I know it sounds funny. How do you use a laptop? Just open the lid and go for it, right? Sure, that’s one approach. But I think a lot of laptop owners have only considered one use case.

In the early days of personal computing, we had desktops. That was it. You sat at a desk and typed on a gigantic keyboard you could barely lift. Then came portables which were often referred to as “luggables”. All-in-one units you could unplug, lug somewhere else and plug it in there. But it was a pain.

When laptops arrived, the idea of mobile computing changed the way a lot of people worked. Good laptops offered up to 2 hours of battery life. You didn’t have to plug in. Not immediately. And carrying it was not referred to as “lugging”. But most people had to choose between a laptop or a desktop. And these early laptops made for poor desktops.

Modern laptops can be had for less money and have a lot of advantages over desktops. For most people, they have plenty of power and storage. You can work just about anywhere. It’s handy to grab it, open the lid and do what you need to do without having to find a desk or a power outlet. A decent, affordable laptop these days will give you over 5 hours of battery life.

But desktops have advantages too. A good desktop computer can have a more powerful CPU, GPU and more RAM. Generally speaking, you can get a more powerful desktop than laptop. A desktop also has a proper keyboard, mouse and nice big screens. You’re more likely to have better posture. The screen won’t make you squint and lean in. And you don’t have to watch your battery level.

The downside is it can only be used in one spot.

But if you don’t have obscene power and storage requirements, why not have the best of both worlds?

It surprises me how many people buy a laptop and only ever use it as a laptop. Especially when it’s the only computer they own.

Modern laptops have plenty of power for most people, to the point they have no need for a desktop. But this situation doesn’t mean you can’t have a desktop too. You just don’t need a separate machine for it.

One of the frequently overlooked strengths of a modern laptop is that it can be an excellent desktop as well. With a monitor (or 2 … or more), keyboard and mouse, using your laptop as a desktop can be much better for lengthy work sessions.


person hunched over laptop
Hunching over a laptop

Your neck, shoulders and back will thank you.

It’s one thing to sit in a coffee shop for an hour or two and get some work done. Catching up on email while sitting on the couch isn’t too terrible either. I enjoy working on the patio on a nice day. But an eight hour session working on spreadsheets, writing software or creating presentations can do horrors to your body if you’re hunched over a laptop the entire time.

If you bring your laptop to your desk, plug it into an eye-level monitor and sit in a good chair, you can do all that work with much less physical strain.

A monitor positioned at eye level when you sit in your chair is crucial. It helps you not to look down while you work, reducing neck and back strain. If you can’t afford a monitor, you can find a cheap laptop stand (or a stack of books) that will raise your laptop to eye level.

A good keyboard and mouse are the next pieces to consider. When it comes to a mouse, find something comfortable and familiar. A trackball mouse is more ergonomic and helps reduce wrist strain. But some people simply cannot get used to this type of mouse. If that’s you, then pick something familiar that helps you work without strain or confusion.

The other crucial piece is a keyboard. Let’s face it, laptop keyboards are crap. Even some of the better examples you find in higher end ThinkPads still pale in comparison to a good quality desktop keyboard. Avoid cheap rubber dome keyboards. They are likely to cause strain rather than relieve it. A high quality rubber dome keyboard doesn’t feel mushy and the keys rebound quickly. Mechanical keys are even better, but may not fit everyone’s budget.

Speaking of budget, you can find inexpensive monitors for under $100. A decent quality keyboard and mouse combo can be purchased for under $50. That’s $150 for a nice desktop setup and is a lot cheaper than repeated visits to the chiropractor and/or massage therapist.

If you have a little more to spend, you can find a great quality monitor with higher resolution and screen quality for under $200. A good trackball (or other ergonomic) mouse can be had for around $50 and an ergonomic or mechanical keyboard can be had for under $100. All said, $350 for a comfortable desktop setup is pretty good.

To top it all off, you can buy an inexpensive USB-C or Thunderbolt dock for your laptop. Everything plugs into this dock. You can set your laptop on the desk, plug in one cable and everything is there, including power. Nice, eh?

laptop keyboard mouse monitors
This is my current setup. Much nicer working situation instead of hunching over a laptop

Once you’ve got your items set up, your laptop is even more versatile than it was before. Now it’s a laptop and a desktop.

You’re welcome.