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The Business Buyer's Guide to: Laptops (Updated for 2021)

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Laptop Buyers Guide

Executive Summary

  • Buying a new business laptop isn’t always a walk in the park. From CPU to RAM to storage to OS, there’s plenty to think about – but where do you start?
  • In this buyer’s guide to business laptops, we’ll explain exactly what to look for in a new laptop in simple plain English.
  • This essential guide for business owners and managers covers form factor, display, memory, storage, operating systems, warranties, and more.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Part I: Form Factor
  3. Part II: Display and Resolution
  4. Part III: Processor / CPU
  5. Part IV: Memory / RAM
  6. Part V: Storage
  7. Part VI: Operating System
  8. Part VII: Ports and Connections
  9. Part VIII: Build Quality and Optional Extras
  10. Part IX: Warranty
  11. The Get Support Recommendation

Introduction

With more business taking place in the digital realm than ever before, having the hardware to support your company is vital.

On top of reliable hardware, your business also needs to stay agile and adaptive to change – including the option to work from, well, anywhere.

It’s here that business laptops step into the picture.

But how do you know what to look for in a laptop? How much RAM do you need? Which display resolution is best for business? And what’s the difference between an i3 and an i7 processor? We’ll answer all of these questions (and more) in this buyer’s guide to business laptops.

Let’s get started.

Part I: Form Factor

One of the most important aspects of any laptop is portability, and that all comes down to form factor. Put simply, this refers to the physical size of the laptop, including the display, the keyboard, and even the weight of the unit.

The most common form factor for business laptops in 2021 are as follows:

  • 15-inch laptop: A15-inch screen is certainly a little on the large size, especially for most business users, but there are some benefits. For example, most 15-inch laptops will include a full-size keyboard, meaning you’ll also get a numerical keypad. If your day-to-day involves a lot of calculation or working with data, the keypad (plus the added screen real estate) might make a big difference.
  • 14-inch laptop: A 14-inch screen is perhaps the “sweet spot” for most business users. If you and your team spend most of your day working with email, web browsers, and office applications like those included with Microsoft 365, a 14-inch screen is going to be all you need.
  • 13-inch laptop: A 13-inch laptop screen is ideal if you’re always on the move. The more compact size means it’s easier to fold up and take with you from meeting room to meeting room, or use on public transport. Do note, though, that smaller doesn’t always mean lighter.

Part II: Display and Resolution

If you’re using a laptop as your daily driver at work every day, (and especially if you’re working remotely), choosing the right display is vital. Your screen is essentially the window through which you’ll get face-time with your colleagues, read your emails, work on documents, and everything else.

When it comes to actually picking out a display, we’ve already covered half of what you need already in our discussion of display size. But there’s something else to consider, and it’s actually a bit more important: display resolution.

In plain English, your display resolution is how many pixels (coloured dots) make up the image on your screen. The higher the display resolution, the more pixels you have; the more pixels you have, the sharper and more accurate the image will be. Higher resolution screens will provide clearer images and cleaner fonts, allowing you to do your work that little bit more easily.

There are several options when it comes to business laptop screens, but here are the ones you’ll most likely come across:

  • 720p (sometimes called “HD ready”) is a slightly older resolution these days and, especially on physically larger screens, can produce images and text which might seem fuzzier or more blurry than other displays. For this reason, we strongly recommend you avoid buying a 720p laptop. 720p represents a grid of 1280 x 720 pixels.
  • 1080p (also known as “full HD”) is probably the most widely used resolution today. It strikes a good balance between sharpness, legibility, and affordability, making it the best choice for most non-design business users. 1080p represents a grid of 1920 x 1080 pixels.
  • 4K (also known as “Ultra HD”) is the highest business-grade resolution you can buy right now and it’s usually found in TVs. It’s such high resolution that you’re likely to get diminishing returns from a laptop display. It’ll look great, but on screen 15 inches or below, 1080p will look almost indistinguishable to many people. The only exception? If you’re working in graphic design or another visual industry. In that case, the more pixels, the better! Most commonly, 4K represents a grid of 3840 x 2160 pixels.

Part III: Processor / CPU

Next, let’s get under the hood of your new laptop, beginning with arguably the most important component: the processor.

Also known as a Central Processing Unit, or CPU, you can think of a laptop’s CPU as the brain of the computer. When you ask your laptop to make a calculation, open a file, or even move the mouse, it’s the CPU which interprets those commands into actions on the screen.

