The Best Business Laptops for 2021
Choosing the best laptop for work is a serious business. After all, you need something that's durable, secure, powerful, light, and capable of lasting through a long workday—and you have countless options. We've winnowed down the 10 best business laptops that can get the work done, but browsing even this smaller subset of machines with care is key. Not every laptop matches how you or your employees work, or what you do.These work-oriented PCs have the same basic components as everyday consumer laptops, but business-PC manufacturers include features to meet specific business needs, such as biometrics (fingerprint readers and facial recognition); rugged, MIL-SPEC-tested chassis and keyboards; Intel-vPro-certified networking and power management; and Trusted Platform Module (TPM) support for secure access. The latter two are checkmark features that an IT-based business-laptop buyer might look for in a fleet of machines, but everyone needs more physical security and durability.You'll also find choices for professional versions of Windows, and less bloatware than comes with consumer PCs. With so many thin black and silver laptops on the market, business machines tend to look samey, but the key differences that matter most to business users tend to be below the surface, inside the chassis. The line between tablets and laptops is also blurring in the business-machine world. Once the two were separated by operating systems, but there are now several tablets aimed at businesses that run true versions of Windows. Some of these tablets even have physical, detachable keyboards.But make no mistake, in the business sphere, conventional clamshell-style laptops still rule, and choosing the right one can determine whether you run a company that's successful or one that suffers from too much downtime. Let's walk through essential business-laptop features, the components you'll need, and—also important—how to distinguish between a business laptop and a consumer one.Evaluating Processing Muscle and MemoryToday, processors with four or more cores are widely available to handle both everyday email checking and more strenuous business applications. Many business laptops use chips from Intel's 10th Generation ("Ice Lake" and "Comet Lake") chip families, while a few use the latest 11th Generation ("Tiger Lake") processors. Truly demanding workflows will need hexa-core units like the latest top-end Core i7 and Core i9 CPUs. You can even find eight-core Core i9 chips, previously limited to desktops, in some larger workstation-grade machines meant for designers, engineers, and serious data crunchers. AMD-based laptops, employing the Ryzen Pro series of CPUs, remain uncommon but have started to infiltrate some classic business-laptop lines, such as Lenovo's ThinkPad.At the other end of the spectrum are power-saving processors such as Intel's Y-series Core and Pentium chips in tablets and ultraportable laptops. These ultra-low-wattage processors are often marketed alongside higher-performance chips; look for the "Y" in the chip name to tell the difference. A few business laptops you'll see will sport Intel Xeon processors, or the option for them. These are mobile workstations, and they're designed to run specialized software in fields such as financial modeling, engineering, and graphic design that require the ultimate in both power and constant-grinding reliability. They're typically more expensive—and have far shorter battery life—than mainstream business laptops powered by Intel's Core CPUs. Only choose one of these if you need to run a specialized app that requires that kind of specific CPU support. Otherwise, an Intel Core i7 or Core i9 will offer similar performance, and typically lower prices and better battery life.Also, look for absolutely no less than 4GB of RAM if shopping for a PC for a rank-and-file worker, but go for 8GB or 16GB if at all possible. (Graphic artists and spreadsheet ninjas should aim for 16GB as their absolute minimum.) The right amount of memory allows you to keep more programs, windows, and browser tabs open at once, as well as perform multimedia processes (such as editing photos) faster.Go Solid State, If You Can: Storage SolutionsWith businesses using video, multimedia PowerPoint slides, and multi-megapixel photos in staff meetings virtual and in-person, opting for a spacious drive is a good idea. If you're going to go with a traditional platter, a 1TB hard drive is a good balance between economy and space.That said, we're huge fans of solid-state boot drives. While pricier and more meager in their storage capacities, solid-state drives (SSDs) don't have any spinning parts and are therefore better suited to take a licking on the road. SSD-equipped systems also boot and launch apps more quickly. If you'll travel or commute much with your laptop and don't need maximal storage capacity, an SSD is the right choice. SSDs tend to be pricier than hard drives, which means that you'll likely be looking at 256GB or 512GB capacities to maximize your budget. Optical drives have all but disappeared on business laptops. If you need to retrieve older files or records stored on CDs or DVDs, an external drive can help; that's a smarter move than buying