Your questions answered: How to choose the right business laptop
It’s a question we get asked on a daily basis. With so many models on offer with a baffling array of features, how do you select the right machine – at the right price? Here’s what our MD James Ratcliff has to say…
“We’re very happy to advise our clients on choosing the right laptop because you’ll be using it for the next three to four years – and we’ll be supporting it over that time. Fundamentally, you’re buying it to enable someone to do their job: to be productive and work easily, comfortably and securely. It’s a tool to do a job, which can sometimes get lost among all the noise about features and technology.
“Here’s my quick buyer’s checklist, taking you through the key considerations for anyone looking to purchase a business laptop:
1. The user’s role and the all-important price
What job will this laptop help someone do? Is it a regular office job? Or are they a ‘power user’? Understanding job role is essential. At the end of the day, you don’t want to spend more on a laptop than you need to, so this is about narrowing your choice of models down to what will fulfil a specific task, before finding the right machine at the right price.
We stay away from the very cheapest ranges because it’s a false economy. Build quality becomes a concern, which is affected by the duty cycle – by which we mean where the machine will go (office-based vs a construction site) and whether it’ll regularly be travelling. The cheapest models often won’t last four years of consistent high use.
On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got super skinny, ultra-lightweight laptops that might fold round or have a touchscreen. We ask questions to establish if any of the bells and whistles are important to the user.
2. Laptop size and aesthetics
We standardise on 14 or 15-inch displays for most uses. If you’re in accountancy and looking at large, detailed spreadsheets, we’d recommend 15 inches or above for good ergonomics (and maybe enough space for a numeric keypad). But otherwise, the size and weight will be largely dictated by the model and range you’re looking at.
We always ask about the form factor: ‘does it need to look sexy?’ For most people, it doesn’t – it just needs to get the job done. But for some, such as execs, it might be important to get something that looks good in client meetings or for when they’re on the road, for example.
3. The guts inside
Everyone talks about processors and storage. Nowadays everything has an SSD for storage, which means that most current laptops are pretty fast. There are always exceptions, though. If you’re handling a lot of offline files or scanned documents, or need to keep a lot of media on your local drive, for instance, you might want to size up to, say, 500GB. Bear in mind, however, that the larger you go in terms of storage, the quicker costs add up.
On processors, we always recommend an Intel i5 or above. They’re very reliable so should comfortably see you through a range of uses for the next four years. For particular software applications or uses (we’re talking CAD or design) you might want to increase that.
We’ve previously standardised on 8GB RAM, but we’re increasingly recommending a minimum of 16GB even for office work because browsers like Chrome consume so much RAM (and even CPU). Again, particular applications for business, media or design can use more. But bear in mind that you should always aim to pay for what you need – and no more. We have telemetry data running on client machines with far more RAM that show they typically only run at 40%, so unless you really need it, it’s worth topping out at 16GB.
4. Crisp graphics and displays
The screen is typically tied to the model or range. Generally, the higher the price, the nicer the screen is. For me personally, I prefer a higher resolution screen for better detail and to show more on my work. For day-to-day office work, higher resolutions can make things easier to work with, although some visual elements can be smaller. With a better quality screen, you’ll get finer detail and a little more space for the action.
5. Battery life and ports
Battery life doesn’t vary so much anymore, because it’s linked to drives and processors, although you may see slight differences if you go for a smaller, slimmer, lighter model.
Most business machines have a handy network port (which, let’s face it, you might rarely use) as well as a mix of USB and USB-C ports. USB-C is particularly useful because you can use it to charge the computer as well as connecting peripherals. Some clients have specific connectivity issues – they need to know if it’ll be compatible to a particular dock or set of monitors, for example – so that’s worth bearing in mind.
6. Start off on the right foot
Although you could order a laptop, take it out of the box, log in and go, we strongly recommend getting it set up properly to be secure and reliable from day one. We completely wipe every machine and just install Windows, the specific drivers and software your user needs – nothing else. That fulfils the questions posed in Cybersecurity Essentials: ‘do you only have the right software, and is it kept up to date?’
We cloud manage computers, so we’ll link your laptop to your organisation’s Microsoft 365 account. That means you’ll use your same Microsoft 365 credentials to sign into your laptop, again fulfilling Cybers Essentials requirement on ‘do you have a list of users, and do you have centralised identity management?’
7. Protect your investment
Make sure you’ve got a (business) warranty. Without a warranty a hardware failure (like the mainboard failing) on a laptop, where everything is very slim and sealed, can mean buying a whole new machine – potentially a large unforeseen cost and interruption. A care pack presents better value, where we would deal with HP for you and get everything taken care of at no additional cost.
A good on-site warranty means next business day service at your premises, minimising the risk and cost of unexpected outages and missed work.
“Our advice on choosing the right business laptop may change a bit over time, but the principles remain the same. When we take clients through this, it’s part of our managed IT service, where we track your order and ensure that what we’re spec’ing meets your requirements, both now and for the future. We coordinate everything so your new laptop is ready for use in a matter of days from sign off with next to zero effort from your side.”