Notebooks and laptops are often interchangeable terms used for portable computers.
However, when diving into the internal specifications and the unique physical features of each device, we learn that they are poles apart!
Therefore, in this guide, we will compare notebooks vs. laptops and help you figure out the difference between them.
Size & Portability
Laptops and notebooks are both portable descendants of desktop computers. Laptops were the first mobile computerized devices geared toward business people on the go.
Notebooks were further refined and designed to be even more compact and lightweight and marketed towards personal computing rather than business use.
If you measure a laptops screen size, most will come in at 10-18 inches in screen size, 3-inches in width, and approximately 4-7 lbs in weight.
Of course, these are general specifications, and high-end brands such as Acer, Razer, and MSI have released ‘ultra-thin’ editions, but they usually come at an additional cost.
For most of us, laptops are a bit heavy to fit on your lap for long durations, and a flat surface is preferable.
You’ll usually need a special ‘laptop bag’ or ‘laptop backpack’ to carry around the device, so consider that in terms of portability.
Notebooks are much more compressed when compared to laptops.
Popular screen sizes are usually 9-12 inches (but there are 14-inch models), the thickness can be less than 2-inches, and the weight hovers around 2-4 lbs.
Since notebooks are much smaller and lighter when compared to laptops, they fit into just about any backpack.
This means that they don't require a special case, and you can put them into your bag or briefcase or simply carry them under your arm.
They are also great for chilling in bed or lounging on the couch without an uncomfortable weighted feeling that a laptop would yield.
Both devices provide a portable experience, but the notebook is the clear winner if you're after the most compact build.
With that said, we do need to remember that additional size and weight sometimes amount to more space for superior features/specifications, but more on that below.
Resolution & Refresh Rate
Resolution plays a significant role in determining whether your laptop or notebook has a clear display.
Manufacturers will often advertise their devices as 'HD,' but there are levels to detail and the amount of crispness your device can output.
A regular notebook size is an 11.6-inch display, accompanied by a 1366 x 768 resolution. Laptops are usually 15.6-inches in size and start at 1920 x 1080 in resolution.
1366 x 768 is considered 'HD', however, 1920 x 1080 is authentic 'Full HD'. We can see from the above that the entry-level models for laptops are much better in picture quality.
To put this into perspective, an entry-level notebook can be regarded as a YouTube video at 720p, whereas a laptop is 1080p.
They're both considered HD, but 1080p is much more refined.
That's not to say a notebook isn't capable of outputting an excellent resolution. Some 13.3-inch models are capable of ultra-high-definition 4K at 3840 x 2160 pixels.
The downside is the enormous financial cost, which is counter-intuitive to a notebook's advantage of being affordable.
Therefore, a laptop will offer a much better HD display, from its starter models all the way to the most premium 4K 300 Hz (Hertz) editions.
Finally, refresh rate is how many times per second your screen refreshes and is measured in Hertz (Hz).
The more frames that are refreshed every second, the smoother your overall experience. A notebook’s refresh rate is locked at 60Hz, whereas a laptop can reach up to 300Hz.
If you’re looking to play games, or have the most responsive experience, then a laptop beats a notebook by miles in this regard.
Resolution and refresh, consequently, fall in favor of laptops in almost all aspects.
Performance & Power
A laptop or notebook's performance will be determined by the following internal components: the storage, CPU (processor), GPU (graphics card), and RAM.
The screen and resolution are important in showing the user what is on display, but the internal components determine whether the machine can reach its advertised potential.
When looking at the storage options of a laptop and notebook, you'll come across two terms: eMMC (embedded multimedia card) and SSD (solid-state drives).
Notebooks are sold with eMMC storage, which can be 32, 64, 128, or 256GB in size.
Alternatively, laptops are equipped with SSDs which can reach multiple terabytes and have superior performance in speed and data transfer rates.
Notebooks and laptops both have the ability to add an external storage device, but in terms of base storage space, the laptop is always on top.
The next important components are the graphics card and processor.
Graphics cards are crucial for graphically intensive tasks such as video games and video rendering, while the processor provides the infrastructure for your computer to interact with applications.