a bulky laptop equipped with an optical drive if you know you're not quite done shuffling discs yet.Assessing Graphics: Integrated vs. DedicatedMost business PCs come with integrated graphics chips, which are a lightweight graphics-acceleration solution that's part of the main CPU. These integrated GPUs are usually fine for business laptops, since you won't be playing 3D games on a computer meant for work. (Right?) Most professionals who require discrete graphics will use them for specialized tasks such as GPU acceleration in Photoshop, high-definition video creation in Adobe Premiere Pro, or 3D graphics visualization in architectural drawings and CAD software. Mobile-workstation-class laptops will usually come with some sort of discrete graphics, either for their 3D capabilities or to drive multiple monitors.When evaluating graphics solutions, it's easy to tell what tier of business laptop you're looking at. Integrated graphics silicon is usually dubbed "Intel HD Graphics" or "Intel UHD Graphics" or "Iris Plus" and indicates a mainstream business machine. (With the emerging Tiger Lake 11th Generation Intel PCs, that integrated graphics may be dubbed "Iris Xe.") The most common dedicated graphics chips in laptops, as a whole, are from Nvidia's GeForce line, but they are not usual fare in business machines. GeForce chips tend to be reserved for higher-end consumer or gaming systems, though some business machines will include one of Nvidia's lesser GeForce MX chips to give graphics a little boost. A higher-end workstation machine will tend to use dedicated graphics chips from Nvidia's Quadro or AMD's Radeon Pro line. As for the display panel, LCD screens with 1,366-by-768-pixel resolution are still available if you're trying to save some money on your laptop, but avoid them; your eyes will thank you for upgrading to at least a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel display that makes use of in-plane switching (IPS) technology. This combination will ensure that you have plenty of space for displaying many columns of numbers in Excel or arranging many windows on the screen at once, and that your coworkers will be able to see them from any angle while clustering around your desk.For graphics or scientific work, a 3K or 4K display provides more real estate still, as well as sharper text and more detailed visuals. Though these are still fairly uncommon fixtures on business laptops, they're emerging at least as options in some isolated models, and worth the money if your job will make use of extra pixels. Just know that, all else being equal, a high-resolution screen will drain battery life more rapidly than a lower-res one of the same base technology.Stay Connected: Wired and Wireless OptionsA strong wireless-connectivity loadout is essential in any business machine these days. Offices, airports, and client sites demand wireless connectivity for access to real-time email, messaging clients, and cloud services. Few businesspeople work fully local anymore.Every laptop these days has some flavor of Wi-Fi built in. It should get you satisfactory throughput, but you have to find a hotspot or an unprotected network to surf the web. Look for dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Wi-Fi for the best flexibility for your IT organization. The most common kind nowadays, 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6), runs primarily on 5GHz networks, but it will work with 2.4GHz networks as a fallback. Offices in high-density buildings may wish to use the less-populated 5GHz bands, as the 2.4GHz channels tend to get more crowded. Some budget business laptops still sport older 802.11ac Wi-Fi; these may offer less reliable connections but are still adequate for most small and medium businesses. Don't discount good old Ethernet entirely: You'll still need it for crowded conferences where the Wi-Fi is saturated. So, if your laptop is too thin to house an Ethernet jack, a USB-to-Ethernet adapter is a worthwhile investment. (One might come in the box.) These difficulties are, in part, why some business laptops have built-in mobile-broadband wireless modems as options. They work in tandem with available cellular networks to bring broadband speeds to your laptop wherever there's a cellular signal available. You can configure many business laptops with one of these modems integrated for a nominal fee; this option is one of the key distinguishing features of business laptops.Mobile data plans to use with the laptop, on the other hand, don't come cheap. Depending on whether or not you have an existing plan, rates can run as high as $60 to $80 per month. A 4G LTE or 5G wireless connection will give you transfer speeds rivaling what you get from a Wi-Fi connection, and they're available from the top cellular networks with the most coverage, notably AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Mobile hotspots and smartphone tethering are also available in case you don't want to buy internal modems for all your employees; they're a quick fix if you only need mobile internet part-time.Keep Running: Evaluating Battery LifeA big battery can be your best friend on a lengthy flight or a long commute. Business laptops usually come with multiple battery options. Some