Miniaturization: a comparison of a desktop computer motherboard (ATX form factor) to a motherboard from a 13" laptop (2008 unibody Macbook)
Inner view of a Sony VAIO laptopThe basic components of laptops are similar in function to their desktop counterparts, but are miniaturized, adapted to mobile use, and designed for low power consumption. Because of the additional requirements, laptop components are usually of inferior performance compared to similarly priced desktop parts. Furthermore, the design bounds on power, size, and cooling of laptops limit the maximum performance of laptop parts compared to that of desktop components.
The following list summarizes the differences and distinguishing features of laptop components in comparison to desktop personal computer parts:
Motherboard – Laptop motherboards are highly make and model specific, and do not conform to a desktop form factor. Unlike a desktop board that usually has several slots for expansion cards (3 to 7 are common), a board for a small, highly integrated laptop may have no expansion slots at all, with all the functionality implemented on the motherboard itself; the only expansion possible in this case is via an external port such as USB. Other boards may have one or more standard, such as ExpressCard, or proprietary expansion slots. Several other functions (storage controllers, networking, sound card and external ports) are implemented on the motherboard.
Central processing unit (CPU) – Laptop CPUs have advanced power-saving features and produce less heat than desktop processors, but are not as powerful. There is a wide range of CPUs designed for laptops available from Intel (Pentium M, Celeron M, Intel Core and Core 2 Duo), AMD (Athlon, Turion 64, and Sempron), VIA Technologies, Transmeta and others. On the non-x86 architectures, Motorola and IBM produced the chips for the former PowerPC-based Apple laptops (iBook and PowerBook). Some laptops have removable CPUs, although support by the motherboard may be restricted to the specific models. In other laptops the CPU is soldered on the motherboard and is non-replaceable.
A SODIMM memory module.Memory (RAM) – SO-DIMM memory modules that are usually found in laptops are about half the size of desktop DIMMs. They may be accessible from the bottom of the laptop for ease of upgrading, or placed in locations not intended for user replacement such as between the keyboard and the motherboard. Currently, most midrange laptops are factory equipped with 3-4 GB of DDR2 RAM, while some higher end notebooks feature up to 8 GB of DDR3 memory. Netbooks however, are commonly equipped with only 1 GB of RAM to keep manufacturing costs low.
Expansion cards – A PC Card (formerly PCMCIA) or ExpressCard bay for expansion cards is often present on laptops to allow adding and removing functionality, even when the laptop is powered on. Some subsystems (such as Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or a cellular modem) can be implemented as replaceable internal expansion cards, usually accessible under an access cover on the bottom of the laptop. Two popular standards for such cards are MiniPCI and its successor, the PCI Express Mini.
Power supply – Laptops are typically powered by an internal rechargeable battery that is charged using an external power supply. The power supply can charge the battery and power the laptop simultaneously; when the battery is fully charged, the laptop continues to run on AC power. The charger adds about 400 grams (1 lb) to the overall "transport weight" of the notebook.
Battery – Current laptops utilize lithium ion batteries, with more recent models using the new lithium polymer technology. These two technologies have largely replaced the older nickel metal-hydride batteries. Typical battery life for standard laptops is two to five hours of light-duty use, but may drop to as little as one hour when doing power-intensive tasks. A battery's performance gradually decreases with time, leading to an eventual replacement in one to three years, depending on the charging and discharging pattern. This large-capacity main battery should not be confused with the much smaller battery nearly all computers use to run the real-time clock and to store the BIOS configuration in the CMOS memory when the computer is off. Lithium-ion batteries do not have a memory effect as older batteries may have. The memory effect happens when one does not use a battery to its fullest extent, then recharges the battery. New innovations in laptops and batteries have seen new possible matchings which can provide up to a full 24 hours of continued operation, assuming average power consumption levels. An example of this is the HP EliteBook 6930p when used with its ultra-capacity battery.
Video display controller – On standard laptops the video controller is usually integrated into the chipset to conserve power. This tends to limit the use of laptops for gaming and entertainment, two fields which have constantly escalating hardware demands. Higher-end laptops and desktop replacements in particular often come with dedicated graphics processors on the motherboard or as an internal expansion card. These mobile graphics processors are comparable in performance to mainstream desktop graphic accelerator boards. A few notebooks have switchable graphics with both an integrated and discrete card installed. The user can choose between using integrated graphics when battery life is important and dedicated graphics when demanding applications call for it. This allows for greater flexibility and also conserves power when not required.
Display – Most modern laptops feature 13 inches (33 cm) or larger color active matrix displays based on CCFL or LED lighting with resolutions of 1280x800 (16:10) or 1366 x 768 (16:9) pixels and above. Some models use screens with resolutions uncommon desktop PCs (for example, 1440×900, 1600x900 and 1680x1050.) Models with LED-based lighting offer a lesser power consumption and wider viewing angles. Netbooks' with a 10 inches (25 cm) or smaller screen typically use a resolution of 1024x600, while netbooks and subnotebooks with a 11.6 inches (29 cm) or 12 inches (30 cm) screen use standard notebook resolutions.
A size comparison of 3.5" and 2.5" hard disk drivesRemovable media drives – A DVD/CD reader/writer drive is nearly universal on full-sized models, and is common on thin-and-light models; it is uncommon on subnotebooks and unknown on netbooks. CD drives are becoming rare, while Blu-Ray is becoming more common on notebooks.
Internal storage – Laptop hard disks are physically smaller—2.5 inches (64 mm) or 1.8 inches (46 mm) —compared to desktop 3.5 inches (89 mm) drives. Some newer laptops (usually ultraportables) employ more expensive, but faster, lighter and power-efficient flash memory-based SSDs instead. Currently, 250 to 500 GB sizes are common for laptop hard disks (64 to 512 GB for SSDs).
Input – A pointing stick, touchpad or both are used to control the position of the cursor on the screen, and an integrated keyboard is used for typing. An external keyboard and/or mouse may be connected using USB or PS/2 port (if present).
Ports – several USB ports, an external monitor port (VGA, DVI, mini-DisplayPort or HDMI), audio in/out, and an Ethernet network port are found on most laptops. Less common are legacy ports such as a PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, serial port or a parallel port. S-video or composite video ports are more common on consumer-oriented notebooks.