Dismantling the Difference Between a Laptop and Notebook Computer

Difference Between Laptop and Notebook

Do you find yourself confounded about the terms, ‘laptop’ and ‘notebook?’ You’re not alone. They’re often used interchangeably. Laptop and notebook computers are both about freedom. And they’ve evolved to become high-powered machinery capable of connecting you to the world. But certainly, there must be a difference. We did a deep dive into the history of both, and you know what? There is a difference: The world’s first laptop is the Osborne invented by Adam Osborne in 1981; it miniaturized the functionality of a desktop computer. Then came the NEC UltraLife notebook in 1989, which streamlined the portable computer even more by eliminating non-essential components. Keep reading to find out more.

Portability

Size matters. While laptops and notebooks have the appeal of optimized portability, there are notable differences in their dimensions. And since an extra pound of weight makes a huge difference (especially considering everything else in your book bag or briefcase). It’s useful to know that laptops range greatly in size, featuring display sizes ranging from 10.1- to 17.3-inches.

And depending on the laptop, the chassis can be either ultra-slim or bulky, which means that the typical laptop can weigh between 3- to 10-pounds. Conversely, notebooks are generally sleeker portable computers with display sizes from 15-inches to smaller. They usually weigh less than 5 pounds and measure less than 3-inches thick. In short, they have a supreme lightweight portability advantage over laptops.

Screen size relates to weight. If mobility is of upmost importance to you, you’ll do well with the more svelte notebook with its comparatively smaller dimensions.

Performance

Regardless of the device, a computer system’s performance and power are directly related to the quality of the on-board hardware, which include the CPU, GPU, RAM, storage and related features.

The higher the quality of components, the higher the price tag of the portable computer. Generally, standard notebook hardware is on the minimalist side owing to the often cheaper price compared to laptops – You get enough processing power to complete all of your personal computing without hassle or fancy tech, which is why they’re so popular.

We say ‘generally,’ however, because a higher priced notebook, like an Ultrabook comes with more impressive hardware, so that when it comes to power and performance. Ultrabooks are more like laptops than notebooks. But if you need a faster, larger storage capacity (with more display real estate) for bigger tasks, a laptop won’t disappoint.

NOTE: While there are increasing exceptions, laptop and notebooks are often difficult or impossible to upgrade with interchangeable hardware. So, it’s important to get the specs right at the point of sale.

Processor (CPU)

Pricier laptops and notebooks tend to have higher clock speeds, which translate to better performance when it comes to CPU intensive tasks. But if you’re mainly surfing the Web and using a word processing program, you don’t need a fast CPU.

Graphics (GPU)

But if you’re a gamer or you work with 3D software, a high-end dedicated graphics card is essential. Beware that an ultra-high-end graphics card easily adds $1000 to the price of any portable computer.

RAM

Nowadays, you can easily pick up a budget notebook or low-cost laptop with 8GB of RAM. It’s enough for multitasking and light duties. But if you intend to run multiple high-end applications simultaneously, you’ll want more RAM – Power users and gamers will do well with at least 16GB of RAM.

Storage

A solid-state drive (SSD) gives a huge performance boost over a traditional mechanical hard drive (MHD). The price difference between the two modes of storage have been flattening out recently. But laptops and notebooks with an SSD still cost more per gigabyte than MHD alternatives.

If you want an SSD in your portable computer but don’t want to spend too much, you could purchase a machine with a small capacity 128GB SSD, which will be relatively inexpensive and supplement the capacity with an external hard drive.

Display

Budget notebooks and laptops also often come with an HD resolution (1366 x 768 pixels). For activities like watching or editing HD videos, gaming, or multitasking with many windows open at the same time. You’ll need a portable computer with a display that offers a higher resolution. Full HD 1920x1080p is what we recommend. Portable computers that offer 4K (3840×2160 resolution) are becoming more common. But they take a huge bite out of battery life.

Functionality

Consider a laptop boasting a 1TB SSD and 8GB of RAM and a notebook equipped with a 256GB SSD and 4GB of memory. These differences cater to two different types of user.

If you have high-powered computing needs, you’ll find everything you’re looking for in a laptop. But if you’re primary use is limited to document creation and web browsing, you’ll do well with a simple notebook.

