Finding the Right Work Laptop
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 Memory)
Dual-core processors, particularly the Intel Core i3, i5, and i7 series, have long been the norm in business PCs, though quad-core processors such as the 8th Generation (“Kaby Lake R”) Intel Core i5 and i7s, or hexa-core units like the latest top-end Intel “Coffee Lake” mobile CPUs, are now available for more strenuous business applications. You can even find a hexa-core Intel Core i9, previously limited to desktops, in some larger workstation-grade machines meant for designers, engineers, and serious data crunchers.
At the other end of the spectrum, power-saving processors such as Intel’s Y-series Core i3, i5, and i7 have largely supplanted chips from the Intel Atom and Core M lines 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 know what you’re looking at. Chips a step up from the Y series in the Intel mobile-CPU world tend to end in a “U” and are the mainstream choice.
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.
If your business still uses software that requires Windows 7 Pro, look specifically for laptops with older 6th Generation Intel Core processors (chips with a “-6xxx” model number). Laptops with 7th and 8th Generation Intel Core processors require Windows 10.
Also, look for 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, if You Can: Storage Solutions
With businesses using video, multimedia PowerPoint slides, and multi-megapixel photos in staff meetings, opting for a spacious hard drive is a good idea. 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.
These days, you won’t find less than a 128GB capacity for a solid-state boot drive on a business-centric Windows machine or on an Apple MacBook, but upping the amount to 256GB or 512GB is a good idea if you can afford it.
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 and Dedicated
Most 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” and indicates a mainstream business machine. The most common dedicated graphics chips in laptops, as a whole, are from Nvidia’s GeForce GTX line, but they are not usual fare in business machines. GeForce GTX 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 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 becoming more common, 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 Options
A 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, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 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.
Don’t discount good old Ethernet entirely, though: 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. The faster 4G LTE wireless will give you transfer speeds rivaling what you get from a Wi-Fi connection, and it’s available from the top cellular networks with the most coverage, notably AT&T, Sprint, 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: Know Your Battery
A 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 Tablets
Price 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 like the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 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 business-laptop bruiser.
Chromebooks for Business: Simple and Affordable
With 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. Business 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 Bets
Take 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.
Pros: Wonderfully compact and light. Three screen choices: bright 1080p, privacy-filter 1080p, and 4K. Crisp keyboard. Good array of ports, including two Thunderbolt 3. Marathon battery life. Impressive audio.
Cons: No SD card slot. Clumsy cursor-arrow keys.
Bottom Line: Business convertibles don’t come any better than the HP EliteBook x360 1030 G3, an executive 2-in-1 that combines ample power with a sunny 13.3-inch screen and a snappy keyboard in a petite 2.76-pound package.
Pros: Healthy battery life. Strong build quality and performance. Excellent input devices. Plenty of ports, including Thunderbolt 3.
Cons: Standard warranty is only one year. Battery isn’t swappable. Inconvenient microSD card slot.
Bottom Line: Lenovo’s ThinkPad X390 ultralight combines strong build quality, zippy performance, and a great keyboard into a winning recipe for a productive travel laptop.
Pros: Very bright, polarized screen. Long-lasting batteries are hot-swappable. Extensive selection of accessories.
Cons: Keyboard cover is a pricey extra. Unresponsive touchpad.
Bottom Line: The Dell Latitude 7212 is a well-designed, tough detachable Windows tablet that can take pretty much anything you (and nature) can throw at it. And compared with the rugged competition it’s a relative bargain.
Pros: Proximity sensor streamlines sign in. Sturdy, sleek chassis. Thin screen bezels, and relatively large 14-inch screen. Excellent touchpad and keyboard. Three-year warranty. Prime-time battery life.
Cons: Relatively low maximum screen brightness. Lackluster audio quality.
Bottom Line: With a deluxe chassis, keyboard, and touchpad, paired with a snappy sign-in feature and superb battery life, Dell’s Latitude 7400 2-in-1 is a top contender among business convertibles.
Pros: Elegant detachable design. Spiffy screen. More lap-friendly than tablets with kickstands. Strong performance and battery life.
Cons: Expensive. No backlit keyboard. Mediocre cameras.
Bottom Line: It could use a $50 or $100 price cut, but HP’s pioneering Chromebook x2 detachable joins Google’s $999 Pixelbook as the elite of the Chrome OS field.
Pros: Powerful, VR-ready Nvidia Quadro graphics and six-core Intel CPU. Gorgeous 4K touch screen. Classic ThinkPad keyboard does not disappoint.
Cons: A pound overweight. Brief battery life.
Bottom Line: Thumping its peers in our testing, Lenovo’s Quadro-based ThinkPad P52 raises the bar for beefy 15.6-inch mobile workstations in almost every regard.
Pros: Premium build quality. Thin and light. Very good battery life. Quick charging.
Cons: Expensive. Finicky touch screen. Anemic speakers. No Ethernet port.
Bottom Line: The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon offers premium features in a slim and attractive package that business users will love-just be prepared to open your wallet wide for this top-notch ultraportable laptop.
Pros: Premium alloy construction. Elegant convertible design. Sharp high-resolution touch display in new larger size. Discrete Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics. Very long battery life. Multiple configuration options. Xbox wireless controller receiver is integrated.
Cons: 16GB RAM maximum. Surface Pen is an additional purchase. Adding SSD storage is pricey. Some finicky issues required troubleshooting in our tests.
Bottom Line: The Surface Book 2 is a feat of design, a top-of-the-line premium convertible 2-in-1 laptop that’s fast, long lasting, versatile, and portable. It’s even up for gaming.
Pros: Unbelievably light for its screen size. Sunny 1080p screen. Good battery life.
Cons: No Thunderbolt 3 port or SD card slot. Screen is reflective. Beaucoup bloatware.
Bottom Line: The lightest 15.6-inch laptop the world has ever seen, Acer’s 2.2-pound Swift 5 is a design landmark whose portability outweighs its minor imperfections.
Pros: Speedy new 8th Generation Intel processor. Good battery life. Premium feel. Sleek all-black color option. Brilliant display. Well-implemented kickstand.
Cons: Minimal changes from previous model. As ever, keyboard sold separately. Not ideal for in-lap use. Somewhat restrictive configuration combinations. Limited ports.
Bottom Line: With a modest speed boost and a new color choice, the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 may not have changed much from the previous iteration, but what we loved about this 2-in-1 convertible then, we still love now.