If you’ve ever shopped around for a new laptop, you may have noticed that all the big manufacturers – Dell, Lenovo, HP, etc. – commonly offer both consumer and business class laptops. It’s been this way since the dawn of the home computer industry, but it can still be a confusing distinction for anyone caught in an aisle of glowing display screens or shopping online. So what exactly is the difference between these two classes, why are business class machines typically much more expensive, and how do you know which one is right for you?
Depending on your usage, your laptop may either sit quietly on your desk at all times, or circumnavigate the globe several times in a hastily packed suitcase. Obviously, build quality will matter more to those globetrotters whose system are rarely in a fixed position, and for those people, business class is for them.
Many business class laptops have cases reinforced with various grades of aluminum and magnesium, or encased entirely within it. It’s various components, such as the hinges also tend to be made from metal. Some are even made to be scratch, smudge, and water-resistant. Consumer grade on the other hand tends to be built mostly from generic plastic and always feel a great deal less sturdy.
Regardless, it’s always a bad idea to drop your laptop or bang it in any way, so durability might not be a big deal when you’re just using it around the home. If, on the other hand, you’re completely butterfingered and your system’s lifespan is sure to be short regardless of the build quality, then you’ll be falling back on the warranty, which is more often than not better for business laptops. Things like next-business day onsite warranties are often sold with business types, where with consumer grade, you may be stuck returning it to the store it was purchased from.
If your laptop is used exclusively for watching Netflix from beneath a blanket fort, then you’re basically good to go even with nothing attached. However, if you’re a poweruser in the office who likes to juggle their windows between two or more monitors, then the expanded connectivity of a business-grade laptop is going to be extremely important.
Most business laptops come with a plethora of ports and connectors to customize your workspace with. You’ll most likely find your favourite video plugs on the side of a business laptop; VGA, DVI, Displayport, HDMI, Mini displayport. They also tend to include more USB ports than their consumer grade contemporary. This means that you can plug more devices in at once, without needing to juggle.
Better yet, some laptops just come prepared to marry with a docking station, expanding the number of ports to greater levels, while allowing you to disconnect it easily to take elsewhere. Consumer grades rarely come with any equivalent to a good dock, which may not be a problem to home users.
If you have ever bought a laptop from a Best Buy or Wal-Mart, you’ve probably found it to be filled to the eyeballs with software you probably won’t ever use. Free trials for anti-virus software, a storefront for games, drive encryption software, media players, and other junk that just takes up space and slows down your new hardware.
Business grade laptops don’t typically deal with that. The manufacturer may throw in some networking or battery preserving software, but that can often just be ignored. It’s a lot easier to get a business laptop shaved down to just the bare Windows install than it is to drag all those demos and trials out of a consumer grade.
In general, it’s much easier to get into the guts of a business laptop, as they more frequently use your standard Phillips head screw to hold themselves together. A consumer grade laptop can hold all sorts of surprises, such as Torx or Pentalobe fasteners. They may hide their RAM modules under the keyboard or have the motherboard fully removed to access the hard drive bay. This can frustrate any attempts to upgrade or replace the hardware.
That’s not to say that a business laptop is guaranteed to allow easy access – slimmer models in particular are sometimes impossible to service – but there’s a good chance that any standard unit will let you access its innards.
Perhaps the only area where a consumer laptop is more appetizing is when it comes to the pricetag. Between two systems with equivalent specs, the consumer model will almost assuredly be somewhere in the range of $100-$200 cheaper. There’s certainly a lot of value in paying the extra chunk of change for a business model, but if you’re only going to be using your system for browsing Facebook, there’s nothing wrong with the more frugal option.
WHICH IS BEST FOR YOU?
While the benefits of business class laptops exceed those of their consumer grade brethren, there’s a reason why the two options exist. If the only plans you have for a laptop is Netflix binging and social media consuming, then consumer grade systems will give you more bang for your buck. If you do all your business on a system and absolutely need it to work, then business class is for you. Just remember that neither system class is invulnerable and should be treated with care.