot and the plastic wings click back in and clamp the ends of the sticks.

Desktop Computer Features

Monitors for Desktops

Screen sizes (measured diagonally) generally range from 15 to 24 inches, but you can find larger ones. Members should see our current ratings of monitors to dive more deeply. 

Most are wide-screen, to fit wide-screen movies better. Those who plan to edit photos or videos should note differences in color, viewing angle, contrast, and brightness. Monitors are often less expensive when bundled with a new computer.

Wireless Mouse

If you have a wireless mouse, you won’t have to deal with a cord, but you will have to recharge or replace the batteries every few months.


For connecting to the internet, desktops usually come with an Ethernet port that lets you run a cable between your desktop and your router. If you purchase a desktop without a built-in Ethernet port, you can buy a standalone port for about $40 and plug it into a USB port. You’ll also need a wireless router. If it’s not possible to run such a cable through your home, consider using a WiFi adapter if the desktop doesn’t have one.