The faster the CPU and GPU, the better your overall experience. Most notebooks have integrated graphics cards, which means the GPU is built onto the same die as the CPU.
This makes a notebook ideal for web browsing, social media, and basic applications.
Some laptops also have integrated graphics cards, but newer releases now include dedicated graphics cards.
This means a separate GPU altogether capable of playing videogames and rendering graphically intensive resources.
Finally, RAM is important for storing temporary data. The greater the amount, the faster the processing speed.
Notebooks have 2 to 4 GB of RAM, while laptops have 4 to 32 GB of RAM. In short, laptops tend to always exceed notebooks in terms of performance.
Battery & Charging
High-end laptops have the advantage of coming with performance-driven components. The downside is that these components require lots of power to function at their best.
Since laptops are mobile devices, battery life isn't infinite, and the battery may die sooner than expected.
Laptop manufacturers like advertising battery life at 8 to 12 hours, but this is often misleading.
The maximum battery life is, in fact, only achievable for light tasks and low brightness settings to conserve power.
If you want to do more resource-intensive tasks, such as watching YouTube, browsing multiple apps, or playing video games, the battery life will be around 2 to 5 hours, depending on the make and model of the laptop.
Again, you can try conserving power by dropping the brightness, but if the GPU is at full throttle, you'll only gain around 30 minutes extra at best.
When the battery is completely dead, you can expect charge times to be around 2 to 3 hours.
Fast charge is available on some laptop models (for example, going from 30% to 70%), but this is also usually over an hour at best.
Since notebooks are smaller and have less demanding components when compared to a laptop, the battery life is much better.
Under 'Performance & Power,' the graphics card might be integrated into the processor. Furthermore, the processor itself can function at peak performance without straining the battery.
Tie this into a smaller display, less RAM, and fewer internal fans, and you've got a system with low energy consumption.
Notebooks, therefore, last around 10 to 13 hours on a single charge, and unlike laptops, these values are more accurate.
Charge times are also a cut above laptops, at just 1-hour for most notebooks.
In terms of upgradability, a laptop and notebook are quite limited, with the latter even more so.
Laptops can upgrade their RAM, and an additional M.2 SSD can be added for increased speeds and storage.
The GPU and CPU are extremely difficult to upgrade because they are usually directly soldered to the motherboard, so what you buy on release is what you will have to keep forever.
Notebooks, similar to laptops, can increase their storage capacity. However, the RAM isn't upgradable.
Some notebook models include an M.2 SSD slot, but these are extremely rare and come with a premium cost.
In most cases, your storage upgrade options are either an SD (secure digital) card connected via an SD card reader or an external USB hard drive.
You can get a 1TB SD card these days for notebooks, but again, the price is high, and the transfer speeds are slow.
USB hard drives can go even higher in storage capacity, but they don't offer the same performance an M.2 SSD would.
Laptops and notebooks are therefore not 'future-proof,' and eventually, you'll need to buy a new device as the technology decays.
Moving on to customization, laptops and notebooks have things to offer inside and out. Some laptops will include a dedicated GPU with NVIDIA or AMD control panels.
This software will allow you to record your desktop, apply filters, adjust resolutions, scale images, and monitor performance.
You will also be able to change the color of your RGB keyboard if applicable. Notebooks may include some of these software features, but they are often much more simplistic.
On the bright side, however, notebooks do come in funky patterns and cool finishes!
Functionality & Usage
When comparing the performance specifications of a laptop and a notebook, it can be determined that a laptop is for resource-intensive work, while a notebook prioritizes small tasks.
Both computer systems are marketed as being mobile, but they can be further divided into the following subcategories: school, work, and entertainment.
If you're looking for a device that is easy to carry around, can create presentations, edit documents, or browse the web, then a notebook will be great for school/college students.
It can easily take down notes during class, which you can then transfer to your main desktop when you get home.
With that said, a notebook may be all you need, but depending on your faculty, you may require a bit more processing power.
Now, based on the nature of your employment, those looking to store data on a local drive should invest in a laptop.
It’s the best alternative to a full desktop PC if all other options have been exhausted.
