The hundreds of laptops on the market differ tremendously, and only some are truly suited for business use. For example, some laptops might not have enough processing power or memory to handle extensive web browser usage. And even if they perform well, other laptops might be too heavy for frequent travelers.
This guide will help you navigate the laptop market with these considerations in mind. Once you know the nuts and bolts of what makes a good business laptop, the shopping process will be much less overwhelming.
Many small businesses don’t have a chief technology officer to handle tech purchasing decisions, which is why we created this buying guide. It is designed to be followed step by step and considers general hardware best practices, budget considerations and deployment concerns.
Optimize your tech spending by setting a clear budget before shopping. Consider how much you’re willing to spend overall and how many laptops you need. Without a budget, it’s easy to overspend or underspend. Not every business needs a fleet of top-of-the-line machines, so it’s a waste of time to consider high-cost options if they don’t suit your bottom line. On the other hand, you shouldn’t cheap out on your business laptops because you could end up spending more in the long run if they don’t perform as needed.
Consider these tech budgeting tips:
Laptop budget ranges
If you’re unsure of how to strike a balance between cost and quality, check out our breakdown of laptop budget ranges and recommendations:
Unless you can spend at least $1,000 per laptop, you’ll likely choose between the Chrome and Windows operating systems. However, there are three primary operating systems; you should know their features and differences. After reading these descriptions, choose Windows if you’re still unsure which operating system to select. Windows is still the business standard worldwide, and you likely won’t regret the decision.
Laptops that run Apple’s macOS carry hefty price tags. However, many die-hard Apple fans are willing to pay a premium for a beautiful machine with a well-designed interface. Historically, creative professionals have favored Apple laptops for their high-quality screens, function keys, and ability to run high-octane programs such as Avid, Maya and Dreamweaver.
Many creative pros still purchase laptops from Apple. Still, it’s no longer considered the go-to brand, especially since recent MacBook Pros have featured less storage than previous models and seem more focused on appealing to a mass audience than to a niche customer base.
Whether you should opt for a machine running macOS is mainly up to personal preference and how much you’re comfortable spending, unless you use a specific business software product that can run only on a Mac. While this scenario is becoming less common, you should always ask IT experts about possible operating system and software compatibility issues before buying new laptops.
Some businesses also choose macOS machines for the image they project; if you’re in a field where looks matter and cultivating a luxe vibe is important to your clients, that may be a valid choice.
As mentioned, Windows is the standard operating system for work laptops. If you go with Windows 11, you’ll have more laptops to choose from than with ChromeOS or macOS. Windows machines are available in every configuration and price range possible, so you can be pretty picky (within your budget, of course).
Windows 11, the latest version of the operating system, has a handful of new features that can improve productivity. For example, with Task View, you can set up multiple virtual desktops for easier multitasking. Windows is also known for its highly adjustable sleep and power settings that preserve your computer’s battery life and performance.
The main benefit of choosing Windows is familiarity. It’s highly unlikely that your employees have never used a Windows laptop before, and most IT pros (even those with relatively little experience) know how to provide support for Windows devices. Ease of use is crucial in business tech adoption, and the average office worker is comfortable with Windows.
Google’s ChromeOS is the newest operating system, so if you’re unsure of what to expect from a Chromebook, you’re not alone. When Chromebooks first hit the market, they were created primarily with students in mind because of their superlow starting prices.
Today, Chromebook offerings are more diverse, and some business-focused laptops run ChromeOS. Chrome is a great choice for an entrepreneur or small business owner who is comfortable working in the cloud (you can’t download programs on a Chromebook) and doesn’t want to worry about updates.
Chromebooks are built to download and deploy updates automatically, which is a great time-saver for busy entrepreneurs. Thanks to an increase in cloud-based product suites such as Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft 365, Chromebooks are growing more functional for a broader range of business owners.
The key to choosing the right laptop design is to consider how you and your team work. Here are a few questions to ask yourself (or your employees) before shopping.
