To answer the question of why are laptops more expensive than desktops, a few basics need to be understood. That’s the exact purpose of this article.
Although both types of computers rely on semiconductors to work, the number of similarities starts diminishing as you look closer at their internal construction.
The main reason why laptops are more expensive than desktops is in the development costs to create hardware that is compact enough and at the same time meets an expected level of performance.
And it’s not just performance that is a big challenge. It is also keeping the system cool enough that stability is maintained under most common usage conditions.
Differences in each component that affect the price
Here is a basic list of the major components that make a difference in how much they cost with an explanation of why that may be.
If you are curious, I have written another article about various parts of a computer and their function for computers in general if you’d like to learn more.
To make a laptop as compact as possible, more components need to be integrated onto the motherboard in a smaller footprint compared with a standard-sized desktop motherboard.
With a smaller motherboard, more design challenges needs to be overcome. Here are a few examples:
- Smaller component footprint: Components have to be selected that provide the best solution for their size.
- Extra refinement on track layout: Because there are quite a few components that are interconnected with each other on a smaller motherboard, circuit pathways have to be designed that have very little clearances.
- Layout: Lots of consideration has to be made for the component layout so that factors like shielding, performance, and heat aren’t an issue.
Central processing units used in laptops are termed as a mobile processor. They operate in a slightly different way when it comes to power consumption.
That is where some extra cost would go into it’s development. Special thought has to go into achieving adequate levels of performance while using the least amount of power possible.
Power management features are very important and add some extra cost in development to achieve an adequate outcome.
It isn’t very often anymore that you will see a CPU socket on a laptop motherboard. To save space, CPU’s are usually soldered directly to the motherboard using a BGA (Ball Grid Array).
Solder pads on the motherboard and on the processor are joined together using small balls of solder that are heated up and melted to connect the pads.
With this in mind, processors have to be designed to withstand certain temperatures to allow the soldering process to be successful.
There are two main ways the graphics processor is implemented in a laptop.
- Integrated Graphics: The graphics processor is integrated into the CPU. One semiconductor package performs both tasks.
- Dedicated Graphics: A separate graphics processor is soldered onto the motherboard, delivering better performance for graphics-intensive operations like gaming.
With having a dedicated graphics processor on the motherboard, it demands extra development to integrate the extra semiconductor package on a small motherboard and to cool it.
This pushes costs up and that’s why you will pay more for a laptop with dedicated graphics.
Although SODIMM modules are smaller than desktop RAM, it doesn’t seem to affect the price negatively.
This is probably due to the amount of demand for memory around the world. Cloud storage and mobile phones are just two examples of this.
A laptop’s cooling system needs to be designed in such a way that it remains compact and maintains it’s efficiency for cooling.
This is challenging and is one of the most important components for system stability.
Not only is there an extra cost in designing an efficient heat sink and fan assembly that is compact enough, but often they contain heat pipes that are sealed in a partial vacuum and contain an inner wick and some fluid.
This adds a layer of complexity to the heat sink and the materials, thus increasing the cost to manufacture it.
Modern laptops have changed to using an M.2 SSD as a primary drive. This is good, seeing an SSD doesn’t suffer from the shortcomings of mechanical drives and delivers outstanding levels of performance.
We talk more about SSD’s and if they’re worth it if you are interested to know more.
Laptop hard drives are smaller and more compact (2.5 Inch vs 3.5 Inch for desktops).
They also have a lower storage capacity, less performance, and are slightly more expensive than a desktop hard drive of the same size and comparative specifications.
This is a component that isn’t present in a desktop computer. The closes thing that could resemble one for a desktop machine, would be a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply).
A UPS is basically a unit with a battery inside it that connects up separately from the mains power and keeps your computer running long enough to save all your work and shut it down safely.
For a laptop, however, the battery can do more than just that. You can run the entire laptop with extra peripherals plugged into it for several hours at a time without plugging it into the power charger.
This is something that adds an additional cost to manufacturing a laptop. Although it isn’t something very pricey, it still contributes to the end price.
A laptop needs to be designed in such a way to keep the battery safe from physical damage to a certain degree and as cool as possible.
So an extra bit of the laptop’s design is dedicated to doing just that for the battery.
There are other things to also consider when incorporating a battery into a product like a reasonable amount of amp-hours so the laptop can run for a desirable length of time before being depleted.
Here are some extra tips if you are interested in keeping a laptop’s battery healthier for longer in an article I wrote about the subject.
And there you have it, all of the major individual components and why they cost more in a laptop.
So the next time you are looking at laptops in your favorite store, keep in mind all of the extra development and production costs when it comes to delivering all that performance in a small package.