Growing Business provides you with practical advice on what to look for in a laptop, what’s on the market and how much to spend.
The laptop market has grown massively in the last decade, making the laptop the essential business tool. Sales may have slowed in recent years, but with some 200 million laptops sold worldwide in 2010 it's easy to see that it's a huge market. This growth has been pushed by the reduction in the average price of a laptop, as well as a steady rise in the portability and performance of even the most cost-effective machine.
It’s now possible to find a laptop to suit every price point and every type of user. High-end desktop PCs still offer more in the way of faster processing and graphics power, but unless you have a serious high-end task in mind, such as video rendering or CAD capabilities, then you'll find a laptop is more than capable.
Laptop vs desktop PC
At one time there was a huge gulf between the performance of a desktop PC and that of a laptop. Desktops were faster, more cost-effective and easier to upgrade and manage. However, in recent years this has largely been eroded away as laptop technology has gathered pace. Today you'll find a wide array of machines more than capable of handling the latest software packages with ease.
The challenge meeting your business is to place the best resources with the right people. Desktop PCs are great for people who sit at their desk all day but once you step away from the desk, a laptop simply delivers flexibility. You can use it for meetings in the office, still connected to the company network via Wi-Fi, or you can use it out and about for meetings or simply staying stay touch via email.
What’s on offer
There is a wide array of laptops on the market and before you decide to buy you should weigh up your options. Unlike desktop PCs, which tend to have a uniform size, laptops are designed around their screen size. So you'll find desktop replacements with screens of 17.3 inches and higher, designed, as the name implies, for a life on a desktop. Then there are ultra-ultraportable laptops which offer screen sizes between 10 and 13.3 inches and which can weigh as little as 1kg.
These slim and light laptops provide the best option for business users looking for both portability and power. Ultraportable laptops are far easier to carry than more heavy duty laptops and are still relatively powerful. However, portability can mean that some features are sacrificed and, for users who prefer a larger screen and keyboard, ultraportable laptops are probably not a good option. Ultraportable laptops work best as a second machine, used solely for use out and about. However, you'll be able to use them in the office by plugging in an external keyboard and large external monitor.
Ultraportable laptops with a 10-inch screen are the smallest and most compact but tend to offer the least in processing power. We really like laptops with a 13.3-inch screen; while they may weigh up to 2kg, the larger screen allows for a more flexible approach. For instance, you'll find a full-sized keyboard, which makes typing easier, while the larger chassis means you'll find a wider array of specs on offer, so you won't need to compromise on performance.
If you're looking for a compromise between a desktop PC and a laptop, mid-range laptops often offer the best in performance and price. These aren't the most powerful laptops around, often coming with mid-range specifications, hence the name. However, for those looking for a versatile, all-round workhorse of a machine, you'll find them highly practical.
Typically built around a 15.6-inch screen, these machines weigh up to 3kg, so you'll be able to carry them around with relative ease. Having a large screen means you can use this as your sole machine. You'll even find that laptops of this size come complete with a full-sized keyboard and numeric keypad, something you won't find on smaller laptops.
A budget of between £400 and £750, depending on your needs, will help you choose a powerful machine. In terms of specification, you should be looking for a dual-core processor: a minimum of 2GHz will be sufficient for most office tasks. 4GB of memory will allow you to run multiple applications with ease, while a generous 500GB hard drive means you'll be able to store plenty of files.
Fitted with the largest screens, the most powerful processors and graphics cards, this type of laptop truly lives up to its name. Often weighing as much as 5kg and with screen sizes between 17.3 – and 21-inches, they'll live their entire life on a desktop.
When it comes to choosing the right machine, battery life should take second place to raw processing power. Therefore, opt for a machine with a minimum of a quad-core CPU, 6GB of memory and 750GB hard drive. Desktop replacement machines can also be found sporting two hard drives, allowing you to create an instant backup using a RAID configuration, ideal for adding that second layer of security to sensitive and irreplaceable data.
As with all laptops, your budget should reflect your needs but when it comes to this class of machines, spending more offers a greater deal of future proofing. With that in mind, desktop replacement laptops tend to start around £999 but can easily cost over £2000, depending on the options included.
What you need
While the size and shape of laptops may vary, the basic technology is the same. Here we look at the main components making up your laptop.
This is the brain of any computer and is often known as the CPU (Computer Processing Unit). The general rule of thumb has been to opt for the fastest processor your budget will allow, with Intel and AMD, the two largest suppliers, offering chips to meet all segments of the market.
