There’s little argument that today’s small business emplooyees are increasingly mobile ones, whether it’s your star salesperson flying to see clients in another state or your R&D rep jet-setting overseas to seek new manufacturing opportunities. While laptops and smartphones can help employees remain productive while on the move, desktop PCs are becoming less appealing to office dwellers, too.

“Desktops aren’t dead, but the market is certainly declining in favor of notebook computers,” confirms Bob O’Donnell, program vice president for clients and displays at IDC, Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm. “Notebooks sales have already eclipsed desktop sales, and we don’t see any sign of that changing anytime soon.”

O’Donnell says this surge in popularity is likely due to a few variables, including an increase in laptop power, integrated wireless connectivity, and strong competition from manufacturers which translates to relatively low prices. “Now we’re talking about a $799 laptop or less that might be as powerful as your desktop and you have the added benefit of Wi-Fi so you can leverage free hotspots and get more done if you want to leave the office,” says O’Donnell.

Gary Chen, senior analyst for small and medium enterprise IT infrastructure and applications at the Boston, Mass.-based Yankee Group consulting firm, reaffirms a laptop’s appeal boils down to mobility. “Work lifestyles are changing rapidly [as] we’re no longer tied to our desk 9-to-5, so a laptop really is crucial to many workers,” says Chen. “Laptops continue to improve in terms of affordability, weight, battery life, wireless networking, and performance, making them very attractive alternatives to desktop PCs.”

Desktop benefits

Despite the laptop’s surge in popularity among consumers and businesses, stationary desktop PCs have their share of advantages for a small or mid-sized business.

“Desktops are cheaper and more reliable [than laptops], although reliability for all PC types is pretty good these days,” explains Chen. “But anytime you're cramming a lot of components in a small space and that chassis is going to be jostled and bumped around while carrying it, you just have more chances for something breaking.”

Many ergonomists also believe a desktop PC -- with its adjustable full-sized keyboard and external mouse -- is easier on your wrists than a laptop’s keyboard and touchpad, which could result in less repetitive stress issues.

It’s all in the apps

What kind of computer you need may also be related to the type of work you’re using it for. O’Donnell says an accountant, for example, who stares at spreadsheets all day, would rather look at a large 22-inch monitor, compared to a laptop’s 13- to 17-inch display. “Cost conscious small and mid-sized businesses also know the price of big-screen monitors have dropped considerably, which is good news.”

Chen says high-end graphics work is also more ideal on a desktop than a laptop. “For certain applications, you can't beat a desktop still for raw performance,” Chen says, “since these systems run hotter, and are loaded with advances graphics cards and such that just aren't available in a mobile form factor.”

Security, privacy concerns

Another problem with laptops, says O’Donnell, is security, which should be a high-priority for a small or mid-sized businesses. “Hopefully you’re backing up data regularly but if you lose your notebook your whole company might be on this thing,” says O’Donnell. “Even if it’s not completely catastrophic, there are serious concerns if a notebook is lost or stolen -- therefore depending on the nature of your business, sensitive data and privacy concerns might mean you stick with desktops.”

Chen agrees: “In a mobile space you can't control the environment and network that the computer is being used on -- while desktops stay in one place and operate in a controlled network.”