Laptops are very flexible machines for those who freelance or work on the move. They are small, light, reasonably powerful and can do most things a desktop can do, from anywhere. The only real downside is that laptops can be awkward for longer work sessions which is why I’ll show you how to use a laptop as a desktop. To overcome those shortcomings.
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If you’re starting a business or freelancing, using a laptop is likely second nature. Lots of students and gamers use them too as they are easy to carry around and can be just the thing for LAN parties if the laptop is powerful enough. Regardless of the reason why you want to use a laptop as a desktop, here’s how.
You will need:
- A laptop dock
- Keyboard and mouse
- A laptop stand (optional)
- An external monitor (optional)
Use a laptop as a desktop – weapon of choice
Modern laptops are almost as powerful as desktops. They can come with just as much RAM, comparable processors and with discrete GPUs too. There is no reason why you cannot use a laptop as a desktop. All you need do is make using it a little more comfortable. That’s where these accessories come in.
Newer laptops come with Intel Core i5 or i7 processors that are either the same or ‘M’ for mobile versions which are almost the same. RAM is often the same or similar speeds and can be specified in similar amounts to a desktop. A Core i7 laptop with 16GB of RAM can easily hold its own against a desktop of the same or similar specifications.
Laptops come with either integrated graphics such as Intel HD Graphics 520, 620, 640 and so on, or discrete graphics like Nvidia 780M. Integrated graphics have come a long way since the previous generation and are many times more powerful. An integrated GPU can now play basic games and work reasonably well with graphics-intensive tasks.
If you know you will use graphics-intensive programs or games, it pays to invest in either a laptop with discrete graphics or an eGPU. Nvidia are leading the way right now with their M-class graphics chips that can perform quite well in all but the most graphically intensive tasks. They won’t be as good as a dedicated graphics card in a desktop PC but are nowhere near as far behind as they used to be.
If you need more graphics power, an eGPU (external Graphics Processing Unit) can deliver credible gaming or graphics chops to a compatible laptop. This is an external box containing a graphics card and power supply. Recent versions of eGPU such as the Razer Core, Alienware Graphics Amplifier or ASUS ROG XG Station 2 deliver desktop gaming performance in a pluggable box.
A laptop dock is an essential as it provides power and connectivity to the laptop. They will usually come with LAN port, USB, DVI, power, audio and more depending on what you need. You connect your laptop to it and then connect everything else to the dock. The laptop clicks into place and you’re ready to go.
There are three main kinds of laptop dock. The click-in kind that supports the rear of the laptop, the pluggable kind that sits just behind it and the kind that also doubles as a laptop stand. There are hundreds of docks suitable for all manner of laptops.
Your main priority will be getting one that is compatible with your make and model of laptop as not all laptop docks will work with all computers. When shopping for a laptop dock, make sure it will work with your specific model laptop before buying. They aren’t cheap.
Keyboard and mouse
If you have used a laptop for a while, you will have become accustomed to the cramped confines of your laptop keyboard. It gets the job done but it isn’t exactly comfortable or easy to use. The same can be said for the trackpad. It is a good solution for those on the road, but why use it when you don’t need to?
A good keyboard and mouse is essential to use a laptop as a desktop. You can go all wireless to keep things tidy or use wired peripherals. There is no real performance difference between the two. Wireless looks tidier but requires batteries. Wired does not require batteries but has wires. Both may use a USB slot or two for the Bluetooth dongle or wired connections. If your laptop has Bluetooth, the keyboard and mouse may be able to connect directly rather than using a dongle.
A laptop stand is a nice to have rather than essential. Much depends on the desk you use, seat height preferred ergonomics and whether you use a computer monitor or not. For me, a stand is essential as it raises the entire laptop off the desk, provides a solid base to use an external monitor and hides cables away.
Laptop stands come in different flavors. Basic stands that have space for the laptop to slide into and sit a monitor on top. The stand that elevates and angles the laptop so you don’t need a monitor or external keyboard. Or the stand that holds the laptop vertical to save desk space. Each have their own uses depending on your setup.
An external monitor is purely optional but it has a quality of life benefit. A decent computer monitor costs less than a larger laptop so is a good investment as far as I am concerned. I use a 24” HD monitor that sits atop my stand at eye level. It plugs into the laptop dock and automatically takes over when I connect the laptop. Aside from the laptop sitting in front of me, you really wouldn’t know you weren’t using a desktop.
Putting it all together
To use a laptop as a desktop, you just need to connect your laptop to the dock, your keyboard and mouse to it and then start working. If you use a stand and external monitor, they need no configuration once you initially have them set up. They just work.
Get it right and all you need do is click the laptop into the dock and away you go. All the benefits of a desktop PC with the added bonus of being able to take the computer anywhere you go!