There’s a lot of detail to unpack when it comes to CPUs, so we’ll try to keep things as “plain English” as possible.

At a high level, you’ve got two choices in terms of CPU manufacturer: Intel or AMD. While both make solid processors, we’ll focus on Intel for this guide, as it’s what we recommend for business users.

We’re also focusing on Windows laptops here, but if you’re a Mac person, you might also want to consider Apple’s new “M1” or “Apple Silicon” processors. But that’s a blog post for another time.

For now, here are the most common options you’ll find for Intel CPUs:

  • Intel Core i3 processors are entry-level CPUs with a price to match. If all you’re going to do is browse a couple of websites and answer a few emails, this might be a good option. Anything more than that, including video calls with multiple colleagues while typing notes and answering emails, and the i3 might start to struggle.
  • Intel Core i5 processors are solid mid-range CPUs with excellent performance in almost all business-use scenarios. With an i5 powering your laptop, you won’t experience any slowdown or lag when working on calls with remote colleagues, watching YouTube videos, or using office apps all at the same time.
  • Intel Core i7 and i9 processors are the absolute top of the pack when it comes to business-grade CPUs in laptops. They’re designed for high-performance scenarios such as gaming, video rendering, and other intensive activities which require a lot of computing power. For a daily driver business laptop? These are probably overkill. Stick with the i5.

Part IV: Memory / RAM

Okay, so we’ve taken a look at the brain of the laptop in the form of the CPU, but what about the memory?

Computer memory, or Random Access Memory (RAM), is often confused with storage (which we’ll get on to shortly), but the two are quite different.

If the CPU is the brain of the laptop, used for crunching through calculations and problems, the RAM is the short-term memory. Imagine trying to memorize a series of numbers in your head. In the context of a computer, the more RAM you have, the more numbers you can remember. In real terms, RAM allows you to have more applications open at once without slowing down the computer. Provided your memory usage is below your total installed RAM, you’ll have no performance issues – so it’s important to choose the right amount and leave a bit of headroom for those times when you’re feeling really productive.

RAM is measured in gigabytes, which are units of storage in the computer. Each application you have running will take up some of this short-term storage until it’s closed. Here are the most common options for business laptops when it comes to RAM:

  • 4GB is about the lowest amount of RAM you’ll find on a modern laptop. If you’re doing the bare essentials of computing – a couple of website tabs, your email inbox, and maybe some music playing – it’ll be just about enough. But, as operating systems like Windows 10 grow and develop, you might find 4GB will become a hindrance sooner rather than later.
  • 8GB is probably the sweet spot for business laptops in 2021, and it’s what we’d recommend here at Get Support if you’re looking to keep costs reasonable. 8GB gives you plenty of bandwidth to have multiple apps open at once without worrying about slowing your machine down. Music streaming, meetings on apps like Microsoft Teams, maybe Microsoft Word and your web browser should all run comfortably at the same time with 8GB/
  • 16GB / 32GB+ will take you into the realms of high-performance laptops. 16GB is probably good for future-proofing your laptop, or for power users, if you don’t intend to replace it in the next 5 years, but 32GB or even more should be the reserve of high-performance power users, such as those working with video rendering and other complex workflows.

Part V: Storage

As we touched upon earlier, two key components of business laptops are often confused: RAM and storage.

What’s the difference being RAM and storage? Well, to borrow our earlier analogy of the human brain, storage is equivalent to your long-term memory. It’s where you store information for retrieval at some unspecified point in the future. The same goes for storage.

How much storage your laptop has on board will dictate how many files you can store on the drive. That’s anything from images, email attachments, installed programs (like Microsoft Office), video files, music, and anything else you might want to save.

When it comes to choosing the right storage for your business laptop, your choices broadly break down into two camps: an HDD (Hard Disk Drive) or an SSD (Solid State Drive).

Here’s how these two stack up:

  • A Hard Disk Drive (HDD) is your traditional storage device, and is the type of storage you will have found on computers and laptops dating back over twenty years. HDDs rely on a physical disk which spins inside its housing and is read by a needle of sorts – a bit like a record on a deck. HDDs are often rated using the speed that the disc spins – 5400 or 7200 RPM, for example – but they’re still relatively slow. The reliance on physically moving parts, plus the slow access speed, means that HDDs should probably be consigned to the history books.
  • Solid State Drives (SSDs) are what we strongly recommend for any business laptop user in 2021 and beyond. Unlike hard drives, SSDs don’t have any moving parts and rely instead on “flash memory”, (a bit like those USB sticks you probably have lying around), hence the term ‘solid state’. An SSD can read and write data up to 20x faster than an HDD, meaning your laptop starts faster, opens files faster, and does it all with a much lower risk of wear and tear. We strongly recommend SSDs for all business laptop users.

