What is the Best Small Business Laptop?
September 16, 2015
First off let me say that this information changes very quickly. It is accurate as of the publication date.
We recently wrote about choosing the best desktop PCs for small businesses, and wanted to follow that up with a post specific to laptop computers.
Make Sure a Laptop is Right
When choosing a laptop for use in a small business, the most is important thing to consider is “Do I really need a laptop?” If you or your employees plan on doing most of your work at your desk and only occasionally checking email and notes on the road, then a desktop PC and smartphone or inexpensive tablet may be a better option. You can get a lot more for your money by choosing a desktop PC. If you do decide on a laptop, be smart about your purchase; if you get a good quality system with adequate specifications, a laptop should last your business for 5 years or longer.
My goal here is to give you practical and pragmatic advice on picking a the best small business laptop for your operations, not hard and fast guidelines. I won’t give you a specific laptop that fits everyone’s needs, but rather help you make the best decision for you and your company. Regardless of your needs, I suggest you check the software that you need to run and get a system that meets the recommended system requirements for all of the applications you need to run, and any you may be thinking about.
Laptops are somewhat less flexible than PCs in the configurations, because most of the components are hard-wired to the mainboard and are not swappable as options. So you will really need to see what style of laptop you need before you start to narrow down your options.
The Good, Better, Best ratings are based on the following:
Laptop Ranking Factors
Good – A baseline Business class laptop. This is what I would get for someone doing reception, light office work, word processing and basic internet access. It is also the bare minimum I would recommend for any laptop today. This will be a basic notebook.
Better – This is a laptop for a heavy multitasker or someone running QuickBooks or other more intense workloads. If you always have 30 windows open, this is for you. This will be either a high-end notebook, Ultrabook class laptop, or a tablet.
Best – This is for the Power User; a “mobile workstation” class laptop. This is what I would recommend for a programmer, graphic designer, or architect. The requirements for these users are fairly specific, so I would recommend reviewing the system requirements for whatever software he or she needs to run.
This is the workhorse of the laptop, and the hardest part to change, so I recommend buying the best you can afford:
Good: Dual core processor (Intel Core i3/i5)
Better: Quad core processer (Intel Core i5)
Best: Quad core processor (Intel Core i7)
The RAM is the space that your computer uses to do its thinking, but it is easy to upgrade and much less of a bottle neck than it used to be.
Storage (Hard Drive)
Bigger is better, but faster is better than bigger.
Hard drives today come in two main varieties. Traditional hard drives with spinning disks (HDD), and solid state drives (SSD). There is a third type, the solid state hybrid drive (SSHD), which combines some small solid state space with a slower hard drive to give a boost in performance. These can cause issues with drive encryption and disk imaging, so if they are important, I would avoid the hybrid drives.
If a SSD is in your budget, get it. PERIOD. Drive speed is the biggest limiting factor in laptop computer design right now, and this is the way to get the best performance. If you need a lot of storage space, buy an SSD and then get a second HDD for storing files.
Good: 7200RPM SATA HDD
Better/Best: SATA or mSATA SSD
Graphics cards can make a huge difference, but may not be an important factor for some users. THE GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) options are more limited with a laptop, but basically break down into 2 categories.
Good: Built-in GPU
Better/Best: Discrete GPU – Check the requirements for what you need.
I always encourage you to get the latest version of the Operating System you can live with and will run all your applications on your laptop. This will ensure you get the longest life and best experience from your investment. Right now Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 are all good options for laptops.
Wireless connectivity is always an important consideration with a laptop. All laptops today include Wi-Fi connectivity. Some will have Bluetooth as well. If you need guaranteed connectivity when on the go, consider getting a laptop with a built in 4G wireless card in addition to Wi-Fi capability. Another option is to get a portable hotspot or use your phone as a hotspot for on the go coverage. All of these will incur additional costs, however.
Another consideration if you are thinking about a laptop is the ability to use a docking station. Most business class laptops support this and now there are some that even work over USB 3.0, so you have even more options. A docking station allows you to connect your laptop to full sized monitor, keyboard and mouse, as well as printers and other peripherals when you are in the office, while still allowing you to quickly undock and go.
Warranty is an often overlooked item when purchasing a business laptop, but it can mean the difference between having someone standing around the water cooler or doing the work they are paid for. We always recommend a 3 year next-business-day warranty. Something else to be mindful of is that not all warranties cover all parts of the laptop. Some exclude the hard drive or other parts, so make sure you read what you are buying so you don’t have any surprises. With laptops, another thing to consider is accidental damage protection. This is an additional warranty that covers you if you drop something or spill something on your laptop.
Form factor is the size and shape of the laptop. Right now there are four main types typically seen.
Traditional Notebook Laptop: 14-15 inch screen and 5-8 pounds.
Ultrabook: Typically 12-14 inch screen and under 4 pounds. The main thing is that they are super thin and light, but usually light on storage space and RAM as well.
Tablet: The smallest, lightest option. You lose a built-in keyboard, but save the space and weight, and add a touchscreen.
Convertible: An ultrabook and a tablet had beautiful romance and this was the result. You can flip these into tent mode for watching videos or slideshows, fold them all the way back and use them like a tablet, or flip them back around and use them like a laptop.
Hopefully this post helps you choose the best small business laptop for you and your team. If you need need help choosing the best desktop PC for your business, read this post.
Gray Anthony, Software Engineer