With greater storage capacity, fast processing times, and a high-definition display, a laptop can accomplish any task you throw at it, as long as the specifications line up with your budget.
They can do everything a notebook can and more! Video-editing, rendering, or multiple application browsing, the world is yours!
Finally, entertainment is a broad area that is satisfied based on users' demands.
For example, notebooks allow you to browse social media, watch YouTube, and chat with friends.
However, if you're a gamer or a fun time involves graphically intensive applications, then a laptop will be more suitable.
Therefore, you'll have to weigh the nature of your school/workload and determine if you want to further invest in entertainment capabilities.
Price & Longevity
Better internal components translate to a higher price tag. Laptops, in particular, will generally be more expensive when compared to notebooks.
If you want a dedicated graphics card, a high-end processor, and fast-paced storage, then you're looking at hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Sure, there are budget laptops, but these also come with reduced performance.
Good entry laptops are around $300, whereas gaming or performance-focused laptops are much more expensive and can range anywhere between $1,000 to $4,000.
From a cost perspective, notebooks are far more in reach for the general consumer or those working on a budget.
Refurbished models can be as low as $70, while a premium high-end model should set you back $1,000 at most.
Trusted brands like MSI, Asus, and Lenovo have mid-tier notebooks that are less than $250, so, availability-wise, notebooks are better priced.
Of course, they offer less system performance, but if you only need to complete simple tasks, then save your money!
In terms of longevity, most laptops and notebooks come with a standard 12-month hardware warranty.
Computers, in particular, are known to accumulate viruses and bloatware over time which does tend to slow down system performance.
Well-kept laptops and notebooks can last 2 to 3 years, but software updates will eventually clog up the system, and things will get sluggish.
Since laptops have better internal components, they may stave off these effects for longer, but nothing is guaranteed.
Finally, when buying a notebook or laptop, there can be some software costs. Microsoft Office retails for $99 a year, or $9 a month.
Additionally, to prevent viruses, you may also need to install programs such as Norton Security, which is around $85 for the standard annual version.
These programs are at your discretion, though, as Windows includes basic apps for browsing the internet, writing, and communicating online.
Pros & Cons of Notebooks
What We Like
What We Don’t
Pros & Cons of Laptops
What We Like
What We Don’t
Common Notebook Versus Laptop Questions
Can a notebook play video games?
No, a notebook cannot play video games. You can try installing a few arcade games, but even then, performance will be slow, and the frame rate will be next to nothing.
Laptops, on the other hand, can play video games, from basic titles all the way to AAA releases, if your GPU can handle it.
Is a desktop PC better than a laptop or notebook?
Yes, in terms of performance, upgradability, and lifespan, a desktop PC is much better than a laptop or notebook.
Unlike a laptop or notebook, you will be able to interchange just about any component and prolong the life of your computer.
If performance dips, you can exchange the GPU or CPU to add more power. The only drawback is mobility.
What slows down a notebook?
Anything that puts too much stress on the CPU, GPU, or RAM can cause the notebook to crash.
Since the internal components are limited, doing more than one task at a time can put a strain on a notebook's performance.
Activities that cause a notebook to slow down include: viewing multiple documents, copying large files, or opening several applications at once.
Is a notebook or laptop a good investment?
A notebook or laptop can be a good investment for 1-2 years, depending on what you plan to use it for.
If you need a device for school, college, or work, you'll get plenty of use out of the system.
Problems tend to arise as applications become more demanding on system specifications, and notebooks/laptops have limited upgrade options.
In summary, laptops are excellent options for those looking for portable workstations.
They can offer excellent processing performance but come at a higher financial cost and larger physical dimension.
Notebooks are great at completing small tasks while maintaining a small frame and an even better battery life.
You, therefore, need to ask yourself, how much power do I really need?
Andrew White is the founder of TechGearoid, a leading technology review & information website that is designed to help consumers make better decisions when it comes to their IT purchases. As a specialist tech writer (nerd) with over 10 years of experience, he enjoys writing about everything there is to do with modern technology & the newest market innovations. When he isn’t providing value for his readers, he’s usually drinking coffee or at the beach. Andrew lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife and family.