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.

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When a consumer laptop fails, you'll typically need to ship or carry the unit (at your own expense) to a service depot for diagnostics and repair. You'll rarely get a guaranteed turn-around time; and if a component needs to be replaced, you'll receive no assurance that they'll have the parts in stock. In a worst-case scenario, your laptop could be missing in action for weeks.

Businesses can't afford to have their employees sit around twiddling their thumbs as they wait for their laptop to be fixed. An enterprise IT department will have loaner units on hand, and they'll often perform the repairs in-house or deal with the vendor directly. Small businesses can save beaucoup bucks in lost productivity by taking advantage of the on-site service and short-turnaround guarantees (typically 24 hours, not including transit time if the unit must go back to the factory) that come with the purchase of a business laptop.

Consumer tech support varies in its efficiency, but it's generally a hit-or-miss proposition that often can be conducted only via email or online chat. If there is a 1-800 support number, it's unlikely to be available 24/7, and you'll probably experience long hold times. Software issues might not be covered at all.A

Business travelers who must finish their work before a big meeting need their problems solved right away, so support policies for business laptops are far more robust. While they're typically optional--to spare the expense for IT departments that do their own support--24/7/365 telephone tech support is nearly always available, and it includes software support.

So what'll it be, business or consumer?

This article may sound a tad like I'm shilling business laptops. I'm not. They tend to be more expensive at the outset, and their higher cost of ownership doesn't make sense for non-business buyers who can DIY.

If you're not purchasing a fleet of laptops, you aren't completely reliant upon your laptop for your livelihood (smartphones and tablets are bearable stopgaps these days), a consumer laptop should fill your business's needs.

But if time is money in your world, then the better support, longer warranties, extended lifecycle, and added security features of business laptops will save you some cash over the long haul--even if your "fleet" consists of a single laptop.

Consumers should, for the most part, stick with consumer products. Buying a higher-end model will get you many of the features you'll find in a business laptop, but for less money (although you're unlikely to find vPro or HP's SureStartA in any consumer SKUs).

This story, "Laptops for Work and Play: The Differences That Matter" was originally published by PCWorld.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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