Part VI: Operating System (OS)

Now it’s time to take a tentative step onto the well-documented battlefield of Windows vs. Mac.

As the two most popular operating systems (OS) in the world, Windows 10 and macOS are the likely options you’ll be choosing between when buying a new laptop. In most cases, the option you choose will be the one you’re already using, (and are most familiar with), so we won’t try to reinvent the wheel here. Instead, we’ll focus on the more common operating system used by businesses, which is the Windows platform.

(That said, the Get Support team offers full support for MacBooks and other Mac computers, so don’t be afraid to ask.)

If you’ve already dipped a toe into the marketplace of Windows laptops, you’ve probably encountered the two key versions of Windows 10, as follows:

  • Windows 10 Home often comes pre-installed with the laptops you find at more consumer-facing outlets, and it can be a tempting option. After all, the Home edition is cheaper, so what’s the catch? Well, Windows 10 Home does not include several features which are tailored to business users (more on that in a moment). Even worse, if you do want to use these features, you’ll have to pay to upgrade to gain access. So, what’s the alternative?
  • Windows 10 Pro is what we recommend for all business laptop or desktop users. While the up-front costs might be higher than the Home edition, Windows 10 Pro includes a suite of apps and services which are ideal for business use. These include Remote Desktop access (perfect in a remote working world), Azure AD integration (to make it easy to slot your new laptop into your existing organisation), BitLocker, and more. In short? If you’re buying for business, go for Windows 10 Pro.

Part VII: Ports and Connections

Laptops might be designed to be used on the move, but that doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes need to use other devices, and it’s here that ports and connections come into play.

At this point we’ll need to briefly mention the difference between Mac and Windows laptops once more, because Apple has famously removed many of the ports and connections on their latest MacBook Air and Pro series laptops. The same goes for some of the latest Windows laptops, too. This means that, unless the device uses a USB-C connection, you’ll need an adapter (or “dongle”) to do pretty much anything. So those “plug and play” devices are now more like “plug and plug and play”.

With that covered, let’s move on to the potential ports and connections you might want to look for in a business laptop. With so many different requirements for each business, it’s important to consider what you might need from your laptop before you buy.

Here are the most common laptop ports that you might need in your day-to-day working life:

  • Video connections: There are a few different video ports you’ll find on laptops, most commonly HDMI (for easy connection to televisions and other devices), but also DisplayPort (DP), which are common with multi-monitor setups. You might also find the older blue VGA connections, but they’re becoming less common, and maybe USB-C too (more on this in a moment).
  • USB 2.0 / 3.0: These are the conventional USB ports which are compatible with pen drives and other USB-powered devices.
  • USB Type-C: This more modern “one size fits all” USB port can be used for charging or data exchange and is likely to become more common in 2021 and beyond. As mentioned above, USB-C can even be used to carry video signals, making it a true all-rounder.
  • Ethernet port: While all laptops today come equipped with Wi-Fi support, there may be times when you want to plug in to the internet the old-fashioned way. With an ethernet port on your laptop, that’s exactly what you can do.
  • SD card reader: Many laptops still come with card readers installed, making it easy to insert and read SD cards as though they were portable drives. Not everyone will need this, but it can be very useful for businesses that do a lot of work with photographs, for example.
  • Headphone jack: It feels strange even needing to list this as an option, but history has proven that nothing is sacred. If you use any headphones with a cable and stereo cable, be sure your new business laptop has the audio jack to support it.

Part VIII: Build Quality and Optional Extras

Before we wrap up this buyer’s guide, we just wanted to cover an aspect of buying a business laptop which is easy to overlook: build quality and those optional extras.

In many cases, you won’t just find a single laptop, but rather a line of laptops with a budget, mid-range, and high-end model within it. Very often, the differences can seem skin deep, but even a change of material from plastic to aluminium, for example, can make a big difference. Additionally, you might want to consider added extras such as a better webcam.

