Split system air conditioning vs portable air conditioning

Air Conditioning FAQs

As spring and summer is approaching you may be dreading the painfully hot Australian heat and considering investing in an air conditioner to ease the woes of sweat and discomfort. For many Australians, a ceiling fan does not suffice and the two most popular options on the market are split-system or portable air conditioning. Whilst the split-system is usually a superior performer in countering the heat, its price point may make the portable air conditioner a more suitable option for you. An investment that will determine your day to day personal comfort ought to be take seriously and often it is not black and white as to which system may be the most suitable for you. As such, we are going to break down how exactly each system works and the pros of each in order for you to find the option that suits you best.

The split-system: what is it?

A split system air conditioner essentially consists of two parts; the outdoor and the indoor unit. The outdoor unit is installed usually on or close to the wall outside the room or area that you wish to cool whilst the split unit has a smaller compressor coil box on the outside and individual room units on the inside. These are made to cool a room without the need for ducting. The indoor unit contains the cooling coil, a blower and an air filter. Split systems are usually used to cool multiple rooms or an open-plan area.

Pros of a split system air conditioner

There are many advantages to owning or purchasing a split system over a portable unit, some of which include:

  • Split systems are much quieter than some other A/C systems because the compressor and fan that cools the compressor are located outside the room being cooled, unlike the noise that accompanies portable or window units.
  • Split systems are usually more efficient than portable units and as such are ideal for those looking to cool larger rooms or even an entire open plan home.
  • Many split systems in the upper market range include useful add-on features that you would not find on a portable unit such as built-in Wi-Fi, motion sensors and air ionisers (which clean the air of pollen, pet dander and other bacteria).
  • Split systems are relatively easy to install (often within a time frame of one day) and are suitable for home owners.
  • Most units are easily controlled by a remote and can even be timed so that when you get home, you’re welcomed by a cool and comfortable climate.
  • Split systems also offer the option of being used to cool as well as heat your home.

The portable AC system: what is it?

As the name suggests, a portable air conditioner is perfect for those who want to regulate the temperature in a single room whilst being able to move the unit throughout your home as you see fit. The unit works by drawing the air indoor and dispersing it through a single duct. With no installation costs or labour needed and the luxury of being able to move the unit depending on your needs, the portable air conditioner certainly is a viable option.

Pros of a portable air conditioner

  • Ideal for those who are renting their accommodation as they require no installation and are therefore cheaper than split systems.
  • Whilst they are not as efficient as other, more expensive alternatives (such as split systems), they are still quite effective at cooling your home
  • Portable units are generally cheaper, typically around $100-$300 for low-end models, $300-$800 for mid-range models, and upwards of $800 for high-end models.
  • Whilst split system models range from $500 to over $3000. Add to that installation costs and the portable air conditioner is clearly the cheaper option.
  • The weight of a portable unit you may intend to use throughout your home is an important factor to consider. That is to say; whilst as the name suggests these units are portable, portability comes at a premium. It could be a worthwhile investment if you need to cool rooms on different floors of your home.
  • Portable air conditioners, whilst do not boast all the bells and whistles available to split systems, include features such as remote controls, timers and dehumidifiers.
  • Many portable units have the option of a heat function too.


In summary, there is no clear-cut answer as to which air conditioner is better. This of course depends on your subjective needs in terms of functionality and your budget.

Whilst the split system is generally a better performer in term of efficiency, its limitations are its price point (including the cost of installation) and the decision as to which room or area you prioritise the most in your home.

On the other hand, the portable units may be a better option for those renting, do not have the budget to invest in a split system, or require the flexibility to move the unit around the house with reasonable ease without sacrificing too much performance.


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