Often overlooked but the best business laptops improve productivity and can even boost employee morale. There’s nothing worse than sitting at a desk waiting for your business laptop to perform some simple calculations or frequently crash.
Choosing the right laptop these days can be a challenge. We’ll explain the key factors you should consider before making a purchase and highlight some of the features that will make laptops better suited for data analysts, business analysts, developers, or accountants.
Many analysts will ask for the most expensive laptop models on the market while businesses want to manage costs making it imperative to understand the trade-offs when purchasing new business laptops.
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Understanding Trade-offs When Buying Laptops
Most products, and especially laptops are built with trade-offs in mind. The faster a machine is, the more it will cost. The better the build quality, the more it will cost. This same concept can be applied across different models. For example, if you hold the cost the same across models, one might have a better screen at the expense of a slow processor, or one may have a faster processor and a slower hard-drive.
Because of the trade-offs involved and the inability for most companies to go out and purchase the most expensive laptops on the market, it’s good to set a budget first and work backwards to the features that are most important for your business.
These are the key laptop specifications you should consider when purchasing a laptops for your company.
Big name brands typically come with a level of support that is difficult to find with lesser name brands. The most common big brands of Lenovo, HP, and Dell typically have people available in most metro areas that can complete on-site visits and repair machines if a warranty claim is needed.
Memory or RAM
The amount of physical memory available in a computer will be one of the biggest influences on performance, especially when multi-tasking and working with large datasets.
We recommend 16gb of RAM as a minimum, with 32gb preferred
Fast Storage vs Quantity of Storage
When determining how much hard disk space is needed, it’s good to keep in mind that many applications now run on the cloud and outside of gaming most laptops will come with ample storage.
Look for machines that fully use a Sold State Drive or SSD
Moderate to High End Processors
There are entire websites devoted to benchmarking and comparing computer processors. Our general recommendation is to Google what the latest generation of AMD and Intel Processors are and find a laptop with the most recent generation or the previous generation.
AMD and Intel are pretty much interchangeable when it comes to identifying differences in real world performance, but Intel machines are more common in business laptops.
If the price isn’t too much different than other version of laptops, we would lean towards an Intel i7 processor.
Build Quality Matters
One of the biggest differences between business laptops and consumer laptops is the overall build quality. For example, Lenovo ThinkPads are very durable and have a stiff chassis surrounding them. A consumer laptop may be thinner and lighter but will also flex more when put under pressure.
While it’s unlikely that someone is going to break a laptop by flexing and bending it on purpose it does make us think that a well built computer will hold up to wear an tear, have a better chance of surviving an accidental drop, and will have less display issues over time.
Make a List of Must Have Ports
When looking at laptop specs, don’t forget to identify which ports are a must have. USB-C is becoming more common as a universal port across laptops as manufacturers try to make machines thinner and lighter. The trade-off is needing to have a special connector to plug USB-C into the HDMI port of a projector or second screen at an office.
Everyone has different needs, but some ports to pay attention to are:
- HDMI – The Traditional fat D shaped plug used to connect monitors and projects to laptops
- USB-A – The old school USB port shaped like a rectangle. Often used to plug-in keyboards and printers.
- USB-C – The new standard in USB connectivity. Small oval that’s prominent on most mobiles phones.
- Ethernet – Necessary if you hardwire a laptop into a local network or the internet for maximum speed.
Laptop Webcams, Keyboards, and Wireless Connections
The final specs to consider come down to use case and personal preference.
- Webcam – A high quality webcam makes Teams and Video Calls look more professional.
- Keyboard – A 10-key might be a necessity if you’re constantly working in Excel or spreadsheets.
- Bluetooth – Most laptops these days support bluetooth, but it’s needed for wireless headsets and many newer cordless mice and keyboards.
Think through how people are realistically going to be using laptops. Needs can vary greatly between departments and even people within a department at your business.
How Much Should your Company Spend on Computers?
Determining what the right amount of spend is will vary greatly between organizations. Large enterprises have more resources available to spend on laptops while small businesses may be more budget constrained. A way to analyze how much a laptop is worth is to think about it in terms of employee salary and productivity.
