What is your primary development machine - a Desktop or a laptop? Why? Do you use both - if so, do you use source control to keep them synched?

This might seem like a dumb question but I'm on the steep part of the learning curve & I'd be interested in your insights.

[edit] - Using a laptop assumes hanging an Imax-sized screen off it when it is docked. Using a desktop assumes 2x Imax screens. [edit] - This is faster than Twitter! IDE is VS2008 - laptop is 17 (or 15) inch, 1920x1200

+4  A: 

I like the desktop. I have all my music and two huge monitors, not to mention the lots of power for building.
EDIT: And a mouse!

+2  A: 

I prefer a laptop myself, but that is just because when I get tired of the office I like to go sit outside this deli downstairs. Sometimes a change of scenery can be a huge blessing to get the wheels going.

Edit : laptops can have mice and external keyboards plugged in too. my 17 inch Alienware screen and an external 24inch is pretty nice.

Kevin Sheffield
+3  A: 

A laptop is nice because you can code anywhere, and you can always have it with you. A desktop is easier to upgrade, and can have much more power/screen real estate for less money.

Also, it depends on whether you use an IDE or emacs/vi/etc. Whether or not you need a real mouse can make a huge difference in your experience on a laptop.

+3  A: 

for me, coding is all about a good keyboard and dual 24" widescreen monitors.

Karl Seguin
+8  A: 

A desktop is much better. Many laptop keyboards feel flimsy and the keys seem to pop off quite frequently (Dell, I'm looking at you). I prefer the natural keyboards and it's great having a huge amount of screen real estate.

A great way to get the best of both worlds is to get a good laptop and have a dock for your home and work. Then you have your environment with you wherever you go and you can use whatever monitor and keyboard setup you prefer.

+1  A: 

@Karl: hear hear

I have a fairly decent laptop with a fast hard disk and a 1920x1200 display. When I fancy a change of scenery I go walkabout with that. In the office (which I am fortunate to say is also home) I prefer my dell precision t5400 and the dual 24" screens and nice keyboard.

Hmm...this just got voted down, why so?
+1  A: 

I use a laptop because I like taking my work with me. I work from home on occasion, do presentations, teach classes, and generally like to 'be mobile' with my primary computer.

I also like having a smaller form factor for my laptop (14.1 currently) to make it easy for traveling.

I've found that today's laptops are affordable enough and have sufficient power to get the job done comfortably (don't purchase lightly, though).

The one down side that I have is that at work, I currently use one Imax sized monitor. I prefer using multiple monitors, but trying to use an Imax monitor and a much smaller laptop monitor at the same time is not even worth it. So know this -- if you are going to go with a laptop, make sure that your favorite places (e.g. home office or work) have multiple monitor setup - excluding the laptop screen.

Ian Robinson
+1  A: 

I prefer a desktop because of the multiple monitors, that is key for me. I built my home machine and it was important to spec it out exactly the way I wanted it. With a laptop, you have far less control over the components that go into it.

Chris Miller
+1  A: 

Coding isn't just about coding. it's also research, trying something, running a virtual machine to see how it works on XP when you're running Vista. A laptop can't do that.
You need large screen, laptop can't do that
Laptops are about portability more than performance. Portability isn't an issue really when you're coding unless you prefer to write code in the park or on a bus.


Desktop is better:

  • Faster machine
  • More screen real estate
  • Better keyboard
  • Mouse (or at least a better mouse)
  • More comfortable

However, you should be able to take your code to your laptop and work on it there easily as well.

Lance Fisher
+1  A: 

I prefer laptop. Environment is totally portable (which is handy a lot). Also, it uses a lot less energy (power) then desktops (they work hard to tune each component on laptops) so that has a small environmental advantage (which matters to me).

Michael Neale

Desktop hands down, laptops just too small and confined for me. At work currently I have two 22" monitors with a quad-core 4 gig machine. We also have an older dual-core laptop which I hate.


I like a desktop with two monitors and a good keyboard. Portability on a laptop is a nice feature but I'd need a dock with the monitors and keyboard for wherever I'd be using it the most.


I prefer a desktop far more than a laptop. Laptop really put it limitation on you. Except on several occasion when you need to take your work home(hope never). Using a source control is a must to keep you work synched.

