How to Buy a Business Laptop
You're a very busy professional, so we'll bottom-line this for you. All you care about is a laptop that will get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible, and you don't want some luxury status symbol. Games and movies--who has the time?
You want a reasonable, portable, general-purpose business laptop that will juggle spreadsheets and look decent while doing it, but you aren't trying to impress clients with the caliber of your computer, or its cost.
You're mainly concerned about booting Windows in a hurry between meetings and being able to run rings around office suites. You'll probably be fine with an average-priced CPU. An Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 Mobile CPU, for example, easily handles everyday chores in Vista. AMD's 2.3GHz Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core Mobile ZM-84 may not be as fast, but it works fine, and it'll save you some bucks.
You're angling for speed, so your machine needs 4GB of RAM. Having lots of memory is the easiest, most cost-effective way to get a power boost. For smooth performance with that much RAM, buy a 64-bit version of Vista.
Graphics Board (aka GPU)
An integrated GPU should be sufficient. The only reason you'd need discrete graphics firepower would be to help your video presentations run well (or to sneak in a little World of Warcraft in the hotel room after a day of meetings). If you want to output snazzy HD sans stutters, you may be able to get away with integrated graphics, but a laptop with some discrete-graphics oomph would be better.
Screen Size and Native Resolution
You might not need a crazy-high resolution to navigate spreadsheets, but keep all of your activities in mind. Will you have to hook the laptop to projectors? A 1366-by-768-pixel resolution is reasonable. One more thing: Laptops with screens larger than 16 inches may seem brilliant, but few of them fit in a conventional carry-on bag.
If you plan to go a long way between recharges, a good business laptop with a high-capacity battery will offer about 7 hours of life on a single charge--enough for you to make it through even the most drawn-out meetings.
Keyboard and Pointing Device
We're starting to see more laptops of manageable size with a ten-key number pad in addition to the QWERTY layout. The HP ProBook line, for example, crams a good-size ten-key onto a 15.6-inch machine. If you need to crunch tons of figures, that feature will go a long way, though you might lose some room on the QWERTY side.
Since you need to be nimble during the workday, you'll want something in the 4- or 5-pound range.
If your laptop has VGA-out, you should be covered during presentations. Web connectivity is also essential. You're going to need at least 802.11n Wi-Fi, and you should consider a Wireless WAN option so that you can be constantly connected when you're on the road.
Besides stocking up on hardware to future-proof your laptop (such as HDMI for HD video output and eSATA for fast data transfers), look for USB ports that let you recharge other devices through them when the PC is off. Also consider an accelerometer to protect your hard drive in case you drop your laptop. You'll need a good suite of applications that will prepare you for the workday, too. Fujitsu's apps can help salespeople who have to plug into someone else's display, but Lenovo captures the prize with its ThinkVantage suite--it's like having IT on-call.
Our Business-Laptop Pick
The Lenovo ThinkPad T400 is our choice for a solid-performing business laptop. It lasted 8 hours in battery tests and earned a respectable mark of 92 in WorldBench 6. That kind of muscle can get you through the workday--and at about $1400, it won't push you into the red.
Illustrations by Joe Ciardielo.