What Is a Laptop Computer?

Definition & Examples of a Laptop Computer

An open laptop computer with a colorful desktop background.
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A laptop computer is a small personal computer. They are designed to be more portable than traditional desktop computers, with many of the same abilities. Laptops are able to be folded flat for transportation and have a built-in keyboard and touchpad.

Most laptops are powerful enough for everyday business administrative, home, or school use. However, if a user does graphical work such as 3D rendering or movie encoding, a more advanced and powerful laptop is needed. As advanced as laptops are, the top-end ones still cannot compete with high powered desktops and workstations when processing power is needed.

Your line of work will dictate the laptop type you need. Since there are so many options, tt's important to know what laptops with different specifications can do so that you can choose the right one for your business and budget.

What Is a Laptop Computer?

A laptop computer is smaller than a desktop computer, generally less than three inches thick, and weigh less than desktop computers. The laptop's size makes it convenient for transportation in briefcases, backpacks, and other bags.

The device derives its name from being able to be used by resting on a person's lap without the need for a desk or other surface. Laptop computers may also be referred to as notebook computers, though a notebook computer usually describes a computer that is smaller and lighter than a laptop computer.

How Does a Laptop Computer Work?

Similar to personal computers, laptops require a power source—they can be plugged into an outlet or operate on their internal battery. Laptop computers can be used at a desk by themselves, or as a desktop-style computer by connecting a separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

These small computers can also be hooked into docking stations—devices that allow some laptops to easily connect to peripherals like monitors and keyboards at a desk—and then "undock" for easy mobile use and transport.

Components such as processors, motherboards, memory sticks, hard drives, graphics cards, and interface devices are all items that form a laptop computer. The smaller these components are, the smaller and lighter a laptop can be.

The drawback with reduced size, however, is that smaller components are generally not capable of performing as fast as larger components in certain scenarios.

Manufacturers of computer components continuously work to reduce their size, while keeping performance as high as possible. Laptops also are designed to require less power to operate, which can also lower their capabilities for intensive work.

These factors should be considered when choosing a laptop for your business or professional needs. Size, necessary performance, the operating system, and price are all aspects to consider when looking for the right computer. The right one for you depends on how you are going to use it.

Types of Laptop Computers

While there are no specific types of laptops, retailers generally give them categories for consumers to help them find one for their needs. Some of the labels you might find at a retailer are:

  • Value
  • Everyday
  • Gaming
  • Professional
  • Ultraportable or notebook

Value laptops usually have lower price tags, with lower-performing hardware, and less storage and memory for people that only do basic computing such as a few hours of internet browsing, playing a movie, or writing some papers.

Everyday laptops might have slightly higher performance with more storage and memory for people that use computers more than a value-user would. This might be someone who uses the laptop for work or school but doesn't require significant processing power and storage for 3D applications like 3d Max or gaming.

Some manufacturers design their laptops to be upgradeable. When choosing one, look to see if you can get more memory or storage put in. This can help lower-end laptops perform better at a lower cost than purchasing a higher-performing one.

Gaming laptops have mid-to-high-end mobile 3D graphics cards and processors designed to play graphically intensive games while being able to do all the other tasks expected of computers.

Professional targeted laptops will have graphics cards designed for studio uses such as 3D graphics creation and rendering, analyzing large amounts of data, or other professionally intensive uses. They will have high-end processors, more memory, and more storage to handle demanding workloads.

Ultraportables and notebooks are even smaller than laptops. They generally sacrifice capabilities, peripheral ports, and performance for their size and price.

Peripherals

Laptops have ports and other interfaces similar to desktop computers, such as USB ports, network interface cards, audio speakers, digital media drives, and memory card slots (such as SD card readers), which are often built into the laptop computer by the manufacturer. Additional peripherals may be connected to a laptop computer through available expansion slots, through USB or serial ports or wirelessly via a Bluetooth connection. 

Networking

Laptops have several ways of connecting to networks. A wireless connection, or WiFi, is the most common means of connecting a laptop. Laptops may also have ethernet ports that allow the computer to connect to a local area network (LAN) through an ethernet cable.

A Bluetooth connection is another means for a computer to communicate with devices or other computers. For example, a Bluetooth mouse or keyboard can be connected wirelessly to a laptop. A laptop can also connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth (this connection may also be made via USB port and cable) to access the Internet over the phone's mobile network. This is commonly referred to as "tethering."

Key Takeaways

  • Laptops are computers designed for portability. They have all the same components and capabilities of traditional desktops, but are smaller and can fold up.
  • Laptops are generally less powerful than desktops.
  • There are different categories of laptops designed for various uses.
  • Many laptops come with options to upgrade specific components to tailor them to the needs of the user.