In a perfect world, you could ask your local IT guy what laptop to buy, then roll them out to all of your staff and not worry about it again for six years. In reality, laptops represent a significant investment for small business owners, particularly if you need to buy a few of them and you can’t afford to have them break down in a year’s time. By the same token, the last thing you want is to overspend and part with some much-needed cash for more hardware than you need.
Danielle Watts, small business marketing manager at Intel, points out that you really need to think about what your particular company needs.
“For those guys that are out on the road, you want them to reflect the company, and there are a lot of thin, light and sexy form factors out there,” she explains. “It also depends on the type of business they are. If they are an architect type business, they’ll want something with a lot of processing and visual graphics power if they are using something like CAD.”
This isn’t to say everyone should rush out and buy the top-of-the-line model, as the central processing unit (CPU) – known as the processor – comes in a variety of options. The higher end model is the Intel Core i7, which is what the aforementioned architects will be looking for, but if you are just after a machine that can browse the internet and send emails, then it’s total overkill. Unless you want your laptop to be able to run the latest PC games, then it’s likely you want to consider a Core i5 or even a Core i3 – the lower the number the lower the specifications.
“Small business owners need to buy something that’s suitable for their business, and what their business model is, and the type of business that they are,” Danielle says. “They just need to do some research before they go in and purchase.”
The processor is just one consideration, but it’s a good place to start, especially as your decision will affect the size of the random access memory (RAM), and the video card you need. Another thing to keep in mind is that a laptop is not a desktop computer. This may seem simple enough, but using a laptop for what is referred to as a ‘desktop replacement’ is less than ideal. Laptops will produce much more heat than a desktop of similar specs, and will chew more power; the performance will also never be as good. These are some of the things you trade in order to be able to fold your computer in half and tuck it under your arm.
“For someone that’s going to be in the office, and even for the road warriors, we tend to say the Core i5 – it gives good performance and battery life,” Danielle says. “If they want a standard basic unit just to do email and documents, then a Core i3 is more than enough.”
Once you’ve chosen a processor that suits your needs, your IT guy or local sales rep will be able to explain the other choices that go with it. If you’re choosing a top-of-the-line Core i7 option, then it would make sense to spend a little more and get a higher-end video card to go with it, as well as upgrading the RAM.
The thing to remember here is that a laptop video card will never be as good as the desktop equivalent, as it’s been shrunk down and runs in a small compacted space (making it run hotter). So you need to think about whether the high performance tasks could be done by a computer in the office, and just have the laptop as something that can access emails and an internet browser from the road.
It’s also worth remembering that Intel isn’t the only chipmaker in the world – just the biggest one. AMD offers competing processors – often less expensive than the popular Intel versions – and most major manufacturers will include AMD options. Since 2005, Apple has moved from making its own processors and Macbooks are now run on Intel chips.
Sean McColl, director of WIT Technologies, believes one of the biggest priorities when choosing a laptop should be the warranty that is available. He warns against walking into a big-name retailer like Harvey Norman and just buying something off the shelf.
“Most of the stuff you buy at Harvey Norman comes with a one-year warranty, whereas paying a bit extra at the start, and knowing that you are going to get your three years out of it without any trouble, to me, is just worth the money,” he claims.
It should be pointed out that WIT Technologies makes money by selling IT products to small business owners, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Sean would not recommend people head over to the local Harvey Norman.
“You can buy an upgraded warranty for a retail version of the laptop, but these days no matter what it is, printers or laptops, it gets to its warranty then
a week or two later it’s often dead,” he adds.
Another thing that Sean has seen is small business owners getting caught up on the specifications and not thinking about practicality. One example of this is people that buy 19-inch laptops (which is measuring the screen size diagonally), and then complain when they are difficult to take on an airplane.
“I would also make sure that people know that the Windows 8 operating system is just around the corner, and buying a new laptop with Windows 7 now, as opposed to waiting another month for the new operating system is [silly],” Sean explains.
There are obviously more features to a laptop than just the processor, RAM and graphics card, but they are a good place to start, and an important factor in determining your price point.
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