The speed of the processor will often have a direct effect on battery life and the type of machine it can be fitted in to. For example, you won't find the fastest high-end CPUs in slim and light laptops but only in desktop replacements where performance rather than battery life is preferred.
Also known as RAM (Random Access Memory), it acts as a link between the processor and the hard drive, temporarily holding data taken from the hard drive that the CPU will need to use. Typically, the more memory you have in your laptop the quicker the system will respond, allowing you to load multiple applications with no system slow down. The minimum amount of RAM you should be looking at is 2GB but modern laptops can easily handle up to 8GB.
If the CPU is the brain of your laptop, then the hard drive is its heart. It stores everything from the operating system to your installed programs, as well as all the files and folders you've created. Also known as the hard disk, it gets its name because data is stored on a physical disk that spins at up to 7200rpm. The hard drive capacity defines how much stuff you can store on it and we'd recommend opting for at least 500GB of storage space.
If you’re looking at investing in an ultra-slim laptop then you may come across SSD (Solid State Disk) technology. Unlike a hard disk, this technology has no moving parts, making it less likely to fail should you shake or drop your laptop. Capacities aren't as high, with 64MB being standard at the moment but this is largely due to cost rather than technology limitations.
Connectivity is an important feature that shouldn’t be overlooked: poor connectivity can hamper the quality and productivity of your work. All laptops today come with at least two USB ports and come with infrared ports and modem ports.
There are no hard and fast rules as to which software your laptop needs, this all depends on the work you carry out. However, we would say that the latest office software should be top of your shopping list. Microsoft Office 2010 home and business software comes with all Microsoft Office programmes including Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Notepad and costs around £160.
Laptops offer you the freedom to work pretty much anywhere and choosing a machine with a webcam built-in means you can take part in video conference calls. For conference calls, whether video or just audio, you'll find that all laptops come with a microphone built-in as standard but we're recommend investing in a headset with built-in microphone, as this will cut down interference and improve call quality.
You laptop is only as good as its battery life, so opting for one that meets your needs is vital. Laptop manufacturers have largely given up fighting a performance war, preferring to emphasis the battery life of their products as key buying decisions. You should aim for a laptop that provides around five hours of productivity but if you are willing to compromise on processing power you'll find many ultraportable machines can deliver a battery life in excess of 10 hours.
This is a technology that allows your laptop to stay in contact with email and the internet, giving constant access to your company network when working away from the office. It uses the 3G network and can be added to your laptop using a USB modem, called a dongle and a monthly contract with a service provider, such as Vodafone, O2 or Orange. Alternatively, the technology is increasingly appearing built into laptops, which offers the benefit of improved battery life and also removes the need to remember to pack the dongle.
This is a guarantee that it will work for a defined period of time. All laptops are covered by a 12-month guarantee but you can always pay for an extension, typically to three years. Prices vary depending on the level of service you require, with RTB (Return To Base) being the cheapest, while Next Day on Site the most expensive, and personal, of services.
Best laptops for business
Best ultraportable laptop for business
Name: Toshiba Portégé R830
Considered by many to be the most versatile and powerful business portable around, the Toshiba Portégé R830 has a stunning HD display, while the black magnesium chassis with brushed metallic finish gives it that truly professional air.
Price: £1140 (inc. VAT)
Processor: Intel Core i3-2310M
Hard drive: 320GB
Screen size: 13.3 inch
Contact: Toshiba UK
Best mid-range laptop for business
Name: Samsung P530
The Samsung P530 is a 15.6-inch laptop that is an affordable business laptop with a nice balance between performance, size and price. Weighing in at just 2.5kg it can easily be used around the office, as well as used on the move when needs be.
Price: £600 (inc. VAT)
Processor: Intel Core i3 Processor 330M
Hard drive: 2GB
Screen size: 15.6 inch
Contact: Samsung UK
Best desktop replacement for business
Name: Dell Precision M6600
This latest model from the business range comes with a 17.3-inch screen, making it ideal as a desktop replacement, while the high-end processor makes it particularly future-proof. We like the fact you can specify which graphics card you need, making it ideal for high-end graphics and video work.
Price: £1650 (inc. VAT)
Processor: Intel Core i7 2820QM
Hard drive: 500GB
Screen size: 17.3 inch
Contact: Dell UK