How to Buy a Small Business Notebook Computer - Page 2

By Thor Olavsrud
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 HP EliteBook 8440w; notebook computer
The HP EliteBook 8440w.
(Click for larger image)

Small Business Computing Specs

When it comes to notebook computers, the category will generally limit the range of other specifications and will thus be your most important top-level consideration. Still, as with other computers, key specifications include processor speed, memory and storage.

Processing Speed: The processor (CPU) is where most of your computer's calculations take place. A processor's speed, also called its clock rate, is the speed at which it executes instructions. Every computer contains an internal clock that regulates the rate at which instructions are executed and synchronizes all the various computer components.

The processor requires a fixed number of clock ticks (or clock cycles) to execute each instruction. The faster the clock, the more instructions the CPU can execute per second. The speed, measured in gigahertz (GHz), of a computer processor determines how quickly applications run.

Memory: Random Access Memory (RAM), or main memory, is the physical memory internal to the computer, somewhat akin to a person's short-term memory. Computers can only manipulate data that is in main memory, so every program you execute and every file you access must be copied from a storage device, like a hard drive, to main memory.

The amount of RAM determines how many programs can be executed at one time and how much data can be readily available to a program. Once the RAM is full, a computer must resort to a technique called swapping, in which portions of data are copied into main memory as they are needed and then swapped out as necessary. Adding RAM reduces the amount of swapping necessary to complete a given task, allowing the computer to work faster.

Storage: Storage is the computer's capacity to hold and retain data, measured in gigabytes (GB). While there are multiple types of storage, for the purpose of this buyer's guide, storage refers to the computer's hard drive. The larger the hard drive, the more applications and data you can save on your notebook PC.

To determine what you need in a notebook computer, assess the minimum software requirements of the software you need your notebook computer to run. You can find the specifications on the side of the software package and they are readily available online as well. The minimum requirements are just that -- the minimum. To run your software without headaches, you'll want to exceed them.

 HP ProBook 4720S; notebook computer
The HP ProBook 4720S.
(Click for larger image)

Notebook PC Specs: Processor

Though you might be tempted by the price of a Celeron-based notebook PC, we strongly recommend you select a model with a processor from Intel's Core family or AMD's Turion X2 Ultra line. Next-generation applications will be created with newer processors in mind. If you want to upgrade your software as updates and new versions become available -- and thus squeeze the most longevity out of your new machine -- you'll choose the more current processors. If you have decided to purchase a netbook, your best option is an Intel Atom processor.

While you should choose a newer processor, don't worry too much about processor speed. Yes, a 2.4 GHz processor is about 10 percent faster than a 2.2 GHz CPU, but you'd likely have to measure the speed with a PC benchmarking program to tell the difference.

Notebook PC Specs: RAM

RAM is a different story. It will have a noticeable effect on performance -- the more you have, the better. Small business technology buyers on a budget can scrape by with 2 GB, but step up to 3 GB or 4 GB if you can afford it.

As a rule of thumb for the specifications you'll want in your new notebook computer, take the minimum system requirements for the operating system and productivity suite you plan to run (Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2007, for instance) and sum them. Look for a notebook computer with specifications double that of the combined minimum system requirements.

Gateway NV7915u; notebook computer
The Gateway NV7915u.
(Click for larger image)

Notebook PC Specs: Connectivity

Wi-Fi wireless connectivity is a given in today's notebook computers. Most small business technology buyers will be fine with a machine with built-in 802.11g capability, as it will also be compatible with older (and slower) 802.11b networks. Some larger SMBs may have opted for 802.11a routers and hubs, and if that's your case, then look for an 802.11a/b/g chipset.

Many notebook computers are also compatible with the newer 802.11n wireless standard, which offers faster throughput and better range than the older Wi-Fi modes. It makes sense to get an 802.11n Wi-Fi notebook computer now, even if you have an older router or access point. When you do replace your wireless equipment it will likely be with an 802.11n unit, so you want your notebook computer to be able to take advantage of the speed.

