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For Seniors: Differences between Desktops and Laptops

The fact is that when it comes to performing computing tasks, a desktop and laptop are pretty much identical. They both have an operating system such as Windows 8.1 or Mac OS X. They both contain a hard drive where you store data and computer chips that process data, and they both run software and access the Internet.

Where a desktop and laptop differ is their physical appearance, size, and weight. Here’s a rundown of the key differences:

  • Appearance: A desktop computer is typically encased in a tower, into which you plug a separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse. (Some newer models have the brains of the computer incorporated into a monitor base.) A laptop has all its parts in one unit.

    The central processing unit (CPU) — chips, monitor, keyboard, and touchpad (a laptop version of a mouse) — all fit in one compact package that includes slots called ports for plugging in other devices (called peripherals), such as a little toggle that acts as a transmitter for a wireless mouse or printer.

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  • Power source: A laptop contains a battery that you charge by plugging it into a wall outlet. You can run the laptop off of a charged battery or plug the laptop into a wall outlet so battery charge isn’t a concern.

  • Portability: Having a battery and coming in a more compact package makes a laptop more portable (although some larger models are a bit hefty to tote around); a desktop stays put on a desktop as a rule.

  • Extras: Very small laptops might not include a CD/DVD drive and therefore require an external drive to be attached.

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