Tale of the Tape
Screen: Large, great for gaming and media (17 to 18 inches)
Weight: Heavy (8 to 12 pounds)
Cost: Expensive ($1000 to $2500)
Screen: Good size and resolution (13 to 16 inches)
Weight: Varies with selection of options (5 to 8 pounds)
Cost: Varies ($600 to $1500-plus)
Desktop Replacements: Pros and Cons
Desktop replacements (such as the Acer Aspire 8940G, above) are laptops in name only: You wouldn't want to tote one around or use it on your lap. With screen sizes that start at 16 inches but more commonly measure 17 or 18 inches, these are big, powerful, heavy notebook PCs that are more "luggable" than "portable."
You can get a large-screen desktop replacement notebook for less than $1000, but what's the point of having such a big laptop if you aren't going to opt for a more powerful CPU, a dedicated graphics card, and a big hard drive to put in it? Of course, all of that power and those big screens come at a cost. If you play a lot of the latest PC games, edit video, or perform intense computations, you already know that you'll be shelling out for a big screen and capable hardware. As a bonus, you'll almost always get a full-size keyboard with a numeric pad.
If you ever need to use your laptop away from a wall socket, look elsewhere. Not only are these large and heavy laptops a pain to carry around, but their battery life stinks.
All-Purpose Machines: Pros and Cons
All-purpose laptops (like Dell's Inspiron 14, above) offer a vast array of choices. With screens from 13 to 16 inches, models in this category can match any need or budget. You can purchase a smaller system with a modest CPU, integrated graphics, and a basic design for less than $800. Or you can spend nearly $2000 for a system with a fancy screen (even a touchscreen), a Blu-ray drive, a fast quad-core CPU, and a powerful discrete graphics chip. The latter will do everything a desktop computer does, including playing the latest 3D games and high-def videos--but it will also hurt your pocketbook and maybe your back.
Whether you go for the low end or splurge on the works, you can expect your all-purpose laptop to be portable enough to carry around for short periods of time, and to deliver enough battery life to take notes in one or two meetings or entertain you during a fairly short flight. As long as you don't need massive battery life or supreme portability, you can find an all-purpose laptop that will fit your needs. The hard part is choosing among all the options!
All-purpose laptops offer so much choice and flexibility that it's hard to recommend a desktop replacement unless you truly need to move from a powerful (but immobile) desktop PC to something that you can more easily move around.
Next: Contenders (Desktop Replacements vs. All-Purpose Machines)