Example ROI Calculation for New Business Laptops
We’ll explain the math on calculating the benefit of purchasing new laptops for your team in the following example.
Assume you pay a Data Analyst $100,000 a year
Assume that a new laptop makes them 5% more efficient by reducing the amount of time spent waiting for a computer to calculate and complete tasks.
A $100,000 in annual salary x 5% productivity increase = $5,000 annualized Return on Investment (ROI)
New computers typically have a multi-year lifespan meaning that a new computer could produce a total ROI in excess of $15,000 in labor saved or additional value created.
If you have to purchase new laptops, the incremental cost of an average laptop and a professional grade laptop may be $500 – $800 per unit meaning that the ROI is even higher.
The numbers used above are meant for illustrative purposes, but the figures are not completely unrealistic. The average salary of business intelligence analysts, data analysts, accountants, financial analysts and others who work with large datasets can be fairly high especially once you include the cost of PTO, health insurance, and other fringe benefits in the United States.
The requirement to work with large datasets is increasingly becoming more common. Accountants that used to be able to complete their job entirely in Excel are finding themselves up against performance and data limits as companies collect increasing amounts of data that must be analyzed and reconciled.
This isn’t to say that companies should go out and spend thousands of dollars on laptops, but more to highlight that there are typically productivity gains related to not purchasing the lowest cost models.
Not all Product Lines are Created Equally
Most laptop manufacturers build a wide range of products to meet different consumer needs and price points. You have to do some research to determine which product line is right for your company. Products targeting the average consumer or college student purchasing their first laptop will typically come in bright fun colors, have great advertising copy, but are relatively slow and have poor build quality.
When purchasing a laptop, even from a reputable brand be cautions of which product line you are purchasing from. Most manufacturers offer brands aimed at consumers, small business, mid-size business and large enterprises. The reliability and specifications are generally geared towards each customer segment.
You still have to check the specs though because manufacturers will also take advantage of some segments like small business and sell under-powered laptops under the assumption that they are less well informed.
Be Wary of Laptop Specs at Big Box Stores
Some product lines are manufactured with being sold at big box low-cost retailers in mind. These products typically have a poor build quality, and components are usually outdated and slow. The specifications are designed to keep costs at a minimum while presenting big numbers.
In many cases, big numbers are better. More horsepower, more torque generally equates to a faster car. Computers are more nuanced and big numbers don’t necessarily equate to speed.
Also be aware of product specs at specialized computer and electronics stores. They will typically sell a wide range of products from entry level to high end. The product lines can be inter-mixed and they’re not above pricing low-spec out of date machines and other hardware with higher prices. The product information cards may also omit some key features and specifications that would allow potential consumers to spot a bad deal.
These products are targeted at uneducated customers and should be avoided.
Who are the Best Retailers to Buy Laptops From?
There are a number of great retailers to purchase laptops from, along with a lot of bad ones. We define bad retailers as ones that sell outdated low spec computers at prices commensurate with a higher performance machine. These retailers should be avoided. They’re too willing to take advantage of undereducated customers in the sake of higher margins.
Our recommended retailers are:
- Direct from the Manufacturer Website – Buying direct from the manufacturer makes it easier to purchase a manufacturer backed warranty, makes it easier to submit warranty claims if needed, and most manufacturers such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo will offer terms and discounts to corporate buyers who are purchasing equipment in large quantities.
- Costco – For small businesses or people that like to try before they buy, Costco has a generous laptop return policy and typically sells mid-range to high end machines at reasonable prices.
Retailers to avoid:
- Amazon.com – We usually love buying products from Amazon but would avoid them for purchasing laptops. The website is overflowing with 3rd party resellers with questionable value propositions, such as selling outdated hardware or packaging a new laptop with a USB stick full of who knows what. Manufacturers that do sell products on Amazon tend to offer a limited range of consumer-oriented product lines.
- Big Box Retailers – The big bog stores typically only offer low spec machines that will under-perform and cost you time and money in the long run. Specialized electronics big box stores should also be avoided. While they have some products that offer a reasonable value proposition it’s too hard to identify them with half-baked spec sheets available in store.
Should you Purhase a Laptop Service Contract?
