Most developers today use laptops for all development work. For the last 15 years I have considered desktops and laptops to be very similar in performance and use cases. This is no longer the case as I will discuss in this blog.
Personally I use a mix of laptops and desktops. For me the most important thing as a developer is the screen resolution and the speed of compilation. But I have now found that desktops can be very useful for the test phase of a development project, in particular the later testing phases.
Many years ago I read that one can increase productivity by 30% by using a screen with higher resolution thus fitting more things at the same time on the screen. Personally I have so far found 27" screens to be the best size, larger size means neck pain and smaller means that productivity suffers. The screen resolution should be as high as your budget allows.
My experience is that modern laptops can be quite efficient in compilation. There is very little difference in compilation time towards desktops.
However recently I tested running our new RonDB Docker clusters on laptops and desktops. What I have seen is that the performance of these tests can differ up to 4x.
I think the reason for this large difference is that desktops can sustain high performance for a long time. Some modern desktops can handle CPUs that use more than 200W whereas most laptops will be limited to about 45W. For a compilation that only runs for about 5 minutes and have some serialisation the difference becomes very small. The most important part for compilation is how fast the CPU is on single-threaded performance and that it can scale the compilation to a decent number of CPUs.
However running a development environment for RonDB means running a cluster on a single machine where there are two data node processes, two MySQL server processes and a management process and of course any number of application processes. A laptop can handle this nicely and the performance for a single-threaded application is the same for laptop and desktop. However when scaling the test to many threads the laptop hits a wall whereas the desktop simply continues to scale.
The reason is twofold, the desktop CPUs can have more CPU cores. Most high-end laptops today have around 8-10 CPU cores. The high-end desktops today however goes to around 16-24 CPU cores. In addition the desktop can usually handle more than 4x as much power. The power difference and the core difference delivers a 4x higher throughput in heavy testing.
Thus my conclusion is that laptops are good enough for the development phase together with an external screen. However when you enter the testing phase when you need to run heavy functional tests and load tests on your software a desktop or a workstation will be very useful.
In my tests on a high-end desktop I ran a Sysbench OLTP RW benchmark using the RonDB Docker environment, I managed to run up to 15.000 TPS. This means running 300.000 SQL queries per second towards the MySQL servers and the data nodes. The laptop could handle roughly 25% of this throughput.
Obviously the desktop could be a virtual desktop in the modern development environment. But a physical machine is still a lot more fun.
RonDB is part of the Hopsworks Feature Store platform.