How to Choose the Right Laptop for Associations (Trade/Professional)

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Your association is due for new laptops. You know you need a machine that is powerful enough to handle your applications seamlessly, one that is durable enough to last, and one that is actually still portable once you factor those first two criteria in.
 
So...how does all that translate into the actual selection process?
 
After serving the technology needs of DC’s association community for over two decades, it’s safe to say we’ve lost count of how many times we’ve been asked about what kind of laptop makes the most sense for a particular organization. It’s an important question to ask, especially when the success of your mission is often so closely linked to the performance of your technology.
 
To help you set out on the right track, we’ll walk through each key element you’ll need to consider during your selection process, and offer our recommendation for what specifically you should look for in your machine.
 

What to Look for in Laptops for Your Association

Platform

There are three main options out there as far as platforms go:

  • Microsoft Windows. Microsoft has been around the longest, and is the mainstay in the market by a longshot (we’re talking upwards of 80% of the market share for use in business).
  • Mac OSX. Macs are perceived to be the “high end” of the three, and are generally used in highly graphics-oriented fields like photography or graphic design. These machines are attractive for their user-friendly interface, battery life, and low number of issues with viruses and malware.
  • Chrome. These machines run on Google’s Chrome OS, and are designed to be used with an Internet connection at all times. Most applications and documents are accessed from the cloud rather than locally (think Google Drive).

For associations, we tend to stick to Windows machines in our recommendations. Unless particular members of your organization deal very heavily in graphics across the board, the high price of Mac machines just doesn’t usually make much sense.
 
While there’s a chance your AMS and other software applications are web-based, we don’t recommend Chromes for your organization. This is a new technology platform that is (intentionally) limited in its overall capabilities, and the cost savings you might see are not enough given the risks.
 

Screen Size & Resolution

What is the laptop for? Will it be a desktop replacement that will occasionally go home with the staff member? Will it be for giving presentations at conferences? Will it be for a busy, traveling executive?
 
Your answer to this question will dictate what screen size you’ll want to select; while this is a feature that is largely up to personal preference, going much higher than the 15” range is going to negatively impact your laptop’s portability. The larger your screen, the heavier your machine is going to be.
 
Resolution can be a little more complicated. There are three main categories here:

  • 1366 x 786 / 1440 x 900. These two are in the same general class, and are the baseline for good quality displays. 1440 x 900 tends to be our recommendation across the board.
  • 1600 x 900. This is “HD plus.” It’s not necessary, but will give you cleaner display if that is important to you.
  • 1920 x 1080 and higher. Unless you do any work in Illustrator or Photoshop, you don’t need this “full HD” resolution.

 


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Processor & RAM

This piece is important, as it will determine the overall speed of your machine, its ability to perform complex tasks efficiently (such as working in multiple applications at the same time), and how quickly your applications will open.
 
We always (yes, always) recommend the Intel series of processors, which comes in three flavors: i3, i5, and i7. The higher the number, the higher the computing power. If your association is juggling multiple software packages—even if they aren’t particularly labor-intensive—you should focus on machines with an i5 processor at a minimum since an i3 will likely stutter.
 
Where Random Access Memory (RAM) is concerned, our baseline is 4GB; while some machines will start at 2GB, this really is just plain insufficient for how your applications and the web will pull on your machine.
 

Storage Capacity

There are three choices where storage in concerned:

  • Spinning hard disk (HDD). This is the cheapest route, with the drawback being that they make noise and break down more quickly than the other options (since it is literally a moving part that is prone to overheating). Machines with this type of storage must have a fan.
  • Solid state hybrid (SSHD). This is our typical recommendation. It is less expensive than a solid state drive, but still has the benefit of increased speed and ample capacity.
  • Solid state drive (SSD). You won’t need a fan with this advanced storage, but you will pay the price for it. This is much lighter and faster than the other options, and makes a lot of sense when the laptop is used heavily for travel.

A safe bet for your association will be a 500GB hybrid drive. Spinning hard disks should be a last resort, as the risk of overheating or breaking won’t be worth any level of cost savings.
 
Also, if your association handles sensitive information (such as Personally Identifiable Information), this is where you’ll also need to consider a drive that is inherently encrypted so that your data is safe even if your machine is lost or stolen.
 

Optical Drive

Unless your association frequently downloads by way of CDs or DVDs, you don’t need an optical drive. Period. (Especially since you can always buy a $19 external optical drive that connects via USB if you find out that you actually do need one.)
 

Connectivity

Make sure that your machine has wireless connectivity. Dual band is our standard recommendation here, with wireless AC compatibility being ideal if possible (this kind of connectivity is the “future of wireless,” if you will).
 
USB ports are also critical in most cases, as is an HDMI port if you’re going to connect your laptop to a monitor or TV.
 

Battery Consumption

This comes down to one simple question: how long will you need to be able to work without a power source? The biggest consideration here is that there’s an inverse correlation between battery life and portability; the longer your battery will keep you powered, the heavier it’s going to be.
 
The options are:

  • 4-cell. You’ll stay charged for 4-6 hours unplugged with this type.
  • 6-cell. This will give you 6-8 hours average.
  • 9-cell. We’re talking all-day power here, with 9-12 hours of battery life unplugged.

 
Hopefully all this will give you a head start when it comes to vetting all of the options out there. Beyond that, don’t feel that you have to go it alone when it comes to making your selection; especially if you’re looking to outfit a large portion of your staff with new machines, it’s important to get some expert guidance so that you can make sure your people will be able to stay productive, efficient, and dedicated to advancing your mission.
 


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