How to Choose the Perfect Laptop for You


November 24, 2014


I’ve helped a lot of people with computer choices over the years, and learned early on that configuring the right desktop for someone takes much less time than helping them choose the perfect laptop. The reason is simple – there are many more factors to consider when you’re personalizing a laptop computer.

I’ve been using Dell Latitude laptops for the last 12 years, and we like Dell’s website because it gives us the option to configure a computer exactly the way a client needs it. You may prefer another brand, and that’s great. You can still use the information I’m sharing here to help you make a better choice with any brand.

If you’re a MyITpros’ client and ready to order a new laptop, you can stop reading any time and give us a call. We’ll ask you some questions and do all the heavy lifting for you.

But if you’d like to do it yourself, please read on.

You can jump right in and work on a Dell Latitude configuration. It’s the page on Dell’s site for Latitude Laptops, Tablets & Ultrabooks™ for Business, and I’ll be referring to it here as we go.

The First (and Most Important) Question to Ask Yourself About Your New Laptop:

What size laptop do I need?

The key difference between laptop models of any brand is screen size. Screen size affects weight.

Will you be carrying the laptop back and forth from work each day, or simply carrying it from your living room to your kitchen every now and then? If you’re hauling a laptop around every day, you may really appreciate a lighter weight. For years the tradeoff was simple – smaller screen size equals less weight. This can also equal a smaller keyboard.

The same holds true today, but you can get a large screen size and still have a slim form factor and lighter weight with an Ultrabook™. I bought a Dell Latitude E7440 Ultrabook in July 2014, and I love it. I’ve been using a 12” screen size for years. My new Ultrabook™ is 14”, but a weighs just under 3 lbs. – almost 2 lbs. less than I’ve been used to.

Since I carry my laptop home every day and travel with it several times a year, I have to get my strength conditioning in other ways now. 😉 If this sounds good to you, be warned that the Ultrabook™ doesn’t have a DVD player built in. These days you can download almost any application, stream almost any music or video, and share files online or transfer them via USB drives. If you need to do any of these things using CDs or DVDs, you may not want an Ultrabook™.

Screen size is measured diagonally, from corner to corner. A lot of people enjoy a larger screen size, and I’m one of them. Most of my laptop time is spent at work, where I have a docking station with two widescreen, flat panel displays, and wireless keyboard and mouse. At home and on the road I open my laptop to use the built in display and keyboard. It’s these times when I am glad to have a 14” screen and a decent sized keyboard.

The largest Dell Latitude screen is 15.6” on the 3000 and 5000 Series, weighing 5.1 and 5.0 lbs. respectively. Dell’s consumer grade laptop is the Inspiron, which goes up to 17.3” screen size – and weighs a whopping 7.1 lbs. This is one of many reasons why we recommend the business grade Latitude, even for consumers.

Other Questions That Will Ensure you Choose the Right Laptop for Your Needs

I recently helped an artist choose a laptop. Louise works from a studio in her home, and has converted her dining room table into a desk. She’d been using a desktop PC there for years, and had an old laptop for travel once or twice a year.

Louise wanted a 14” with a built-in DVD/RW, and was fine with carrying a couple of extra pounds once or twice a year. So we settled on the Dell Latitude E6440 Business Laptop. If you click the link, you’ll see several options. Of the four choices I see today (November 20, 2014) starting prices range from $1049 to $1593. The least expensive choice has only 4 GB RAM, which is fine for Microsoft Office  applications and web browsing, but it’s not enough memory for some of the graphics software Louise uses.

The next step up in price has a Solid State Hybrid Drive, but not the pure Solid State Drive (SSD) she really wants. So we go for the third option, which begins at $1513. We click the Customize and Buy button to make the remaining choices.

Solid State Drives are very popular for good reason. Overall performance is faster, and people really love how much faster their computer boots up.

Which is the Best Processor?

The Intel® Core™ i5 processor comes with the first three price options, including the one we chose for Louise. The fourth option has the i7, which is more powerful, and more expensive. Opinions vary, but in my experience processor performance has always outpaced the requirements of most of the programs we use in business. You can almost always conclude that you’d never notice a performance difference for the next step up, and save the added $50 to $100.

Which Operating System – Windows 7 or Windows 8?

Dell and many other brands have tablets with touch screens, and Windows 8 is a good choice for those. Much to Microsoft’s dismay, next to no one is buying Windows 8 for business desktops and laptops. If you’re buying retail, you’re stuck with it.

Windows 7 Professional is what we recommend to most of our clients, and that’s what comes with the E6440.

Do I Need Microsoft Office – and if so Which Version Should I Choose?

You may be fine with Google Docs or some other productivity applications, but Microsoft Office is still the first choice for most businesses. Google Docs has done well making collaboration easier, allowing multiple users to work on the same document or spreadsheet at the same time. But MS Word and Excel have more features, and the Office applications are what people know the best.

