Why Are Laptops More Expensive Than Desktops?

A few basics must be understood to answer why laptops are more costly than desktops. That’s the exact purpose of this article. Although both types of computers rely on semiconductors to work, the number of similarities diminishes as you look closer at their internal construction.

The main reason why laptops carry a steeper price tag than desktops is 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 also keeps the system cool enough to maintain stability 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, explaining why that may be. If you are curious, I have written another article about various parts of a computer and their functions for computers in general if you’d like to learn more.

1. The motherboard

A laptop motherboard.
A Laptop Motherboard

To make a laptop as compact as possible, more components must be integrated into the motherboard in a smaller footprint than a standard-sized desktop motherboard.

With a smaller motherboard, more design challenges need to be overcome. Here are a few examples:

  1. Smaller component footprint: Components that provide the best solution for their size have to be selected.
  2. Extra refinement on track layout: Because quite a few components are interconnected with each other on a smaller motherboard, circuit pathways have to be designed with very few clearances.
  3. Layout: There must be much consideration for the component layout so that factors like shielding, performance, and heat aren’t an issue.

2. CPU

A laptop CPU in socket.
Laptop CPU

Central processing units used in laptops are categorized as mobile processors. They operate in a slightly different way when it comes to power consumption.

That is where some extra cost would go into its development. Special thought has to go into achieving adequate performance levels 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, CPUs are soldered directly to the motherboard using a BGA (Ball Grid Array).

Solder pads on the motherboard and 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 must be designed to withstand certain temperatures to allow the soldering process to succeed.

3. Graphics processing

A laptop GPU.

There are two main ways the graphics processor is implemented in a laptop.

  1. Integrated Graphics: The graphics processor is integrated into the CPU. One semiconductor package performs both tasks.
  2. Dedicated Graphics: A separate graphics processor is soldered onto the motherboard, delivering better performance for graphics-intensive operations like gaming.

A dedicated graphics processor on the motherboard demands extra development to integrate the extra semiconductor package on a small motherboard and cool it.

This pushes costs up, and that’s why you will pay more for a laptop with dedicated graphics.

4. RAM

Laptop SODIMM RAM sticks.

RAM (random access memory) is one of the exceptions regarding the price. Laptops typically use SODIMM RAM instead of the DIMM memory used in desktops.

Although SODIMM modules are smaller than desktop RAM, they don’t affect the price negatively.

This is probably due to the demand for memory worldwide. Cloud storage and mobile phones are just two examples of this.

5. Cooling system

An open laptop displaying the internal cooling system.

A laptop’s cooling system must be designed to remain compact and maintain its cooling efficiency.

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 they often 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 manufacturing cost.

6. Drives

A laptop hard drive.

Modern laptops have changed to using an M.2 SSD as a primary drive. This is good. An SSD doesn’t suffer from the shortcomings of mechanical drives and delivers outstanding performance levels.

Laptop hard drives are smaller and more compact (2.5 Inches vs. 3.5 Inches 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.

7. Battery

This is a component that isn’t present in a desktop computer. The closest thing that could resemble one for a desktop machine would be a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply).

A UPS is a unit with a battery inside 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.

However, the battery can do more than just that for a laptop. You can run the laptop with extra peripherals for several hours without plugging it into the power charger.

This is something that adds cost to manufacturing a laptop. Although it isn’t very pricey, it contributes to the end price.

A laptop needs to be designed in such a way as 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.

Other things to consider when incorporating a battery into a product include a reasonable amount of amp-hours so the laptop can run for a desirable length of time before being depleted.