Laptops are fantastic for portable computing on the go, letting you move from the home to the office, or from the study to the bedroom, or from planes to trains with ease. They’ve got a lot of advantages, but if you’re going to be stuck in one place for an extended period of time (sound familiar?), the disadvantages of laptops compared to desktop computers start to become a lot more obvious.
Laptops usually don’t give you as much screen space as desktops; they cost more money for the same level of performance very often; you don’t get as many ports and connection options; and you’ll typically have to put up with a smaller keyboard, too. Perhaps most importantly, they can be bad for your posture, because if you actually use one in your lap, you’ll be staring downward rather than sitting back and looking straight ahead.
You don’t necessarily have to choose between a laptop or a desktop for home use though. A laptop can be converted into a desktop with the right hardware. You can get most of the benefits of a desktop, including a healthier sitting and working position, without having to get rid of your laptop or buy a whole new computer. Here’s how to do it.
Add a monitor
As crisp and bright as your laptop screen might be, looking down at it isn’t doing your neck any favours. Adding a second screen will not only put your neck in a more natural position as you’ll be looking higher up, it’ll also give you more screen real estate to work with — if you’ve always wanted to fit a few more rows and columns of your favourite spreadsheet on screen, or just watch movies on a larger display, now’s your chance.
The video outputs on your laptop will determine what connections you need on any monitor you get (though dongles and adaptors might be an option). HDMI, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, and USB-C are the standards to look out for, and you can go for whatever size and quality of screen that you prefer (and your budget allows). You can use a second monitor instead of your laptop display, or in tandem with it.
There are a huge number of monitors on the market to pick from, and the good news is that unless you need the very best gaming monitor specs, then a second display doesn’t have to cost you too much. For everyday computing, where the top resolutions and refresh rates aren’t so important, you’ll find plenty of quality budget monitors up to the task.
Setup is easy and straightforward, too. As soon as the external display is connected to your laptop and powered up, Windows or macOS or ChromeOS should recognise it and start outputting to it. Head to System then Display in Settings on Windows, Displays in System Preferences on a Mac, and Displays in Settings on a Chromebook to configure the secondary screen (and switch to it completely if needed).
Set up a keyboard and mouse
Buying a keyboard and mouse when your laptop already has a keyboard and trackpad might seem like a waste of money, but there are valid reasons to make an investment. It can help you find a more natural typing position for your body that’s easier on your arms, it can give you access to extra keys that might not be available on your laptop, and in terms of cursor pointing, it can give you more flexibility and precision (and maybe ease the strain on your fingers a bit, too).
If you’re going to get a separate keyboard for your laptop, we’d recommend going big and getting something with a number pad, media shortcut keys, and as many extras as you can that aren’t available on your laptop. You might want to look for one with mechanical keys for example, or RGB lighting, or any kind of customisations that you don’t get with your default laptop device. For the most flexibility, get a wireless model.
The world of mechanical keyboards is vast and more than a little confusing if you’re just getting started. There are so many kinds to choose from that picking a path seems like more trouble than it’s worth. But if you narrow down what you want from a mechanical keyboard, finding…
You’ve got plenty of choices when it comes to a computer mouse as well, including models with multiple buttons, multiple configuration options, and wired or wireless connections. You might find a trackball is even better for your wrists and fingers than a standard mouse, but either peripheral will save you from having to crouch over your laptop for hours on end.
Whichever devices you pick, setup should be simple and straightforward — just attach the keyboard or mouse or connect it via Bluetooth (or plug in the bundled wireless dongle), and you should be up and running in a second. You should also check to see if the keyboard or mouse maker has released a specific utility for the peripheral. Further options can be found in Windows Settings (Devices), macOS System Preferences (Keyboard and Mouse) or ChromeOS Settings (Device).
Install a stand
A laptop stand can be used instead of or as well as a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, depending on the stand and what you prefer. A stand just lifts the laptop up so the screen is at a better height for your eyes and neck, and the keyboard is at a better height for your arms. If you’re getting a second monitor and an external keyboard, you might not need a stand, but it’s your setup, so do what feels best.
All sorts of makes, models, and shapes are available when it comes to laptop stands. From simple pieces of aluminium that raise your laptop up off the desk to more complex, adjustable models, you’re bound to be able to find something that suits your working setup and the laptop you own. A lot of stands will work with just about every laptop out there, but it’s worth double-checking, especially if you’ve got a laptop that’s bigger (or heavier) than the norm.
The best stand for you is going to depend on how you want your laptop-to-desktop configuration to work. Are you going to be adding a keyboard and a mouse, and where do you want them positioned? (Some stands can fit peripherals, too.) Where is your secondary monitor going to go? Do you actually need access to the laptop, or are you just getting it out of the way?
If you are adding extra wired peripherals like displays and keyboards, think about cable management — some laptop stands will include options for this. Buying something that’s adjustable in terms of height and angle will give you the flexibility to adapt your setup if you need to, further down the line, and some stands have room to dock your phone or tablet, too.
Connect a dock
Another advantage that desktop computers usually have over their laptop counterparts is more room for ports and other extras like memory card slots. If your laptop is lacking in this area then hubs and docks are an easy addition that can quickly add all kinds of options, from Ethernet to HDMI out. If your laptop is a popular make and model, you might find docks specifically made for them.
Docks and hubs can range from the simple to the advanced (and expensive), with dozens of ports and connection options added in a single accessory. Again, it’s important to know what sort of features and functionality you need in advance — you don’t want to spend money on a laptop dock and find it’s missing something that you need later.
Besides connecting the monitors, keyboards, and mice that we’ve already mentioned, docks and hubs give you more scope for other accessories, such as gamepads, printers, external hard drives, graphics tablets, and so on. They can give you as much or even more flexibility than a desktop PC, though be careful not to overload smaller and lighter laptops that can’t take the extra hardware.
These docks and hubs may well need an additional power supply, depending on how complex they are and how much you’re expecting them to do, so that’s something else to factor in when doing your planning. Most docks and hubs will work with most laptops, but always do your research when it comes to compatibility to make sure your peripheral of choice is going to be able to do everything you need it to.
This article has been updated since it was first published.