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How to buy a business laptop in 2021: 5 things to consider when buying a B2B notebook

Purchasing a business laptop can be a far more complicated process than you can imagine

Remote worker
(Image: © Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels)

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the transition away from desktop PCs and workstations and has established laptops as the dominant format in businesses and enterprises.

Falling prices, a clear focus from component vendors on thin-and-light laptops and a drive to decrease power consumption, means that there's barely any difference, price-wise, between laptops and desktops of equivalent specifications, once you throw in the peripherals. In this article, we'll discuss five key aspects every IT decision maker needs to bear in mind when buying a business laptop.

Choosing your budget (and shopping window)

Buying a business laptop for an organization usually entails a designated budget either set by the purchaser or by someone else within the organization and usually part of a purchase lifecycle. That is, a device is being acquired either for a new starter or because the previous device is no longer fit for purpose (too slow, broken or out of warranty). What that means is buying a new PC for business rarely happens by itself; it is usually a well structured process which is outside the scope of this article.

It may be worth pointing out two trends that are influencing the purchase of a business laptop in the 2020’s. First, there’s PCaaS, otherwise known as PC-as-a-service. It’s essentially another variant of leasing; there’s usually no upfront costs (only one fixed monthly payment that may cover accessories/peripherals) and essential software (e.g. antivirus), deployment, end-of-lease recycling/migration and support are included throughout. All major vendors now offer PCaaS.

Then there’s the emergence of Black Friday and various similar sales events that happen throughout the year (e.g. Amazon Prime Day, Presidents Day). A growing number of them are now targeting small and medium businesses outright with exclusive discounts, vouchers and coupon codes.

Windows 11 File Explorer on a PC in an office

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Windows 11 Pro

Microsoft’s next operating system is due to be rolled out later this year and includes some pretty compelling business-focused features. If you plan to buy a laptop over the next few months, you may want to check whether your prospective purchase is compatible with Windows 11 Pro by asking directly to the vendor. Almost all major laptop manufacturers will have a page dedicated to Windows 11 and uptake is likely to be important especially as you can upgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 11 for free. Microsoft hasn’t confirmed if this will be the same for Windows 11 Pro. That process will start late 2021 and continue into 2022. The good news is that the overwhelming majority of new laptops will support Windows 11 out of the box. Here are the Windows 11 pages for Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Asus, Microsoft and HP.

The obvious assumption here is that you want to stick with Windows for business but that’s no longer the case. Apple’s MacOS and Google’s Chrome OS have made inroads in what was and still remains Microsoft’s most prized possession as its de-facto OS for business end-user/client computing.

What level of support do you need?

You need to consider the level of support your business requires. Smaller vendors often offer a one-year warranty, sometimes with onsite support but more often than not, that's return-to-base (i.e. you need to send the laptop back to the vendor at your own cost) which is obviously not ideal.

Most global vendors offer comprehensive warranty packages with their laptops with some having a three-year affair with onsite next business day support by default. Dell and Lenovo stand out by offering warranties up to 60 months (that’s five years); well worth it on laptops costing thousands. Check out whether you need accident coverage or coverage outside your country; some offer support in countries as far away as India.

Some car insurance providers offer a courtesy car when a member’s vehicle breaks down or is involved in an accident. This allows the customer to minimize any disruption caused to his or her workflow. There’s no equivalent yet from a laptop vendor. If downtime is not an option and if there are privacy concerns, having a backup laptop or PC is highly recommended.

What are your use cases?

The purchase strategy for a one-man band (or very small entity) will differ significantly from that of a medium size company. If you only need a couple of laptops, you might be less picky when it comes to choosing a manufacturer refurbished notebooks. Choosing your laptop will also depend on what you intend to do with it.

Edge use cases (e.g. graphics designer, coder, video editing, financial analysts) may require mobile workstations or rugged laptops rather than standard business laptops but for everyone else, the configuration below should be good enough. While there is no real alternative to a powerful CPU, extra memory and a fast SSD can often help.

ComponentsOptimal specifications
ProcessorAt least a 10th generation Intel Core/3rd generation AMD Ryzen
RAMMinimum 8GB
GraphicsIntegrated
Storage256GB SSD
Display13.3-inch or bigger, full HD resolution
ConnectivityType-C or Thunderbolt connectors
NetworkingWi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 6

Battery life and processing power do not go hand in hand. That's an unfortunate truth; the fastest laptops tend to have very short battery life despite sporting massive batteries because they run components that are power hogs.

Throw in the market's obsessive quest for thinness and it's no wonder that many are often disappointed by their laptops because they are either powerful but with a short battery life or vice versa. Finding the right balance means that you will identify how long you can stay away from mains and what kind of processing power you really need (hint: look at the applications you use most often). 

Avoid these 10 easy mistakes:

Too little, badly configured memory, low-resolution display, slow storage components or no webcam. I recently compiled a list of things you need to avoid when buying a business laptop. Worth a look so that you don’t end up in a pickle.

OWC Thunderbolt Dock

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

Think about the peripherals

If you plan to use your laptop at your desk a lot, then it makes sense to invest in a docking station which allows you to connect your device to a number of peripherals (like a keyboard, mouse, printer, monitor) in one simple move. The ubiquity of USB Type-C also allows some of them to charge the laptop at the same time.

Generic docking stations tend to be more affordable and are compatible with various laptop ranges which makes them more attractive if you plan to change laptop brands regularly. Type-C models that do power delivery are attractive because they essentially allow you to bypass your laptop charger or keep the latter for another location.

The future of external displays is 4K so make sure that your laptop supports it should you plan to have an external monitor at work or elsewhere. This means checking that your laptop either comes with a HDMI 2.0 port or a DisplayPort connector. Another option is to consider a docking station that offers either of these connectors.

Using a 4K monitor can transform the way you work by offering four times the resolution of full HD, perfect for multi-tasking on several documents. It can also help improve your workflow by allowing you to work on several devices at the same time while cutting down on the number of monitors needed.

Explore the upgrade options that are available for your laptop should you have access to them (e.g at checkout). For example, you could opt for a 4G/LTE internal modem should you have the option. Not only do they allow you to be connected when you're far from a Wi-Fi Hotspot, they often cost less than having to buy a separate dongle, use less power and are unlocked – plus you don't run the risk of breaking one USB port.

Check whether you can get a removable/second battery which may allow you to last longer away from the mains. Security options are also worth considering; these include SSD with default encryption, fingerprint or palm readers as well as NFC/SmartCard readers.