How To Use a Laptop as a Desktop
Laptops are great for working on the move. Portable and powerful, there’s no reason not to own one. But if you want to settle into the comfort of your home office, working on a laptop can make you feel like you’re trying to work out of a hotel room.
You might want the benefits of a large display, a full-size keyboard, and a proper mouse. But why shell out the bucks for another machine when your laptop can handle all your computing needs? The solution is to use your laptop as if it were a desktop and configure a setup that can easily switch between the two. In this article, we’ll show you how.
To begin, you may want to take a few minutes to analyze your workspace and what you may need. Simply using your laptop as a desktop involves more than simply attaching an external monitor and turning your devices on.
To make a true desktop setup, you’ll need a little help from some peripherals and nifty gadgets. Also, consider this; do you want this laptop to remain stationary? Or, would you prefer to pack it up quickly when you need to travel with your laptop?
Either way, there are some things you need.
You will need:
- A laptop dock
- A keyboard and mouse
- A laptop stand (optional)
- An external monitor (optional)
You may already have a desk, but you will need an appropriate workspace too.
Use a Laptop as a Desktop – Weapon of Choice
Modern laptops are almost as powerful as desktops. They can come with just as much RAM, comparable processors, and with discrete GPUs too. There’s no reason why you can’t use one as a desktop. You just need to make it a little more comfortable. That’s where these accessories come in.
RAM is often the same or similar speeds and can be specified in similar amounts to a desktop. A Core i7 laptop with 16GB of RAM can easily hold its own against a desktop of the same or similar specifications.
If you need more graphics power, an eGPU (external Graphics Processing Unit) can deliver credible gaming or graphics chops to a compatible laptop. This is an external box containing a graphics card and power supply. Recent versions of eGPU such as the Razer Core, Alienware Graphics Amplifier, or ASUS ROG XG Station 2 deliver desktop gaming performance in a pluggable box.
If you’re tech-savvy enough you can add more RAM to your laptop too.
A laptop dock is essential, as it provides power and connectivity to the laptop. They will usually come with a LAN port, USB, DVI, power, audio, and more depending on what you need. You connect your laptop to it and then connect everything else to the dock. The laptop clicks into place and you’re ready to go.
There are three main kinds of laptop docks. The click-in kind that supports the rear of the laptop, the pluggable kind that sits just behind it, and the kind that also doubles as a laptop stand. There are hundreds of docks suitable for all manner of laptops.
Your main priority will be getting one that’s compatible with your make and model of laptop. Not all laptop docks will work with all computers. When shopping for a laptop dock, make sure it will work with your specific model laptop before buying. They aren’t cheap.
Keyboard and mouse
If you’ve used a laptop for a while, you’ve probably become accustomed to the cramped confines of its keyboard. It gets the job done, but it isn’t exactly comfortable or easy to use. The same can be said for the trackpad. It’s a good solution for portability, but why use it when you don’t need to?
One of the great benefits of using a laptop as a desktop is that it enables you to use a full-size, professional keyboard, with advanced tactile responses, such as the very popular Das Keyboard 4, which uses Cherry MX key switches that typists love. Or you can go all wireless to keep things tidy. There is no real performance difference between the two. Wireless looks tidier but requires batteries.
Wired does not require batteries. Both may use a USB slot or two for the Bluetooth dongle or wired connections. The more advanced keyboards usually include extra USB ports, so you can use it as a hub to connect your peripherals. If your laptop has Bluetooth, the keyboard and mouse may be able to connect directly rather than using a dongle.
A laptop stand is nice to have rather than essential. Much depends on the desk you use, seat height, preferred ergonomics, and whether you use a computer monitor or not. A stand is essential, as it raises the entire laptop off the desk, and provides a solid base to use an external monitor, and hides cables away. As an added benefit, these stands can be found for a low-cost on Amazon.
If you are using a separate display, depending on your laptop’s graphics capabilities, a laptop stand can also enable you to position your laptop to use as a secondary display, dramatically increasing your screen real estate (it’s great putting a movie on the laptop off to the side while you work on the main display).
Laptop stands come in different flavors. Basic stands have space for the laptop to slide into and sit a monitor on top. There are also stands that elevates and angles the laptop so you don’t need a monitor or external keyboard. And some stands hold the laptop vertically to save desk space. Each have their own uses depending on your setup.
An external monitor is purely optional, but it has a quality-of-life benefit. A decent computer monitor costs less than a larger laptop, so it’s a good investment. Keep in mind, if you have the right HDMI ports you can even use a TV as a secondary monitor too.
Paired with the Laptop Dock we mentioned earlier, a secondary monitor can plug right in and connect automatically. If you have the laptop stand, both monitors (the laptop screen and the external monitor) will be at eye level bringing more of a desktop feel to your setup.
Amazon has some pretty nifty secondary monitors designed specifically for laptops, but if you want to quickly unplug and go you may want to consider a standard monitor with a simple HDMI setup.
When you connect your secondary monitor you’ll need to configure the settings so that your two screens work together flawlessly. To do this, simply open the System Settings and click on ‘Displays.’ Then, click on the ‘Detect’ option. Next, click ‘Duplicate Displays’ so that your external monitor matches your laptop’s screen. Or, click ‘Extend’ to make the two monitors separate where you can drag web pages.
Putting it all together
To use a laptop as a desktop, you just need to connect your laptop to the dock, your keyboard, and mouse to it, and then start working. If you use a stand and external monitor, they need no configuration once you initially have them set up. They just work.
Get it right, and all you need to do is click the laptop into the dock. All the benefits of a desktop PC with the added bonus of being able to take the computer anywhere you go!