Laptops are great for working on the move. Portable and powerful, there’s no reason not to own one. But if you want to settle into the comfort of your home office, working on a laptop can make you feel like you’re trying to work out of a hotel room. You might want the benefits of a large display, a full-size keyboard, and a proper mouse. But why shell out the bucks for another machine when your laptop can handle all your computing needs? The solution is to use your laptop as if it were a desktop, and configure a setup that can easily switch between the two. In this article, we’ll show you how.
You will need:
- A laptop dock
- A 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’s no reason why you can’t use one as a desktop. You just need to make it a little more comfortable. That’s where these accessories come in.
Newer laptops usually come with Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, sometimes as ‘M’ (for mobile) versions, which are nearly as good. 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 are many times more powerful than the previous generations. An integrated GPU can now play popular game titles at decent frame rates, and work reasonably well with graphics-intensive tasks. Some can even handle virtual reality systems, like Vive and Oculus Rift.
If you know you’ll use graphics-intensive programs or games, it pays to invest in either a laptop with discrete graphics or an eGPU. Nvidia is 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 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 docks. 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’s compatible with your make and model of laptop. 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’ve used a laptop for a while, you’ve probably become accustomed to the cramped confines of its 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’s a good solution for portability, but why use it when you don’t need to?
One of the great benefits of using a laptop as a desktop is that it enables you to use a full-size, professional keyboard, with advanced tactile responses, such as the very popular Das Keyboard 4, which uses Cherry MX key switches that typists love. Or you can go all wireless to keep things tidy. There is no real performance difference between the two. Wireless looks tidier but requires batteries. Wired does not require batteries. Both may use a USB slot or two for the Bluetooth dongle or wired connections. The more advanced keyboards usually include extra USB ports, so you can use it as a hub to connect your peripherals. 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, and provides a solid base to use an external monitor and hides cables away. If you are using a separate display, depending on your laptop’s graphics capabilities, a laptop stand can also enable you to position your laptop to use as a secondary display, dramatically increasing your screen real estate (it’s great putting a movie on the laptop off to the side while you work on the main display).
Laptop stands come in different flavors. Basic stands have space for the laptop to slide into and sit a monitor on top. There are also stands that elevates and angles the laptop so you don’t need a monitor or external keyboard. And some stands hold the laptop vertically 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 it’s 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 to do is click the laptop into the dock. All the benefits of a desktop PC with the added bonus of being able to take the computer anywhere you go!