Entrepreneurs who are frequent travelers may also want to consider getting a wireless broadband (also known as a wireless wide area network or WWAN) chipset and radio built in.

Notebook PC Specs: Durability and Security

By its nature, a notebook computer is vulnerable to being dropped, lost or stolen. So since your data is critical to your SMB, look for features that will protect it.

Better business notebook computers will have durable-but-lightweight magnesium (and in some cases, aluminum) outer shells (not plastic), as well as added shock- and vibration-protection around the hard drive and other internal components.

Road warriors will want to look for a machine with active hard-drive protection, which parks the hard drive heads should the machine sense a fall and hence protects the platter from impacting with the heads (a leading cause of data loss). A spill-resistant keyboard is also a plus; it can funnel away a spill of about six ounces of liquid without damage to the sensitive components underneath.

To keep your data safe should your notebook computer be lost or stolen, insist on a model with a fingerprint reader, which will prevent the typical thief from accessing your hard drive. If you carry true business secrets, you'll need to add another layer of security, such as a data-encryption program. Some machines now offer a built-in encryption utility, and some Seagate hard drives deliver on-the-fly data encryption capabilities.

Finally, be sure to have a data backup solution in place (and actually use it), so if the notebook computer dies or disappears all you lose is the hardware. Many notebook computer makers offer automatic online backup services for a monthly fee at time of purchase.

Small Business Notebooks: Sample Configs and Pricing

Vendor/Model Category  Processor Memory Hard Drive Other Base Price
Acer Aspire One 532H-2223 Netbook Intel Atom N450 (1.66 GHz) 1 GB 687 MHz DDR2 SDRAM 160 GB 2.76 lbs., 10.1-inch LCD, 802.11b/g/n, Windows 7 Starter $300
Sony VAIO VPC-Z116GXS Ultraportable Intel Core i5-520M (2.4 GHz) 4 GB 1066 MHz DDR3 256 GB SSD 3 lbs., 13.1-inch LCD, nVidia GeForce GT 330M graphics card, dual-layer DVD+/-RW, 802.11n, Windows 7 Professional $2,299
Lenovo ThinkPad X201 Tablet Ultraportable Tablet Intel Core i7-640LM (2.13 GHz) 2 GB PC3-8500 DDR3 SDRAM 1067MHz SODIMM 250 GB 4.2 lbs., 12.1-inch display, 802.11a/b/g/n, Windows 7 Professional $2,109
Lenovo ThinkPad SL510 Thin-and-light Intel Core i7-640LM (2.67 GHz) 4 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM 320 GB 5.6 lbs., 14.10-inch LCD, nVidia Quadro FX 380M graphics card, dual-layer DVD+/-RW, 802.11n, Windows 7 Professional $1,024
HP EliteBook 8440w Thin-and-light Intel Core i7-640LM (2.67 GHz) 4 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM 320 GB 5.6 lbs., 14.10-inch LCD, nVidia Quadro FX 380M graphics card, dual-layer DVD+/-RW, 802.11n, Windows 7 Professional $1,629
HP ProBook 4720S Midsize Intel Core i5-M450 (2.26 GHz) 4 GB 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM 500 GB 6.8 lbs., 17.3-inch LCD, ATI Mobility Radeon HD4500 graphics card, DVD SuperMultiDrive, 802.11b/g/n, Windows 7 Professional $1,059
Gateway NV7915u Desktop replacement Intel Core i3-330M (2.13 GHz) 4 GB DDR3 SDRAM 500 GB 7.4 lbs., 17.3-inch LCD, DVD+/-RW, 802.11b/g/n, Windows 7 Home Premium $570

Thor Olavsrud is a freelance writer and a former senior editor of InternetNews.com. He has covered operating systems, standards, telecom and security, among other technologies.


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This article was originally published on July 15, 2010
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