Office 365 is an increasingly popular choice and a topic worthy of a separate blog. If you want Office installed only on your laptop, Dell gives you two choices.  Microsoft Office Home and Business 2013 gives you Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which is all most business users need. That’s what Louise chose, because she does not use Access (database) or Publisher (desktop publishing).

Do I Need Security Software?

Yes, you do. But Louise did not get it with her laptop. First, she’s not a fan of McAfee, the only choice on the Dell site. She already has Advanced Endpoint Security from MyITpros, which includes three very robust applications providing multiple layers of protection, and this guarantee: if her laptop ever does get infected, we will do whatever it takes to fix it, at no charge.

At a minimum, you should have at least one endpoint security software on your laptop. Our current recommendation is Webroot.

Do I Need Adobe Acrobat?

If all you ever do is read PDFs and you have no need to create, combine, or edit PDFs, then the free Acrobat Reader is sufficient. Louise already has a license for Acrobat Professional so we leave this box unchecked.

Should I Get a Docking Station, and What Should I Do About Monitors?

Louise already has a single flat panel display and is not interested in having multiple monitors. She wants to use this display along with her wireless keyboard and mouse, so she’ll need a docking station. We choose the Dell E-Port Plus Advanced Port Replicator with USB 3.0 for Louise. Dell calls these “Port Replicators” while most people refer to them as “docking stations”. Technically, any port replicator that acts as a dock for a computer is a docking station. There are port replicators on the market that don’t – they are simply extensions for USB, video and other cables.

The main difference between Dell’s E-Port Replicator and the E-Port Plus Advanced Port Replicator we chose for Louise is this: the Plus Advanced has more ports, which is especially important if you use dual displays. Right now Louise is willing to spend the additional $30 so she will ahve the option to change to dual displays in the future.

Which Warranty Choices Should I Select?

Support after the sale is one of three key factors MyITpros considers when selecting the vendors we recommend to our clients (the other two are quality and price). When you need help, the service levels of all hardware and software vendors seems unbearable. All things considered, we’ve been very pleased with Dell’s warranty services relative to other Tier One hardware manufacturers.

For years the standard for laptop service in the industry was what is known as “depot” service, meaning if something goes wrong, you have to ship your laptop off and do without it for however many days or weeks it takes the vendor to fix it and ship it back to you. This is simply unacceptable for business users, and unnecessary with Dell Latitude (Dell does have depot service options available for their consumer class laptops).

Laptop users tend to get new machines more frequently than desktop users, so we recommend a 3 year warranty. Dell’s 3 Year Pro Support is usually overkill for our clients, who leave warranty support issues to us. So we save Louise another $70 by changing the selection to 3 Year Basic Hardware Service with 3 Year NBD Limited Onsite Service After Remote Diagnosis. This means that if we contact Dell with a warranty issue during business hours, Dell with have a technician onsite the next business day to replace any failed hardware.

Is Accidental Damage Coverage Worth the Money?

We didn’t choose this option for Louise, but I always do for my laptops. Remember, I carry my laptop back and forth from work each day, and travel several times a year. Louise leaves her laptop in the docking station at her home office most of the time. I have a lot more opportunities to damage my laptop than she does.

So far, I’ve never needed the accidental damage coverage. But I recommend it if you move your laptop around a lot. One client backed his car over his laptop bag after setting it down to load a suitcase in his trunk and being distracted by a neighbor. Another client dropped her laptop in a pool. Both had the accidental damage coverage and both received brand new replacements from Dell.

I’m usually not a fan of extended warranties. In this case, $76 may be worth it if you think you might drop your laptop down a well sometime. 🙂

Should I Get a Laptop Bag or Carrying Case?

Most of our clients opt to get their own carrying case later, or already have something they plan to use. Louise has a small backpack that will work fine, so we save her $35 by choosing “None”.

What About All the Other Choices

If you’ve been following along on the Dell site, you’ve seen about 18 other options not mentioned here. We rarely and almost never choose any of them. They range from being no advantage to getting them with this purchase, to completely unnecessary.

What About the Dell Factory Outlet?

Louise had a trip coming up and wanted to get her new laptop sooner than Dell could ship this configuration to her. We looked at the Dell Outlet online and found a very similar model for around $400 less. We had to add the docking station for $220 (about $90 more than with the new configuration) and MS Office for $200. All told, she saved almost $300 and got her laptop in 2 days.

The Dell Outlet sells returned or refurbished computers with the same warranty as new. Your choices are limited, but you may find something that suits your needs and save a few hundred dollars. Personally, I prefer to order new computers for myself, exactly the way I want them. We never recommend used servers from any source.

Are You Ready for Your New Laptop?

If you do it yourself, you now know how to choose a laptop that’s perfect for you. If you’re a MyITpros client, your managed service agreement includes procurement services. Whether you need memory for your desktop PC, a new laptop, or a complex network migration project, we’ll sort through the noise and ensure you make all the right choices.

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Chris-BoyleChris Boyle, CEO

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