+3  A: 

I'm on a Macbook Pro 17'', Penryn 2.5Ghz and 4Gb RAM... Also, 7200rpm HDD and a LED 1920x1200 screen...

Yes, I like coding on it! :p Don't get me wrong, if I could afford (the money and the hassle) I'd get a powerful desktop at work, with 2x 26'' LCDs and stuff... We have a Mac Pro at the office with 10GB RAM and 2 QuadCore CPU and it's... let's just say... lovely! I still reckon desktops get the best "snappyism" no matter what laptop you have!

But being able to get my laptop and go out somewhere is priceless! Does wonders to your (my) productivity! ;)

EDIT: At the office, I "just" have a 20'' external display, but having my Apple Keyboard (wired) is priceless!! I love that keyboard!!! Also, I carry around with me at all times my awesome Logitech MX Revolution! That thumb wheel working with Exposé is amazing and I miss it a lot when I don't have it with me... But the Macbook Pro's trackpad is 2nd to none (multi-touch actually).

Levi Figueira

You work for Dell right? And taking a survey?

Stephen Cox
+1  A: 

No, Stephen Cox, I don't work for Dell - I'm only asking to interested to hear the voice of experience.

For the record I have an HP NW9440 (17 in dual core laptop) running Web Server 2008 (works fine for me) with an LCD hanging off it & a self-built Desktop with 4x HDDs (2x WD Raptors) with 2x HP 20 inch LCDs & a Quadro FX3500 (for AutoCAD). Both have 4GB RAM and all OS's are/will be Windows 32-bit (for various reasons). No Dells.

I'm leaning towards using the desktop for most of my work (in VS 2008) but keeping the laptop in sync (probably VisualSVN) for my regular bouts of cabin fever - I work from home. Home is not the house of Dell

I asked here because most people here have been doing this for years (I haven't) and I wanted to learn what works for them, based on their extensive experiences (with & without Dells).

That's all.

CAD bloke
+2  A: 

@Amr: "Coding isn't just about coding. it's also research, trying something, running a virtual machine to see how it works on XP when you're running Vista. A laptop can't do that."

Hmm. I don't seem to have too many issues running a Virtual Machine on my laptop at all. As long as you have enough RAM, you are fine.

I personally only have a laptop as my coding machine - I still use SCM to keep everything organised, and backed up onto a couple of servers. It's probably got something to do with my laptop being much higher spec than any of the desktops in my house. A second monitor is vital - although when push comes to shove I can code in a coffee shop.

A decent keyboard and mouse help too - I have a keyboard, mouse and monitor set aside for me at the place I work one day per week, it just makes that much of a difference.

Matthew Schinckel

Even though my desktop machine is way faster than my laptop for me it is something with the laptop display that makes it harder to code on the laptop. When my laptop was faster than my desktop I still preferred my desktop even when I had hooked up keyboard, mouse and an external monitor. I tried using a laptop stand to get the laptop display to a better height but still the desktop felt better.

Robert Höglund

My Dell Precision M65 with a 7200 rpm Hard Drive, a 1920x1200 display, and my Logitech Nano mouse gives me plenty of comfort to work with.

I do all my development on this.


@Amr: My MacBook Pro runs my XP and Vista VMs just fine, actually. Sure, they won't be running the latest games but work well for testing most windows apps. (lots of RAM helps)

I have an external 24" monitor along with keyboard and mouse at home and at the office. Point is, any accessory you can plug into a desktop can be plugged into a laptop as well. I hardly ever use the laptop by itself but it's nice to have that capability when I'm out and about.

Speaking of VMs, I've been thinking about moving my VM images to a small, external Firewire drive in order to free up boot disk space and improve performance (so I've heard).

+2  A: 

Thank you all for your responses - they were exactly the seat-of-the-pants experiences I was looking for. For the record I am initially going with the desktop with 2x20" as my main unit running SVN so I can keep my laptop in sync (and fix my brain assplosions). Multiple monitors were universally endorsed, as were iMax proportions. My desk at home has 4-5 screens (2 laptops sometimes). It also has a wall & can post-it ideas & snippets on. Try that with a laptop.

I was surpised by how many people were fussy about their mouse until I looked down at my collections of identical logitechs. Oh yeah. Definitely important. Same goes for keyboards but I've found that using identical KBDs on the same desk gets confusing - always typing on the wrong one.

