So, what is a laptop?


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So, what is a laptop?

A mum and daughter sharing their laptop

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This activity will help you understand the main parts of a laptop computer, what a laptop does, how to turn it on and off, and how it's different to a desktop computer.

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What is a laptop?

A laptop is a type of computer that can run on its in-built rechargeable batteries and combines all the main parts of a desktop computer into a single case.

You can carry a laptop around and rest it on your lap to use it, which is how it gets its name.

In spite of how different they look, laptop and desktop computers do the same things. They use the same programs, or applications, and perform the same tasks.

A typical laptop computer, open with the screen and keyboard showing
A desktop computer and a laptop computer, side by side to compare

How is a laptop different from a desktop?

Laptop and desktop computers have many things in common, but let's look at what makes them different.

A laptop is small enough and light enough to carry around with you. A desktop is much bigger, and designed to stay in the one place.

A desktop has to be plugged into mains power at all times. However, the laptop has a battery, which means you can use it even when it's not plugged into mains power.

However, as the laptop's batteries will eventually run out of power, a laptop must be plugged into mains power occasionally to recharge its batteries.

A desktop computer plugged into a wall and a laptop computer, side by side to compare
A diagram showing all the pieces of a computer that make up a laptop

With a laptop, the keyboard, screen and computer are combined into one case. On a desktop computer, the screen, mouse and keyboard are separate to the main computer case.

What does a laptop look like?

A laptop computer is sometimes called a notebook computer, because it opens a bit like a book. The top and bottom of a laptop are like the front and back covers of a book, and the hinge in the middle is like the spine.

The bottom side of a laptop has the keyboard, and sits flat on the table. The laptop lid has the screen. You can open the lid and adjust the angle of the hinge so that the screen sits upright, and is easy to see.

Some children watching content on a laptop at school
A laptop computer with the screen highlighted

Parts of a laptop computer

A laptop has many of the same parts as a desktop computer, but combines them all in the one case.

The screen shows what's happening on the computer, and is built into the lid of the laptop.

Opposite the screen is the keyboard. Unlike desktop keyboards, most laptop keyboards are compact, so they don't have room for number pads.

A laptop computer with the keyboard highlighted
A laptop computer with the touchpad highlighted

Unlike a desktop, a laptop computer does not come with a mouse. Instead, it comes with a touchpad, which does the same job as a mouse.

You can use a mouse with a laptop if you prefer, but you will need to buy it separately.

The screen will probably have a camera for video chatting, and the keyboard is likely to have a pair of speakers.

A laptop computer with the camera location highlighted
An image of someone using their laptop whilst they are out and about

Pros and cons of laptops and desktops

Why would you choose a laptop over a desktop, or a desktop instead of a laptop?

Laptops are portable

If you want to use a computer when you're out and about then a laptop is small, light, and runs on batteries so you can take it out with you. On the other hand, desktops are big, heavy, and and need to be plugged into mains power all the time.

Desktops are more comfortable to use

Desktops have big screens, large keyboards and use mice instead of touchpads. For many, this makes a desktop easier to use and control, and means objects on the screen may be easier to see.

An image of someone using their desktop computer in the office
A close up of the power button on a laptop

How to turn a laptop on and off

Just like a desktop computer, a laptop has a power button. It's usually just above the keyboard, and will generally have the power button symbol on it - that's the circle broken by a line. Press the power button to turn the laptop on.

To turn a laptop off, press the power button again.

You may notice that the screen switches off, or goes to sleep, when you close the lid of a laptop. This does not turn off the laptop, but it does help save battery power. When you open the lid, the screen will 'wake up', and automatically switch on again.

Out and about

If you want to be able to take a computer to the park and use it, which type should you get?

A desktop computer

Click to flip


A desktop computer needs to stay plugged in to mains power, so you can't use it in a park.

A laptop computer

Click to flip


Laptops are light to carry and have batteries, so you can use them when you're out and about.


You've completed the What is a laptop? activity.

In this activity you have learnt a lot, including:

  • what a laptop does, and what it looks like
  • the different parts of a laptop
  • how to turn a laptop off and on
  • the main difference between a laptop and a desktop computer.

Coming up next, you'll learn more about a laptop in the Using the touchpad activity.

A dad and daughter sharing their laptop