When you’re looking for a new laptop for your business, the first thing you’ll notice is that the selection of laptop computers is enormous. But not all laptops are suitable for business. Many laptops are built more for home use so children can do schoolwork on the dining room table. While some of those computers can work for your business, they are unlikely to be well-suited for the demands of business use.
To find one that is suitable, it’s best to list the functions you need and then see what machines will fill those needs. But first be sure that a laptop is really what you need. If you work in one place, don’t take your computer to meetings (whenever we are allowed to have meetings again) or other offices, and you don’t travel, you might be happier with a desktop computer that will give you more bang for the buck.
But assuming you need a machine that’s portable, it’s time to answer some questions.
First, do you need an Apple Macintosh or a PC? If your office has standardized on Macs, or if your work requires software that’s only available for a Mac, then your only choices are a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro. The MacBook Air is thinner and lighter than either MacBook Pro, but the MacBook Pros have more processor power and can support more memory.
Selecting an Operating System
If you’ve decided on a PC laptop, then you have more decisions to make. The first is to decide on an operating system. The laptop manufacturer may give you a choice of Windows Home and Windows Professional. Some laptop makers also will sell you a machine running Linux. Windows Home edition isn’t really suitable for business use because of the smaller function set and the lower levels of security.
Choosing a laptop running Linux will reduce your choices significantly, but Linux may be the perfect choice for some users, especially those doing development. Otherwise, your decision is already made, and you’ll end up with Windows 10 Pro, which is what you’ll find on nearly every laptop intended for business.
What’s a Good Screen Size?
Next is screen size. If you plan to travel, then you’ll probably want something with a 13- to 15-inch screen. Anything more and it probably won’t fit into your computer bag or briefcase, and it’ll be too heavy to carry through the airport (assuming we’re ever allowed to fly again). But if you’re only planning for your laptop to travel between offices, your choice will depend on what you need to display, with some screens going to 17 inches.
Related to screen size is weight. Computers with a smaller screen tend to weigh less, making them easier to carry in your briefcase. Some laptop makers have found ways to lighten their machines to the point that they weigh only a little over a pound, but in those cases you may find that the materials used are more expensive, meaning the computer will cost more.
Will a Touch Screen Work for You?
Another decision is whether or not you want a touchscreen. These can be very convenient for making selections on applications or web pages, but not every laptop computer supports touch screens, and of those that do, some makers only support touch screens in a few screen sizes. Screen resolution is related because some high-resolution screens won’t support touch. Here you have to determine which is important to your work.
It’s worth noting that many laptops have video cards that support higher resolutions than the screen for which they’re equipped. You can use those higher resolutions on an external monitor. But those nice video cards cost money, so keep that in mind.
Processor, Memory, Storage
Other choices that affect utility and price are the processor, the memory and the type of storage. Most laptops include one of four Intel processors, starting with the i3 and going through the i9, with the higher numbers having more processing power. If all you’re going to do with your computer is check email and look at some web pages, you don’t need a lot of processing power, but if your tasks are compute-heavy, you’ll need more. For general office work, an i5 or i7 is usually sufficient.
Also affecting performance is the choice of storage. Old-style hard disks are still available from some makers, but they’re increasingly falling out of favor. Solid-state disks are faster, they have no moving parts, and they’re highly reliable. While they are slightly more expensive, the difference isn’t big, and some laptop makers are only offering SSDs. This is one area where the only sensible choice for a business computer is an SSD.
Security Always a Key Consideration
Security is an important feature in laptops, if only because they’re more likely to be stolen. An important security feature is a trusted platform module (TPM) chip, which is intended to protect passwords, fingerprint data, encryption keys and other protective features. This should be a necessity in a business laptop, and you should consider bypassing products that don’t provide a TPM chip.
Related to security is ruggedness. There’s a standard called MIL-STD-810G that should be considered a necessity for any laptop that’s going to be used in travel. Most makers offer laptops that meet that standard, and this helps ensure that your laptop will withstand the rigors of travel. You can skip this requirement if your laptop isn’t going to leave the office, but even if you’re taking a car service across town, you should insist that your laptop meet the 810G standard.
Audio and Keyboard
And finally, there’s the sound and the keyboard. Both of these are highly subjective, and you may need to examine the laptop in person to be sure. Some laptop makers brag about their sound quality, but remember that they’re depending on tiny speakers usually beneath the front edge beneath the keyboard. If those are your only speakers, they can only sound so good. How you like the keyboard depends on your typing style. Only you know what will work.
You should note that there are external factors affecting laptop choice, including the country of manufacture. There are some government agencies that will not allow some Chinese laptops to be used for their work. If you’re a contractor for one of those agencies, you’ll need to get their list and requirements.
You’ll notice that this article did not tell you which laptop to buy. But it does give you the information you need to make a list of features that are required and those that are nice to have so you can make sure the laptop will meet your needs. When you find a match, that’s the one you should be considering.
Wayne Rash, a former executive editor of eWEEK, is a longtime contributor to our publication and a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing.