Choosing the Best Small Business Laptop
As a small business owner, your laptop is likely to be a critical business tool and a constant companion. Since your laptop's features and applications play such an important role in your productivity and efficiency, choosing the best small business laptop for your specific needs is an important decision that requires a bit of research before you make a purchase.
While the comparative bargain prices of consumer-focused laptops may be tempting, it's important to understand the differences between consumer devices and laptop designed for business users. Business-oriented laptops are typically more durable and offer better security features than consumer devices, making the price difference a worthwhile investment in improving your productivity and protecting your small business data.
As you begin shopping, it's helpful to review the leading PC brands and to understand the differences between their business and consumer laptops. In some instances, ordering a business-oriented laptop may mean ordering your PC directly from the manufacturer or through a reseller instead of a big-box electronics retailer.
Some of the market leaders for business-oriented laptops include:
- HP and its Elitebook, ProBook and essential laptop lines
- Lenovo's ThinkPad laptops (the company's IdeaPad models are aimed at consumers)
- Dell's Inspiron or XPS lines
- Apple's MacBook Pro and MacBook Air
Understanding Your Needs
As with most technology purchases, how you plan to use the device dictates the features you will need when you go shopping for your small business laptop. Price is always an important consideration, but it's also important to understand that making a larger investment when you buy a laptop generally means you'll be happier with the device over its service life.
For light computing needs or for frequent travel use, a Chromebook may be a more affordable option than a traditional laptop. Chromebooks are designed to be used while connected to the Internet, which means email, creating documents and other common small business computing tasks all take place in a Web browser. This is fine when you’re connected, but could be a challenge if you’re not.
If you’d rather stick with a traditional small business laptop, it's important to understand specifications and compare features in a variety of areas listed below.
Today's business laptops are fast enough that raw processor speed is less of a consideration than it used to be. Instead, PC manufacturers tend to focus on the number of cores in the processor to provide a suitable balance between computing power, battery life and device heat.
Dual-core processors are common in full-featured small-business laptops, and typically offer more than enough power for typical business tasks including email, web browsing, running cloud-based applications, and designing or delivering presentations.
The thinnest of laptops, such as ultra books, typically have lower-power processors and are designed with a greater emphasis on portability. For most users, this is an acceptable trade-off, but you need to think about how you will use the device to decide whether raw processing power or portability is more important to you.
The amount of RAM memory built into your computer has a direct influence on its speed and performance, so if you have the opportunity to configure your own laptop design, this is a good starting point for potential upgrades. Plan on purchasing a minimum of 4 GB of memory, and if you have more intense needs or tend to perform multiple tasks at the same time, consider upgrading to 8 GB.
Laptops designed for business users will generally come with advanced security features not available on consumer devices. To protect your critical business or customer data from unauthorized access, many business laptops come with built-in encryption features, and some laptops require a password or fingerprint swipe to boot up. It's also a good idea to look for (or install) the ability to wipe your hard drive's data remotely if your laptop is lost or stolen.
Most laptops with traditional magnetic hard drives offer between 500 GB to a terabyte of storage, which will take most business users a long time to fill. Solid-state drives are becoming more common in business laptops, because they are more durable and boot faster than magnetic drives. If you travel frequently, a solid-state drive could be a good option, despite their comparatively higher cost and lower capacity. Many small business owners will pair a solid-state drive with an external hard drive to get the best features of both devices.
Laptops aimed at small business owners are typically sold with integrated graphics chips (which means the processor handles graphics as well as computing tasks). This is fine for most business users, but if your work requires you to work with photos or video, an upgrade to a discrete graphics chip could be a good investment.
Similarly, if you are typically importing photo or video files to your laptop, make sure your laptop has a slot for an SD card.
Business-oriented laptops offer a broader array of battery choices than consumer devices, with many manufacturers offering batteries designed to provide longer life under battery power. While longer battery life is desirable, it's important to remember that more power means the larger battery will make the laptop heavier to carry for extended periods. Some business owners have found that using an external battery occasionally offers a good way to get more done during long plane trips.
By spending time thinking about how you are likely to use the device and comparing features, you will be better prepared to make the best choice in a laptop designed to support your small business computing needs.