All the battery-sucking power generated by laptops makes notebooks king of the battery endurance hill. A notebook can last 7 to 14 hours off a single charge compared to a laptop’s average of 6 to 10 hours.

Connectivity

Most but not all notebooks come with at least two USB ports. But you’ll find many more expansion ports on a laptop. Something else to think about is that there are several reasons why you might want to connect your laptop or notebook to a larger monitor or TV. And for that, you’ll need an HDMI port. But if your particular portable computer model doesn’t include an HDMI port. Adapters are available for both laptops and notebooks.

Besides Wifi connectivity, if you’d like a faster Internet connection, you’ll need an Ethernet port. However, as laptops and notebooks become thinner, these ports are becoming something of a rarity.

But not quite as rare as the old optical drive. As most software, music and movies are delivered through the Internet, the CD/DVD drive has become all but obsolete. Should you have need of a laptop with a DVD/RW drive you’re more likely to find it on a laptop than a notebook since laptops are made to replicate the usability of a desktop computer.

If not, you can always buy an external DVD drive which connects easily enough to either system via a USB port. Just some things to think about when deciding which portable computer to choose.

Operating System

Whether you choose a laptop or notebook, there are a variety of operating systems that can run it:

  • Microsoft Windows is the most popular OS around and the one we always recommend for the wide variety of applications it supports, like games.
  • The MacOS is Apple-centric. But should you decide on a MacBook, you can still install the Windows OS on it just to give you an idea of the ubiquity of the Windows OS.
  • Google ChromeOS is a lightweight operating system that you’ll typically find in the range of notebooks known as Chromebooks; you’ll need an Internet connection to make full use of it.  

Battery Life

A major draw for laptops and notebooks is that they offer mobility. But they’re not totally unrestricted. If you’re going to use your mobile computer away from a power outlet for several hours, you’ll want to pay special attention to the battery’s average run time.

These days, more efficient CPUs, storage solutions along with improved battery technology have increased the average run time of laptops and notebooks up to 14 or more hours in certain power save modes. But you should know this isn’t the standard for most portable computer models. So, if you plan on using your device in situations where charging isn’t readily available, choose a model that offers sufficient battery life.

Keep in mind that manufacturers tend to exaggerate laptop and notebook battery runtimes, (the quotes you see are usually under optimal conditions). The reality is battery runtime is highly dependent on usage. Activities like gaming, for instance will take a much larger toll on battery life than simple Web surfing.

NOTE: Read third-party reviews for real-world statistics on battery life. You should also know that battery runtimes decrease with age; a five-year-old laptop won’t run as long unplugged as when it was new. And depending on the laptop or notebook the battery may be sealed, which means you’ll have to replace the whole device when the battery stops working as it should.

Cooling System

Another distinguishing factor between notebooks and laptops is that while laptops (especially gaming laptops) are fitted with fans and heatsinks to dissipate heat and aid in keeping components cool. Notebooks typically don’t generate enough internal heat to warrant such cooling precautions.

Price

Regardless of the device you choose, weighing your budget against how you’ll use your laptop or notebook is important so you don’t overspend. Do you need a video/photo editing machine? Maybe you’re a serious gamer or power user. Or are you just looking for something to do basic Web Surfing?

How much you’re going to pay for being able to check your email anywhere also depends on the brand you buy and the specs going into the device.

From a price consideration, notebooks are less expensive than laptop computers; the price of laptops range between $150 to $2,500. And notebooks are generally between $150 to $400. Unless you’re talking about the Ultrabook category – which offer more advanced, high-computing features – then prices can exceed that of laptops.

As you shop, you’ll find that what greatly determines the price of these machines are variable, like screen size and processing power. Typically, the difference in price is going to be determined by functionality.

Wrapping Up

2005 is an important year for the world of portable computers. That’s when laptop sales surpassed that of desktop computers. All in all, laptops and notebooks have as many similarities as they do differences. But it’s the integrated technology that truly makes the difference, which mainly lies in processing power and storage capacity. Still, with the evolution of tech happening rapidly, these differences are becoming blurry. In the portable computing market, there’s an emerging trend of manufacturers merging the two worlds together. And as technology progresses it will become common to see more thin, sleek and ultra-high-powered machines fueling the future of high-performance portable computing.