Do I want a hybrid laptop or a traditional laptop?
You’re likely already familiar with traditional laptops that open on a hinge. However, there’s now another breed of laptops to consider: Hybrid laptops, also called convertible laptops or 2-in-1s, are laptops that double as stand-alone tablets.
Some hybrid laptop screens detach completely from the keyboard. Others have hinges with a 180-degree range of motion, allowing you to fold the laptop inside out and use it as a tablet. Employees who travel frequently or switch back and forth between a laptop (for typing) and a tablet (for stylus and touchscreen use) may be a good match for a hybrid design. However, note that a 2-in-1 with high specs will cost more than a standard-hinge laptop with the same specs.
Is a comfortable keyboard a high priority?
When you’re busy looking at laptop designs, it’s easy to forget about the basics and be dazzled by gorgeous chassis and high-resolution screens. However, keyboard comfort is a crucial factor for most business users. In fact, an uncomfortable keyboard can kill business productivity much more than a slightly unimpressive pixels-per-inch (PPI) resolution or a bland design.
While you shop, remember that the smaller the laptop, the smaller the keyboard — and typing on a miniature keyboard for hours at a time can be tiresome.
If possible, test out keyboards to get a feel for what you like. If you can’t do that, at least take note of the size of the keyboard on any laptop you consider. If you choose a laptop with a less-than-optimal keyboard, you can invest in an external keyboard for long typing sessions, but this is not ideal.
Will I be traveling with my laptop or primarily working in one place?
Portability is a significant concern for some business owners and a nonissue for others. If you travel frequently or work in different business locations regularly, it may be worth sacrificing screen and keyboard size for a lighter computer. You can always check a laptop’s dimensions and weight under its technical specifications online.
Keep in mind that laptop screens, like television screens, are measured diagonally (corner to corner) and that, generally, any device lighter than 3 pounds is portable enough for business travel. Before choosing an ultraportable laptop, though, ensure the device has the ports you require and decent battery life.
Do I need a touchscreen or stylus support?
Touchscreens are a nice feature if — and only if — you use them a lot. Laptops with touchscreens and stylus support are nearly always more expensive than similar models without these features.
Computers with touchscreens also use significantly more battery power than those without, even if you don’t actively use the touchscreen. To top it off, touchscreens are heavier than regular screens.
If you need a touchscreen or stylus support, you should absolutely look for that feature in a laptop, but don’t spring for it just because you think it seems like a cool add-on.
Do I need a rugged laptop?
While most companies don’t need rugged laptops, these devices are essential for specific industries and businesses, especially those that employ workers in rugged or remote conditions. The Panasonic Toughbook is the highest-profile rugged laptop line. It’s very popular with public service professionals (such as police, fire departments, EMTs and conservation experts) and private companies that require ultra-resilient laptops (such as oil, fishing, agricultural, construction and delivery businesses).
Rugged laptops and tablets often offer accessories you can’t get for mainstream laptops, such as vehicle mounts and vehicle battery packs. (Some rugged laptops can operate for days at a time with these packs.) Rugged laptops are also typically waterproof and drop-proof and can be used with gloves (even if they have touchscreens). However, they’re also usually larger and clunkier than consumer or business laptops, and they can be expensive once you factor in accessories.
By now, you’ve probably found a few laptops that fit your budget, run the OS you need, and have the design features you want. At this point, choosing between your front-runners comes down to comparing crucial specs. These laptop-buying factors can be overwhelming when you’re unfamiliar with tech talk, so we’ll break them down in straightforward, real-world terms.
Under the laptop’s technical specs, you’ll see its CPU (central processing unit, also called a processor). The CPU is the first thing you should look at when comparing laptop options.
If your laptop were a car, the CPU would be the engine. As you can imagine, the quality of your laptop’s processor has a massive impact on the computer’s usability. That said, many people overspend on top-of-the-line processors when they don’t need them. An equivalent would be someone who buys a Porsche but never drives more than 40 mph.
