The compressor-based refrigerant systems are air-cooled, meaning they use air to exchange heat, in the same way as a car radiator or typical household air conditioner does. Such a system dehumidifies the air as it cools it. It collects water condensed from the cooled air and produces hot air which must be vented outside the cooled area; doing so transfers heat from the air in the cooled area to the outside air.
Portable split system
A portable system has an indoor unit on wheels connected to an outdoor unit via flexible pipes, similar to a permanently fixed installed unit.
Portable hose system
Hose systems, which can be monoblock or air-to-air, are vented to the outside via air ducts. The monoblock type collects the water in a bucket or tray and stops when full. The air-to-air type re-evaporates the water and discharges it through the ducted hose and can run continuously.
A single-hose unit uses air from within the room to cool its condenser, and then vents it outside. This air is replaced by hot air from outside or other rooms (due to the negative pressure inside the room), thus reducing the unit's overall efficiency.
Modern units might have a coefficient of performance of approximately 3 (i.e., 1 kW of electricity will produce 3 kW of cooling). A dual-hose unit draws air to cool its condenser from outside instead of from inside the room, and thus is more effective than most single-hose units. These units create no negative pressure in the room.
Portable evaporative system
Evaporative coolers, sometimes called "swamp coolers", do not have a compressor or condenser. Liquid water is evaporated on the cooling fins, releasing the vapor into the cooled area. Evaporating water absorbs a significant amount of heat, the latent heat of vaporisation, cooling the air. Humans and animals use the same mechanism to cool themselves by sweating.
Evaporative coolers have the advantage of needing no hoses to vent heat outside the cooled area, making them truly portable. They are also very cheap to install and use less energy than refrigerative air conditioners.