Personal computers (PCs) have always been equated with desktop units, even as laptops become more and more mainstream during the late 80s. It didn’t help that advertisements also make the same distinction, often putting a clear line between the portable laptop and desktop.
But when equated performance-wise, however, the distinction becomes considerably vaguer between laptops and desktop PCs. This is because modern technologies have made the performance difference even less distinguishable between the two. Therefore, in this article, we will discuss if a laptop is indeed a PC.
The short answer is yes, a laptop is a PC (personal computer). While the form factor of a laptop is more portable when compared to the large stationary form factor of a traditional desktop PC, the overall underlying technology and functionality are the same. Like desktop PCs, Laptops are designed in such a way that it’s intended for individual use only – as in one person at a time. This makes a laptop a personal computer.
What is a PC?
Generally speaking, personal computers are what we consider multi-purpose digital computing devices built in a way (size, features, price) to make them individually usable. It is operated directly by its intended end user and does not require virtual or physical intermediaries to be accessed.
Physically speaking, we can also define a PC through its primary components and secondary peripherals:
- CPU (Central Processing Unit) – main component for all computational operations
- GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) – component that drives the PC’s visual output
- Motherboard – where the CPU is installed. Facilitates connection with other components
- Data drive – where data is stored for processing, archival, and retrieval.
- RAM – provides volatile or temporary storage for quickly fetching reused data
- Power supply – provides finely tuned and controlled power to the PC’s various parts
- Monitor – video output hardware (external peripheral)
- Speaker – audio output hardware (external peripheral)
- Keyboard – alphanumeric data input hardware (external peripheral)
- Mouse – GUI-based cursor input hardware (external peripheral)
A desktop PC for example has an installed CPU on a motherboard, which is then attached to a case that facilitates connection with other components such as a GPU or disk drives. Input is provided via mouse and keyboard, while output connects through multimedia peripherals like monitors and speakers. An operating system (OS) is then typically required used to make all PC components work together through software.
What is a laptop?
Alternatively, a laptop is a type of personal computer built for portability. The name comes from its original purpose: a computer to be placed on one’s lap for regular use. Aside from size, the biggest difference between a laptop and ordinary (desktop) PCs is the number of built-in peripherals. It has its screen and keyboard for example, with a “UPS” unit also provided in the form of its battery.
Despite its rather universal design, however, there are different physical categories based on the intended general purpose of the laptop, even between various products and models.
Desktop replacement units, for example, might have the same typical shape and appearance as a laptop. But they are significantly bigger and heavier. They are in no way intended to be used “on top of a lap”, even if they are designed for a few unplugged hours of non-gaming use. After the wide availability of competitive portable PC hardware, these often come in the form of high-end gaming laptops.
Modern laptops without discrete GPUs are often considered light workload units, built for the modern virtual office, focusing more on active multi-tasking and productivity-based CPU applications. These units often have a higher priority for usage longevity, and thus are catered to users who intend to keep the laptop on battery power for extended periods of their time.
The advent of 2-in-1 laptops also stretched the definition of the hardware even further. Instead of a simple, portable design with a built-in keyboard and monitor, these modern iterations can either completely bend the unit 180 degrees, or detach the now-touchscreen monitor section completely.
But to summarize, a laptop is any computer powerful enough to run a standard operating system, built on a foldable clamshell design that can operate under its own power for a defined amount of time.
Is a laptop a PC?
Yes, by technical definition, a laptop is indeed a PC. The form factor may be different, but the fundamental components and their functions are one and the same. Laptops even use pretty much the same operating systems or use hardware built for the same operating systems, without any significant usage differences across platforms.
Think of laptops more as a subcategory of PCs. Desktops are the somewhat bulkier, less portable type that is dependent on an AC outlet, while laptops are the sleekier, more packaged-in-one type that can be brought anywhere, even if its battery power usage time is still limited.
In fact, with the advent of top-of-the-line gaming laptops over the last few years, the performance line between the two is becoming less and less important. Oftentimes, a certain laptop configuration would only be one tier lower in performance than the desktop counterpart. And even then, casual users would hardly even notice the difference without benchmarks.
If there still would be one glaring difference of note today, it would be the thermal efficiency of laptops. Even if designed not to thermally throttle easily, standard laptops are still considerably hotter than standard (desktop) PCs today. It is the necessary sacrifice, to squeeze desktop-level performance within a portable form factor that is simply too inherently constrained.
Traditionally, it is often a typical recommendation to favor desktops over laptops when it comes to owning PCs. Unless you need the portability and smaller desk footprint, desktops are often more thermally efficient, more serviceable, and generally cost less.
Today, laptops have evolved significantly that even if their inherent weaknesses are still there, they can now compete toe-to-toe with desktops when it comes to average performance requirements. This then greatly helps in solidifying their classification as PCs for casual folk, since they really are indeed just smaller and hotter computers with built-in keyboards and monitors.
Is a laptop a computer?
Yes, a laptop is a computer. It has all the components of any standard PC, only the form factor is different.
Is a Chromebook a PC?
It depends. When exclusively viewed via its components and basic features (apps), yes it is still a PC. When viewed from its operating system (ChromeOS), however, its limited capabilities probably only warrant a partial classification.
Is a Mac a PC?
Yes, a Mac is a PC, despite what Apple might technically define otherwise (since Apple refers to “PCs” as “Windows machines”). As per our definition, it is still directly intended for an end-user without intermediaries, has all the components PCs have, and uses a robust operating system that offers all the software capabilities of a typical OS.