If you are looking for a mobile computer that balances portability and productivity, this laptop buying guide provides a great starting point for the search at NeweggBusiness. There are hundreds of choices available for business laptops. Whereas once there were only clamshell-style mobile PCs, today there are tablet hybrids that run full desktop operating systems and have detachable keyboards.
Even within model lines from the top laptop brands, the components used will vary, making some more powerful—and expensive—than others. This is why it is imperative to understand exactly which features you absolutely need, which would be nice to have, and which you can probably live without.
Here we will look at those features and help you match them to your needs when shopping the top laptop brands in 2016.
The OS is probably the most important user experience factor for a business laptop. It is manages the way you interact with the computer, and just as importantly for business users, how the computer interacts with other computers and company infrastructure. If you need to run programs that require a specific OS, bear that in mind when selecting a business laptop.
Mac OS X
OS X is designed to run exclusively on Macintosh hardware. For laptops, Macs are known for sleek aesthetics and impressive battery life, and carry a premium price tag. Macs are popular for design and production work, and historically are less prone to malware. To date, no Macintosh laptops have touch screens.
Windows 10 and Windows 8/8.1 are designed for touch screen interfaces, and work just as well with traditional mouse and keyboard. Windows 10 is optimized for multitasking and more open-ended than Mac OS X. This makes Windows the standard for programming and many business-related applications. Virtually all top laptop brands manufacture PCs to run Windows.
It is said that your OS means less in the age of Google—a keen observation as web applications are more prevalent than ever. This holds true even in the workplace, where Google for Work makes the appeal to a user set that traditionally has belonged to Microsoft. Chromebooks are lightweight laptops optimized exclusively for browser-based applications. They are popular choices for K-12 classrooms due to their competitive pricing and feature set. Several top laptop brands manufacture Chromebooks.
Your intended use should factor into what size display you select. Display size determines a laptop’s size and bulk, and ergo its portability.
Laptop display sizes range from about 10 to 17 inches. A larger screen aids in multitasking where you might have two productivity applications open simultaneously. It is also nice to watch video on a larger screen as well.
This laptop buying guide breaks display size into three categories.
- A 13-inches and under screen will weigh between 2-4 pounds, which makes it really good on the go.
- A 14- to 16-inch screen works well for a home office setup, and weighs 3-6 pounds. Still light enough for a business trip.
- A 17 inches or more screen is most appropriate if a laptop primarily sits on a desk.
Laptops that have the same name might have different hardware components in them. The hard and fast rule: the more powerful the components, the more expensive the laptop tends to be.
The processor or CPU is the brain of the machine. Certain business programs and applications require a powerful processor to run properly. Along with system memory, a CPU helps user multitask across several applications. For this laptop buying guide, the CPUs break down in to four categories:
- Performance CPUs – Capable of running high-level production software, CAD and 3D rendering programs. Examples: Intel Core i7; AMD FX-series
- Mainstream CPUs – A good combination of price and performance; enough for media consumption and multi-tasking with web browsers and office applications. Examples: Intel Core i3 and i5; AMD A series
- Budget CPUs – Provides enough power for basic tasks like web browsing, e-mail, and office applications, though may get sluggish if multitasking. Intel Pentium/Celeron; AMD E-series
- Low-power CPUs – Optimized for low energy consumption, which translates into longer battery life. Example: Intel Atom
- Fanless CPUs – Low power / low heat CPUs found in newer systems with small builds. Example: Intel m3 / m5 / m7
System memory, or Random Access Memory (RAM), is essentially a computer’s short-term memory which stores data as the processor needs it. The more system memory a system has, the faster it tends to be—especially when running multiple applications at once.
Usually 8 GB is standard for business laptops used for production work. Some mobile workstations might have 16 GB if the programs it runs are especially demanding.
Low-cost laptops usually have 4 GB, which will suffice for light office applications, e-mail and web browsing.
Some Chromebooks have 2 GB of RAM installed. 2 GB is fine for basic tasks, but 4 GB is recommended for a laptop meant for productivity.
Data Storage Drive
Laptops come installed with either traditional spinning hard drives (HDD) or newer solid-state drives (SSD). On board data storage can vary in capacity from under 250 GB of space to 1 TB or more.
HDDs offer inexpensive capacity and consume more energy to operate. SSDs offer performance, low power consumption, and are compact in size. Many lightweight laptops and Chromebooks have a small capacity SSD since most of the work is done in a browser, and data is stored in cloud applications.
