The dilemma of what computer to buy for the upcoming school year is one of the hardest questions for both parents and students. With cash often becoming an issue, everyone is always look for the best performance, reliability, and ease of use in the most cost-efficient package.
When asked what computer a student wants, the most common answers are a MacBook, a Dell XPS, or a VAIO. Rarely will you ever hear someone say a Dell Latitude, Lenovo Thinkpad, Fujitsu Lifebook, or HP Elitebook. These computers are the standard-issue devices for many business personnel, but are rarely known by typical consumers. But they offer many benefits that many know not of, including enhanced durability, hardware-based security, and better warranties.
So, what computer should you buy?
The Business Benefits
There are too many features included on business laptops for the average user, and many of these features will never be used by the average consumer. But, there are also many features that are extremely useful and will appeal every day. Let’s go over those here.
The most striking difference between the business devices and consumer devices is the design of the product. It is important to note that with usage by professionals needing the most power and reliability, a lot of thought is put into making the most productive purchase ever. Even for the consumer, this results in a great benefit.
If you think about a business computer, you might think about a dark box without rounded corners and something very visually unappealing compared to something like a MacBook Pro. However, this design comes with a purpose in mind. Higher end series in the Lenovo Thinkpad line such as the T and W Series include roll cages over the screen and bottom of the computer for added durability. Most are tested to military specifications in regards to vibration, drop, heat, and dust stress. Even cover materials such as Lenovo’s black anti-slip plastic and Dell’s tri-metal are designed in order to ensure maximum reliability. While many may consider Apple’s unibody design to produce the most durable computer, the enhancements found on business laptops far surpass it.
There are also some other small-features included to add capability to the design. Nearly all business laptops include spill-proof keyboards, protecting your computer from your morning coffee. In addition, these keyboards, while not as visually appealing as chicklet designs provide a tested configuration for maximum long-term typing comfort. A Trackpoint/pointing stick is also included for those that dislike trackpads, providing another format of mouse input. Internal drives have shock-proof caging and free-fall protection, adding data security in an accident. Hundreds of thousands of business users use their computers every day in an abusive manner and yet most still stay working. Try that on a consumer laptop.
Business laptops include many ports and expansions unavailable to most consumer users. The standard amount of USB ports on a business laptop is 4, while its 3 for most consumer PCs and 2 for Macs. Card slots, such as PCMCIA, ExpressCard, and Smart Cards are also still included with business laptops even though they are near extinct on consumer laptops. Legacy ports like 4-pin Firewire and serial can still be found; even some still include a modem. These computers offer the ultimate collection of peripheral connections.
The real kickers with expandability come with docking and media bay devices. Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Fujitsu all produce docking stations for their laptops that provide even more ports and an easy ability to convert a mobile computer to a desktop workstation. For the media bay devices, interfaces like Dell’s modular bay and Lenovo’s Ultrabay allow quick swapping of CD/DVD drives, hard drives, and even additional batteries. This capability is not found on any consumer laptop.
In general, business laptops use the same internal processing components as consumer laptops. They can use Intel Core i-series processors, the same RAM, same hard drives, etc. The only difference is the graphics cards, which have been optimized for business use (aka stability). However, most business computers use higher level components (like the standard i5-560m versus the standard consumer i5-460m) that ultimately provide a faster computing experience.
Battery life is also a huge plus for business computers. The new 14-inch HP Elitebooks can support (by company statistics) up to about 32.5 hours of battery life, well more than a day of continuous usage. The capability of adding additional batteries such as from the docking port and drive bay give these computers a huge advantage for extended users.
Business notebooks are priced on-par with consumer notebooks. The 14-inch Lenovo T420 starts at a respectable $749, and less feature-filled lines start at under $500. But if one stays aware of discounts, the prices can drop dramatically. Dell has a great online Outlet store that sells systems at reduced prices. Combine that with a common 15-25% off coupon, and you have one heck of a deal. Personally, I picked up about a year ago a Dell E6410 with a Core i7, discrete graphics, 4GB RAM, 320GB HD, and a high-resolution 1440×900 screen for $438. It was great.
The only real downside of a business laptop is subjective, and it is the design. Most do not have the shiny glass or plastics that appeal to consumers. Also, they do not have the curved edges such as on the MacBook Air. If you can get past these issues, buying a business laptop will get you a great product and a great deal.