Laptops for Work and Play: The Differences That Matter

Laptops come in so many flavors: There are thin-and-lights, convertibles, desktop replacements, 2-in-1s,A gaming rigs, and even portable workstations. But all laptops can be lumped into one of two buckets: Consumer or business. I'll show you what makes them different, and help you decide which is right for your needs.

By Jon L. Jacobi
Wed, February 19, 2014

PC World — Laptops come in so many flavors: There are thin-and-lights, convertibles, desktop replacements, 2-in-1s,A gaming rigs, and even portable workstations. But all laptops can be lumped into one of two buckets: Consumer or business. I'll show you what makes them different, and help you decide which is right for your needs.

Laptop manufacturers make it easy to tell which machines are built for business use and which are more suited for consumers by putting different labels on them: Lenovo sells IdeaPads to consumers and ThinkPads to businesses.A Dell's XPS and Inspiron models are aimed at consumers, while its Latitude lineup is targeted at businesses.

Toshiba uses the Satellite, Qosmio, and Kirabook brands for consumer machines, and the Tecra brand for business rigs. With Acer, it's Aspire for consumers and TravelMate for business users. HP slices the onion thinner than all the rest: TheyA sell consumer notebooks under the Pavilion, TouchSmart, Envy, Spectre, and Split lines, and they market business laptops under the G-series, EliteBook, Pro, ProBook, and ZBook brands.

The next most obvious factor is the price tag: Business-oriented laptops can cost twice as much as consumer models. Both types of machines are based on similar components, and both types run the same basic operating system and software. Do the big PC manufacturers just think businesses have deeper pockets than consumers?

There might be an element of truth to that, but it certainly doesn't tell the whole story. The PC market is incredibly competitive and profit margins are razor thin. The primary reason why business PCs cost more than consumer models is because businesses--large and small--want computers that are built to last and easy to maintain.

Business laptops also come with longer warranties, stockpiled units and replacement parts, robust tech support, extra security features, and remote-management capabilities. The cost of those attributes is reflected in the price tag of the product. Once you understand those differentiators, you can decide if they're worth the added expense.

Durability and lifecycle

Business laptops are expected to remain in service much longer than consumer notebooks, and they're expected to withstand at least a little rough handling. As such, they're usually fabricated from stronger material--aluminum or magnesium, for instance--and they feature more rugged construction. Consumer laptops--especially budget models--are often built using copious amounts of plastic.

Most businesses standardize on one or a few laptop models, and they keep them in service for at least three years. This stability reduces the tech-support burden on the company's IT department. When a manufacturer introduces a new business laptop, they often commit to keeping the exact same machine available for 18 months to 5 years, so its corporate customers can add to their fleets down the road.A

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