Here’s what we recommend you keep an eye out for:

  • Materials and build quality. You might need to strike a balance here, between aesthetics and practicalities. A plastic chassis might not look as visually appealing, but it’ll be more lightweight. On the flipside, a metal chassis could be heavier, but it’ll also be more resistant to bumps and scratches.
  • Internal component quality. Have you ever seen two apparently different models of laptop which look exactly the same but with vastly different pricing? In these cases, the difference is often under the hood. Take fans, for example. A cheaper laptop is likely to have lower quality fans, which will be louder and more persistent than pricier ones when cooling the laptop. Better quality components are more expensive, but they’ll perform better, more quietly, and run cooler.
  • Webcam image quality and resolution. With remote working more prevalent than ever, we’re all spending much more time in front of a camera. When buying a laptop for business, you might want to consider the image quality of the webcam, too. Similarly to displays, your best bet is to go for a webcam with 1080p resolution for optimal clarity on those abundant video calls.
  • Dock / port replicator. If you’re planning to use your laptop on the go, the last thing you want is to have to unplug then replug every peripheral and port each time you switch locations. You can solve this issue quite elegantly with a laptop dock or port replicator. Essentially, you simply plug in your cables and peripherals to the dock, not the laptop, then just lift it out and be on your way. When you return, re-insert the laptop in the dock and Bob’s your uncle.
  • Backlit keyboard. Whether you’re working from home or just catching up on your laptop, you can never guarantee your lighting conditions. With a backlit keyboard, you can make sure you never have trouble typing – no matter how much light you have available.

Part IX: Warranty

Now that you’ve got all the info you need to choose the perfect business laptop, the final piece of the puzzle is what happens next.

What do we mean, specifically? Well, once that business laptop is in your hands, and on your lap, and in your car, and on the train, and generally on the move – anything could happen. For this reason, we always recommend that business customers choose hardware providers with reliable warranties when buying laptops.

Why do warranties matter? Consider this scenario: you’ve just invested in a new laptop for work and it’s all going well – until everything grinds to a halt and it simply stops responding. Assuming it’s not accidental damage, you’ll be covered under most warranties for a repair or replacement – but it’s the speed that matters. Most of us don’t have a spare laptop lying around, so if your provider offers what’s known as a Return to Base warranty, you’ll need to actually send the unit in for repair – and that could take weeks to get back.

For this reason, we always recommend that business users seek out warranty providers who offer an on-site next day warranty. In a nutshell, this means the provider will send out an engineer the very next day to either repair or replace your laptop. That means minimum downtime and maximum productivity – a win-win for everyone.

In terms of length of warranty, we recommend 3 or 4 years as an absolute maximum. Why? Because anything beyond this will result in diminishing returns from aged hardware. After 3 or 4 years, you’re better off simply buying or leasing new hardware rather than having it repaired.

Want to know more about the best time to replace your company’s hardware? We’ve got your covered.

Business laptops for 2021: The Get Support recommendation

Still with us? We hope so.

It’s clear that there’s a lot to dig through when you’re looking to buy a new business laptop. With that in mind, let’s finish up with a quick summary of the overall configuration we at Get Support recommend for business laptop buyers in 2021.

This won’t suit everybody, of course, but we’ve put together a checklist for a business laptop which should work well for most business users in 2021. It’s a solid all-rounder for businesses working with office apps like Microsoft 365, web browsers, meeting on video calls, and so on.

Here’s what we suggest:

  • Form factor: 14-inch laptop
  • Display resolution: 1080p screen resolution
  • Processor / CPU: Intel Core i5 processor
  • Memory / RAM: At least 8GB of RAM (or 16GB if you’re a power user)
  • Storage: Solid State Drive (SSD) with at least 256GB of storage
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Pro
  • Ports and connections: HDMI / DisplayPort for multi-monitor setups, at least 2 USB 3.0 ports. For smaller laptops, you might also need a dongle or adapter to get these ports.
  • Warranty: 3-4 years maximum, with on-site next day response
  • Optional extras: Webcam with 1080p resolution, dock replicator if you’ll be moving around a lot, backlit keyboard for anytime productivity.

Looking for trusted hardware advice for your business?

As you can see, buying a new laptop for your business is far more than simply finding the cheapest and hoping for the best.

If all of this seems like a lot of work, don’t worry, because we’re here to help. All of our IT support agreements include our unique IT Director service, which gives you personal recommendations and advice on buying the right IT hardware for your business – laptops, desktops, and more.

Interested In making your next hardware purchase (or upgrade) more cost-effective and productive than ever? Call Get Support today on 01865 59 4000 or just fill in the form below.

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