One question our clients repeatedly want to know is what type of laptop they should buy.
What a loaded question!
First, we need to answer a few very important questions:
1. Is this a home laptop or a business laptop?
• Home laptops are currently aimed at more entertainment oriented users. They are primarily designed with shiny screens, have larger (but slower) hard drives, and have features like Blu-Ray players. Performance is only really a consideration on higher end machines aimed at video gamers. And since most home laptops almost never leave the house, the fact that it is a laptop is barely a concern. Battery life is usually not as good, and the cases tend to be made of cheap plastic that can’t handle the rigors of travel as well.
• Business laptops are designed with more ruggedized designs. They are designed to be used 8 or more hours per day pretty much nonstop. They are also made with higher quality parts that are designed to last longer between failures. They also have longer warranties with better service. Think about it – if these laptops are aimed at Fortune 1000 companies, those companies are not going to tolerate hard drives that fail after a year. These factors tend to make it so business laptops cost 10-15% more than home laptops.
2. How long do you need the laptop to last before you replace it?
• Why do I ask you that? It’s simple – the current trends show that most home users replace their laptops and desktops every 2 ½ to 3 years. It’s generally speaking easy for home users to move their pictures and music to the new computer, and maybe reinstall a couple of simple applications.
• For businesses, there are a couple of additional factors that have to be considered. First, transferring software and data from the old to the new systems is significantly more difficult and therefore more expensive. While the data is being transferred, a lot of times the employee cannot work, which costs the business more money. The second is that business has to follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) which tells them that computers should be depreciated off the books over 4 years. So that laptop had better dang-well last for 4 years!
3. Are you going to travel a lot with the laptop?
• Trust me on this – if you are going to travel a lot you do NOT want the 17″ monstrosity. It weighs 11 lbs., and then you add cords, the laptop case, and the mouse and the…. You see where I’m going with this?
• If you talk to any of your business friends that have to travel a lot for work, they tend to have smaller laptops with long-life batteries. 14″ inch is a pretty standard size for full featured laptops, and you can even get them with 12 or 13″ screens, but the price-tag jumps up a lot for those.
• Here is an interesting fact to consider – on American Airlines, the way the seats are designed, the tray will only accommodate a 14″ or smaller screen easily. With a 15 inch, the lid won’t have room to open all the way and you can’t see your screen unless the laptop is practically resting on your stomach.
4. What kind of budget do you have?
• People ask “what can I get for $500?” to which the answer is “nothing good.” Always buy 20-30% more power than you need. Why? Because we’re planning on keeping this thing around for 3-5 years. Technology is changing around us so fast, that system requirements are constantly going up. In 2001 when Windows XP first hit the market, Microsoft said all that it only needed 64 megabytes of RAM to run. After 9 years of updates, fixes, and patches, it needs 512 megabytes to run, and 1 gigabyte to run well. Our software needs are going to keep growing, and it’s a lot cheaper now to plan for down the road.
• If you buy a laptop for $500 now that barely gets the job done, life is really going to be bad in 3 years when everything is running at a crawl. To me, the price-point to shop for is $750 (not including software like Microsoft Office) for a nice solid business laptop with a 1 year, next business day onsite warranty.
5. What kind of warranty does it come with?
• Always ask / research what kind of warranty the laptop comes with. A lot of low end laptops have 1 year mail-in warranties. If something happens, you have to box up the laptop and ship it to the repair facility. They always say they aren’t liable for lost data on the hard drive, so they tell you to back the drive up first (always a good idea to do backups!). It can take anywhere from 5-15 business days to get your laptop back.
• What if you are a business user? Can you live without your laptop for even 5 days? Can you have employees without for 5 days? Only purchase laptops that have 1 year, next-business-day onsite warranties, and always see if you can upgrade it to 3 or 4 years. After all, if you have to keep it on the books for 4 years, it’s probably worth $150 to have it under warranty the whole time.
6. Do you need “always on” connectivity?
• For years pretty much every laptop has had wireless as a standard feature. If you’re at the local coffee shop or in a hotel room, you’ll get connected. Recently, we’ve seen a lot of increase in users, especially business professionals, who NEED to be connected all the time. It could be for constant access to clients via email or to use an application over the Internet. To get your always on fix, you can always go to AT&T/Verizon/Sprint and buy a USB Wi-Fi card and subscription to connect via the cell-phone towers across the nation. Or now you can purchase the Wi-Fi connectivity built right into the laptop so it’s easier to user. No more dongles!
7. Does it have the right operating system for you?
• There can be no doubt that I am a huge fan of Windows 7. Just make sure that if you are buying a laptop for business, you get either Windows 7 Professional or Windows XP Professional so that it can connect to your server.
8. Do you actually need a full-featured laptop? If no, consider a Netbook.
• Ok, I’ve used the term “full-featured” twice now. I’m referencing the fact that most laptops perform roughly the equivalent as a desktop. In the last couple of years, there has been a surge of a whole new class of laptops called Netbooks. Netbooks are smaller than laptops (8 or 10″ screens), have very low power consumption (so the batteries last longer) and significantly lighter (some weigh 1 lb.). However, there have to be tradeoffs at some point. Netbooks perform significantly slower than laptops – in fact, netbooks are closer to on par with laptops from 8-10 years ago. What they are really good at is quickly checking your email, a couple websites, maybe making edits to Microsoft Word or Excel files. Most people do not use them as their only computer, but as a second device to travel with. I do want to pass on a warning – multiple customers have reported head-aches from staring at the tiny screen for extended periods of time.
9. The extras!! Nice to have, but normally not required.
• Want to watch movies on it? Make sure it has a Blu-Ray player and a HD screen. For true HD, you need the resolution to be 1920×1080 or better. Anything less and the computer has to dumb-down the image to fit your screen?
• Want to connect your phone or a wireless headset? Get Bluetooth built into the system. Also good to user with a travel mouse or even a keyboard.
• Use it in low light a lot? Look for back-lit keys.
• Need to do presentations with it? Make sure it as least has VGA out. Better systems have VGA and HDMI out.
• Want better graphics? Look for video chipsets from ATI or NVidia on the features list. Both of these companies specialize in higher-end video subsystems and will really make Windows 7, movies, and games incredible.