Performance laptops might have a SSD and a large HDD to accommodates storing large files for video editing, 3D rendering, and other data intensive purposes.
Discrete Graphics Cards
High performance laptops designed for video production work often have an additional graphics processing unit. For design work, CAD, and video editing professionals, GPUs like the NVIDIA Quadro and AMD FirePro are the industry standard.
Gaming laptops have discrete graphics cards as well, usually a NVIDIA GeForce or AMD Radeon R7 Series. These GPUs see usage in a professional capacity as well, but are generally less powerful than those mentioned above.
Mainstream laptops will have motherboard-embedded graphics processing, denoted on product pages as Intel HD Graphics or AMD Radeon HD. This is adequate for steaming video presentations and media consumption.
Build & Form Factor
Notebook, Ultrabook, laptop – what’s the difference?
Many mobile workstations and business laptops have traditional clam shell builds. NeweggBusiness categorizes these types of computers in the Laptops / Notebooks store.
While NeweggBusiness has a Chromebooks store for browsing only Chromebooks, for the purpose of this laptop buying guide, we figure Chromebooks in with other laptops and Ultrabooks when making comparisons.
“Ultrabook” is an Intel trademark for high-end laptops that meet prerequisite specifications. Intel has updated the requirements at least three times over the past few years and typically calls for a minimum battery life, storage speed, input/output support, height, and processor. They may be clamshell, 2-in-1, or hybrid by design.
Many new Ultrabooks have detachable keyboards and can act as tablets. Different models can be tented and configured at different angles, and may have touchscreen features. NeweggBusiness categorizes these in the Ultrabooks store.
How you plan to physically use a laptop is an important purchasing factor. There are several ways a laptop can sit on a lap or desk. Some have detachable keyboards and can be tented at different angles.
When it comes to build, generally anything under $500 will “feel” the same. It is difficult for manufacturers to achieve any differentiation of quality at that price point.
Ruggedized laptops (like the Panasonic Toughbook shown above) are designed for field work—in construction sites, police work, oil fields, etc. The heavy chassis protects the computer against drops, spills, and knocks. They also have special hard drives, locking mechanisms, and other added security features to protect against data theft.
Trackpad, keyboard and stylus
A computer can have powerful specs and a great display, but you if you do not like the feel of the keyboard and trackpad it can be a deal breaker. Many business users find a “pointing stick” or nub in the home row of the keyboard helps when using production applications.
In recent years, the stylus has come back as a powerful tool alongside touch screens. They offer greater precision for fine input tasks like drawing. The Microsoft Surface pen claims accuracy to one half millimeter from where you intend to tap 98 percent of the time the pen is applied. The Apple Pencil offers a lot of nuance for sensing the angle and pressure at which you apply it. Both manufacturers have improved lag and latency from previous generations of styli as well, which has thought leaders in tech predicting a stylus renaissance in the coming years.
Planned use should determine the need for longer battery life. Typically, powerful laptops with large displays and HDD storage will have a shorter battery life. New CPUs and SSDs are generally more energy efficient. Manufacturers post battery life estimates for laptops, but user reviews on NeweggBusiness may provide a better picture.
Laptop Buying Guide: Budget Breakdown
$150-$250 – The most inexpensive Chromebooks and Windows notebooks will have low power Intel Celeron, Pentium, or Atom processors, 2-4 GB of memory and a small SSD for storage. They have small displays and lightweight builds for maximum portability. Popular choices in this range include:
$350-$600 – Mainstream laptops and notebooks have a midrange CPU (usually Intel Core i3 or i5), 4-8 GB of memory, and either a large HDD or small SSD for a storage drive. They may have a discrete GPU for gaming. The build will feel sturdier than the budget range. The display might be larger (15 inches) and standard HD. Popular in this range:
$600-$900 – Many low-end versions of premium laptops and hybrids fall in this range. These generally have a mid- to high-end CPU and 4-8 GB of memory, and a combination of HDD and SSD storage .You will start to find designs with metal finishes, and touch screen displays with full HD resolution. Popular in this range:
$900+ – The flagship models from the top laptop brands fall into this range. Gaming laptops and mobile workstations with discrete GPUs are found here as well. Expect performance specifications, sleek builds and tactile quality. Full HD (and higher) displays are the norm in this price range. Popular choices:
Hopefully this laptop buying guide helped sort out features as they relate to your budget and business needs; see NeweggBusiness Laptops / Notebooks product pages for specific information on models from the top laptop brands.