The value of a laptop service contract will vary from one customer to another. Ultimately the decision is a risk assessment. What do you think the odds are that a laptop will fail? If it does fail, do you think the future replacement cost of a broken laptop will be more or less than the cost of a service contract? To the majority of consumers it comes down to personal preference. Some consumers enjoy the peace of mind, others don’t mind taking on the additional risk to save some money.
If you do choose to purchase a service contract, here are some key considerations to keep in mind:
- Vendor Reputation – Research customer reviews and certifications of the service provider.
- Repair Availability – Some service contracts require a certified repair person to visit your place of business. Depending on the location, it may not be practical. Others will require you to mail a laptop to a repair center which incurs additional down time.
- Coverage Scope: Check if both hardware and software issues, as well as accidental damage, are covered.
- Duration and Cost: Assess the length of coverage and total cost, including payment options.
These are just some of the considerations when shopping for a service contract. Most manufacturers offer service contracts along with a number of a reputable 3rd party insurance companies.
Should Companies Consider Refurbished Laptops?
Companies that have budget constraints are increasingly turning to refurbished laptops as a way to provide more powerful hardware to their employees at a lower cost.
The reliability of refurbished laptops can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the quality of the refurbishment process, the age of the laptop, and the reputation of the vendor selling it. Some aspects that could affect the reliability of refurbished laptops include the following:
- Quality of Refurbishment – Certified refurbished laptops that have been inspected, repaired, and tested by the original manufacturer tend to be more reliable than those refurbished by third parties.
- Age of the Laptop – Older laptops, even if refurbished, may not be as reliable as newer models due to wear and tear on the hardware.
- Warranty and Support – Many reputable vendors offer warranties on refurbished laptops, which provide an extra layer of confidence in the product’s reliability.
- Source of the Laptop – If the refurbished laptop comes from a trusted source or authorized dealer, it is generally more reliable.
Many users report positive experiences with refurbished laptops, although this is anecdotal evidence. Business users often purchase refurbished high-end models to get better specs at a reduced price, without significant issues in reliability.
We can’t definitively say that refurbished laptops are less reliable than new ones but there is an increased risk of lower reliability. Refurbished laptops generally have been used for a number of hours already which increase the wear and tear on components even if some of the components have been replaecd by the manufacturer.
Given the potential cost savings a refurbished laptop may provide good value if you do not have the budget to purchase brand new machines.
Should Analysts buy a Mac or a PC?
The decision to purchase Apple computers for your business should largely depend on the current tech stack being used. Many software applications used in data analysis have cloud versions which mitigate the need to install software locally. However, cloud applications may not have all of the features their desktop counterparts have.
To ensure compatibility, we generally recommend Windows laptops. If most of the work being done is through cloud services than Apple products can be a great choice. They’re fast, have great battery life, and employees who already own Apple products will appreciate the continuity of experience between home and work life.
Before purchasing Macbooks for employees be aware that you can often emulate Windows software using solutions such as Parallels but it adds an additional level of IT complexity and introduces another set of costs.
Choosing the Right Laptop for the Job
While we’ve focused on how to purchase a great laptop for analyst roles, we want to also point out that for some jobs a high-end laptop can be completely unnecessary. For example, job roles that require minimal compute power such as e-mails, common business applications, and video conferencing do not need the expense incurred with a high end laptop. However, there can be features such as a quality screen for remote workers, or a good built in webcam for sales professionals that could justify the expense of a higher end laptop than one to meet their minimum requirements.
Business Intelligence Analysts, Data Analysts and other employees who work with large amounts of data will be best served with laptops that have large amounts of memory, a fast hard drive, and a moderate to high-end processor. Additional considerations come into play if workers are commonly working remotely or from the road.
Faster laptops typically have a decent return on investment for businesses, but it can be impossible to fully quantify as much of the return is based on productivity increases and time savings which vary greatly from one employee to another.
When purchasing a laptop be sure to check out the specifications and watch out for deals that seem too good to be true. There are a number of retailers and manufacturers that present a laptop as being high end but are built with out of date components and a poor build quality to reduce cost and increase their margins.
Service contracts for laptops come down to personal preference and risk tolerance. Some people will appreciate the peace of mind of not having to spend unexpected sums of money to replace broken laptops while others are okay with the risk.
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