As you compare CPUs on the laptops you’re considering, keep these general guidelines in mind:
Many think a powerful processor equals better performance, and everyone wants the best performance possible. However, this idea is both true and false. Here’s an analogy: Imagine loading a bag of groceries in the back of your four-door sedan (your Core i3 or Core i5). You can easily drive that bag of groceries home, right? Now imagine putting that same bag of groceries in the back of a high-end pickup truck with way more horsepower. Was it easier to drive the bag of groceries home in the more expensive truck? No, it didn’t make a difference because the task you were performing was so lightweight that you didn’t even tap into the benefit of the pickup truck’s extra horsepower (the ability to haul massive loads, attach a snowplow, use four-wheel drive, etc.).
The same is true for high-end processors. If you’re not going to do video editing or 3D modeling, you don’t need a high-end processor, and having one won’t improve your laptop experience. If those demanding tasks are part of your daily business, a Core i7 will be well worth the money.
Memory and storage
Long-term storage and short-term memory are also crucial factors to consider in business laptops. For short-term memory, there’s random-access memory (RAM); for long-term storage, there’s your hard disk drive (HDD, also called a hard drive) or solid-state drive (SSD). Some computers have an SSD and an HDD for long-term storage, while others have only an SSD for long-term storage.
SSDs are newer than HDDs and are increasingly popular for storage because they’re faster than HDDs. SSDs don’t have moving parts, so they’re more durable and compact than standard hard drives, which is why rugged laptops almost always have them.
Here’s how to determine if the laptop you’re looking at has enough memory and storage for your business use:
Battery life is the last significant spec to evaluate before you make your final decision. Battery life is a nonissue for some business owners and a make-or-break factor for others. You’ll need to consider how often you’ll use your laptop without access to power.
In any case, it’s a good idea to glance at the battery life of any machine you purchase. Bear in mind that laptop manufacturers use different metrics to measure battery life, so consider each reported number an estimate.
Some laptop manufacturers offer add-on batteries for an extra cost. While these batteries can massively extend the battery life of a work laptop, they also add considerable weight to the machine — so consider the combined weight before you opt for an extra battery pack.
Once you’ve fully acquainted yourself with the above considerations for the best business laptops, you should feel more prepared to browse the vast market of options. However, even with all you’ve learned, you might still face a bit of decision fatigue as you navigate the seemingly countless options in front of you.
To give you a good starting point, we’ve listed a few of the very best business laptops and summarized their features below.
The Lenovo ThinkPad has long ranked among the most popular business laptops, and the 11th generation promises some of the laptop line’s most advanced features to date. With immense memory and battery life, the newest ThinkPad is among the best business laptops for both on-the-go and office use.
The Asus ExpertBook is designed for business travelers. Its calling card is its “featherlight” 2.23-pound weight, which is among the lowest laptop weights. And you won’t sacrifice quality for scale: The ExpertBook has the same top-notch features as its heavier (but sometimes less expensive) competitors.
For macOS users, the MacBook Pro line continues to rank highly among the best business laptops. The new 16-inch MacBook Pro’s screen resolution is unparalleled, and many would argue that its operating system is, too. It’s also a good choice if you prefer to keep all of your business devices connected, as all Apple products — MacBooks, iPads, iPhones and Apple Watches — signed in to the same Apple account can receive the same messages and notifications.
Apple also offers a 13-inch MacBook Pro. This smaller version has less storage (though more battery life) and a starting price of $1,299. Consider starting with this version and upgrading your technology to a higher-level MacBook later.
Now that you’ve successfully narrowed down your business laptop choices based on what you need and what you can afford, you can confidently make your purchase. The basic approach outlined in this laptop buying guide can be used to buy other technology, too, such as the best business phone systems. We also have various helpful guides to advise you on software buying decisions.
Max Freedman contributed to this article.