enterprise-class laptops have two or three different kinds of batteries (four-, six-, and nine-cell options). More cells means longer battery life, all else being equal. The "equal" is the tricky part; this isn't always the case with laptops that use 4K displays or other power-hungry components. A big battery adds some heft, but being able to run it unplugged from dawn 'til dusk is worth the weight gain. Most ultraportable laptops have non-removable, sealed-in-the-chassis batteries. Laptops with removable batteries do still exist, but they are increasingly uncommon, limited mostly to rugged tablets and laptops designed for extreme conditions.If you think you'll need more battery life than a single charge can offer, look for an external battery pack rather than limiting yourself to a model with a swappable internal battery. Combined with the internal battery, these external solutions can help deliver battery life in the 19-to-24-hour range. Just be forewarned that these extra-life batteries can weigh down your system by an extra pound or more.The Appeal of 2-in-1 TabletsPrice and portability are arguably the biggest reasons why a business might consider a Windows-based tablet for work. Some tablets sell for less than $500 and can easily adapt into a corporate environment. While specialized (read: expensive) tablets have been in vertical markets, such as health care, for years, the ubiquity of the Apple iPad means that people are used to carrying a computer that doesn't have a physical keyboard or that uses a detachable, basic one.Look for a Windows 10 tablet if you need to run in-house or third-party apps that were originally created for PCs. True enterprise-class tablets running Windows 10 are still evolving, but most business users expect their work computers to behave the same as their personal tablets. Apple fans will have to be content with using the iPad or iPad Pro for business, as a tablet-optimized version of macOS doesn't exist. Most Windows tablets are built to surf the web, run Office apps, and perform other very light computing tasks, but they are also compatible with the gamut of security applications, VPN and email clients, and countless hardware peripherals such as printers, scanners, and network-attached storage (NAS) devices. We wouldn't run an entire business on a tablet, but one can be a nice take-along unit for an offsite meeting or used as a portable alternative to your 6-pound big-screen bruiser of a workstation. Microsoft (the Surface line) and Lenovo are the key players in this market for business Windows tablets.Chromebooks for Business: Simple and AffordableWith the cloud becoming omnipresent in our computing lives at both work and home, Chromebooks are more viable options than ever for laptops devoted to work activity. These laptops are restricted to using Google's Chrome OS, which began as a souped-up version of the popular web browser. Android apps from the Google Play Store (such as the Microsoft Office suite or Adobe Photoshop Lightroom) extend Chromebooks' abilities, but they often lack features found on the Windows-based versions of the same programs. Businesses that run their core applications on the Google suite may find Chromebooks useful under certain circumstances, though, as emailing and communications stations. If web-based collaboration is key to your workflow, a Chromebook could be enough, and because Chromebooks don't need powerful hardware to run most web apps, they generally cost a lot less than other business laptops. Some Chromebooks designed for work do have beefier processors and more memory. Our general takeaway, though, is that under most circumstances, they tend to work better as adjunct than primary machines in most businesses.Mobile Workhorses: Our Top BetsTake some time to consider the nature of your particular job. Doing so should point you toward the ideal business laptop. Paying a little extra for more power or capabilities now will save you headaches down the road. The added value of a longer warranty (some business laptops come with three years), specialized tech support, and a more ruggedized frame (fortified by carbon fiber or magnesium alloy) are some of the extra benefits you may get with a business laptop. If your work is graphics-intensive, you'll want to opt for a laptop with discrete graphics. When choosing a processor, you'll have to find the right balance between power for your applications and energy efficiency, and in selecting a battery, you'll need to choose between its capacity and weight. When you determine the best features for your needs, you can focus on just those laptops that incorporate them. And that's where our deep-dive reviews come in.Our current favorite business laptops are laid out below. We refresh the list often to include the newest products, and because of the large number of laptops we review every year, not every top-rated product makes the cut. For more, also see our overall top laptop picks, and if money is tight, our roundup of the best budget laptops is worth a read. If you're looking to fully outfit your work area, also check out our takes on the best business monitors, plus our favorite ergonomic keyboards and printers.
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