Geoff - External drives should be faster with an eSATA card - firewire (400) is about the same as USB2 in my experience. I've seen demos with VMs on external drives and they went fine.

LeviFig - "snappyism" is a great concept and also a prime motivator for me to use my desktop - there's something about spreading the bits between 2x Raptors (not RAIDed, just symbiotic) that a laptop just can't match at least without SSDs. I am, fundamentally, an impatient bastard. I also have docking stations (with stands - monitor heights are closer) & screens at either end of the journey for teh laptop.

Chris Miller - I agree about the component choices in a desktop but you do have a lot of choice with laptops too - just buy the one with the bits you want. Granted, they are more expensive but I buy ex-demo HP workstations off eBay with a couple of years on-site warranty left for less than 1/2 price.

Amr - I've seen dozens of demos off VMs on laptops - they work fine. Also, try a 17" 1920x1200 screen - they show lot and they're usually on 2-3 feet away so they look bigger. That's not doing my eyesight a lot of good though.

Everyone else - thanks again for responding - your insights were invaluable. Why does invaluable mean the same as valuable?

My insights - a 17" laptop is reasonably portable (by itself), a great wall to hide behind in boring meetings but the backpack to carry it can almost double your kerb weight when you apply the 1st law of physics (matter expands to fill all available space). Also, an extra bolt-on battery is very handy - get the big one. Carry a mouse - they work on pretty-much any surface. Get as many pixels as you can. Good keyboard is a must. Docking stations are worth it.

Desktops - 10,000 rpm drives make a big difference. Jeff et al have blogged about this. I'm using one for the OS (Server 2008 workstationised) and one for the projects / SVN. My version of dual boot is changing the boot drive in BIOS (or swapping it in my laptop - takes 30 seconds) - KISS.

Thanks again all - much appreciated Ewen aka CADbloke

CAD bloke

I find coding on my MacBook Air to be a total joy. Part of this is the fact that it's nearly "instant on". I can pull it from my bag just about anywhere, open it up and work immediately, without having to wait for it to return from standby or boot or anything.

The other part I love is that the trackpad is so usable. I've traditionally hated them, and relied on having a mouse at all times, but that's changed mostly because of gestures.

I've said this before: I love my MacBook Air more than I love my cat. :-)

Having said this, I kind of covet a serious desktop machine with a couple of monitors for when I'm working at home, but the sacrifice is worth it for me.

Tim Sullivan

Having worked in the PC games industry, a desktop PC is pretty much essential as even if you don't need the "latest and greatest" 3d graphics card, you certainly need to swap cards in and out for fixing compatibility bugs.

Cheers, Phill.


I use a PC simply because I am a gamer and until recently with the Dell XPS gen 2 you couldn't get a decent laptop that would play games ! Using a PC enables you to bespoke and build an awesome machine.

Even the gen 2 is not a patch on my gaming rig mind you ! I can put no less than 4 PCie SLI cards on my AN8 mainboard although I only have two GTX7800 invideas on it at the mo.

I think its a question of how much are you into graphics and hardware to be honest. http://www.marblehost.com


Hrrm... use a laptop (docked most of the time)... Best of both worlds for me. I have it docked to a 24" viewsonic monitor running HDMI @ 1920x1080, nice keyboard, nice mouse, speakers, external hdd, external dvd writer, NAS, all synced with usb 2.0 hub. But never any file syncing between computers which is a plus over working on multiple machines.

Laptop has 4gb, hdmi out, bluray drive, 1gb video card, etc. for me it does not slow me down whatsoever, and still 15" which is great b/c I can throw it in my bag which is KEY when meeting up with a client on the weekend or on the road which I am about 2-3 months out of the year.

For years I also swore by desktops and could only use those but that all changed about 3-4 years ago when laptops caught up with nicer video cards, more ram, esata, usb 2.0 etc.

If I was a gamer, sure I'd build a gaming rig, but I don't so... for me being able to take my work with me and work anywhere when I need to is a no brainer and a huge plus for anytime productivity.

+1  A: 

I think there is no need for a Desktop computer today (unless your daily work includes 3D rendering, or video editing, etc.). Laptops are powerful and "kind of" cheap these days.

I use a Macbook, docked with a 24" monitor (with external mouse/keyboard), and it's pretty much suitable for all kind of computing.


I like the desk but each to its own