Help Me, LAPTOP: I Need A Fleet of Affordable Laptops For My Small Business

If you think finding the best budget notebook for yourself is hard enough, try buying a slew of them. That’s what reader Manaf, the owner of a small  business is charged with doing: he has to buy seven laptops for his staff, as well as a higher-end one for himself. He writes:

They should be light enough so that the technicians won’t have trouble carrying them from a customer to the other (they visit three locations a day for service, plus the office) and should be a little sturdy and with decent battery life of at least two and a half hours. And they also shouldn’t be too expensive, as I will be buying seven of them.

For me, I need something that can do all the above and a little more, as I often travel and visit customers and use my laptop for work and for entertainment. I also need something that can withstand moderate abuse. It is important that the laptop can also run some engineering software such as Matlab and Autocad.

While he’s looking for a 13- or 14-inch notebook for his employees, he’s considering screens as small as 12 inches for himself, and would prefer discreet graphics. Likewise, his budget for his employees’ computers is $800, and he’s willing to spend up to $1,500 on the notebook that will double as his work and personal PC. Manaf, who had done his homework, was already looking at the Dell Vostro 3400 for his staff, and either the Toshiba Portege R700, HP dm4t, or ASUS U33jc for himself. Just to be sure, though, he asked us what we’d suggest for both him and his workers. After the jump, see what we recommended.

For employees:

For a small business looking for a bunch of 13- or 14-inch notebooks at a reasonable price, we recommend either the Lenovo ThinkPad T410 or the thinner and lighter ThinkPad Edge 14. The T410 has a reputation for being one of the best small business notebooks, and there’s a reason: its performance is powerful, it boots quickly, and it boasts Lenovo’s signature comfortable, sturdy keyboard and pointing stick. The Edge 14 offers strong performance and long battery life, but it has a more modern design, including a chiclet-style keyboard, and weighs less, at 5 pounds (with a six-cell battery).

For the boss:

While the Toshiba Portege R700 is a fine computer (it won our Editors’ Choice after all), even we have to admit that the model we tested didn’t get the best battery life. If long battery life is essential, we’d instead steer you toward the 14-inch T410 (again) or the 13-inch HP ProBook 5320m, the update to the Editors’ Choice-winning ProBook 5310m, which is out in Europe right now, but likely to come to the U.S. at some point.

While both machines are powerful, and are offered with comparable specs (e.g., Intel Core i5 processors and 7,200 rpm hard drives), the T410 weighs 5.2 pounds to the 5310m’s 3.8. If Manaf waits for the 5320m, he can get a configuration with a Core i5-450M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 7200 rpm hard drive, a 6-cell battery, and broadband, though we have no idea for what price. As for the T410, he can get one with the same specs for $1,204 (that’s with no Microsoft Office or discrete graphics added).

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  1. Jason Reece Says:

    I think the Boss would be wise to consider the Dell Latitude E6410. Although it has a 14.1″ display, it only weighs 4.6lbs with the 6-cell battery and it is 1-1.2″ thick, so it’s very easy to carry. One of the benefits of the 14.1″ form factor is the availability of higher resolution display options (1280×800 is standard, 1440×900 optional). The optional WXGA+ 1440×900 Anti-Glare LED is covered by a Premium Panel Guarantee and is one of the highest quality screens I’ve seen on any business notebook. The E6410 has a Magnesium Alloy LCD back and Base, shock-protected hard drive, spill-resistant keyboard and reinforced metal hinges and latches for durability. It also has a standard 3-year warranty and a 512mb NVIDIA NVS 3100M graphics card is optional. With discrete graphics, 320GB hard drive, Win7 Pro, 4GB RAM and the display upgrade, it’s only $1201.

  2. Richard Tihany Says:

    Dells and Lenovos are both fine machines. My first two or three laptops were Dells and they were fine, in most regards.

    My tech consultant who services laptops in Buenos Aires, said he had stopped working on any brand other than Lenovo because Lenovos were so clearly superior in construction to any other manufacturer. He said further that as soon as you open up a laptop’s innards, you can see that it’s a pleasure to work on them.

    I took his advice and the last two machines I bought have been Lenovos. I’m now planning to buy an ultralight and it will almost certainly be a Lenovo.

    Now, if they will make one that’s a little faster than a Cray,weighs less than 500 grams, has about a 50 TB HD and doesn’t need liquid helium to cool the chipset….I’m afraid Moore’s Law would say that I’ll need to wait a little more than six months.

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