Notebook Holiday 2009 Buyer’s Guide: Business

by Reads (8,495)

This category of notebooks, as the name suggests, is all business … all the time. These notebooks cover almost every size and shape from lightweight laptops designed for road warriors to thick and heavy “workstation” class machines designed for IT professionals and graphic artists. Business notebooks, by definition, are designed specifically to meet the needs of businesses, so all the notebooks in this category are available with special warranties, next-day service agreements, and enhanced technical support. Despite the welcome arrival of Windows 7, most of these business-class notebooks are either available with Windows XP or significant support for Windows XP (for all those IT professionals who maintain corporate networks running only Windows XP).

The more expensive business notebooks in this list have better build quality and ruggedness than the less expensive business notebooks, but small businesses or companies needing to purchase large numbers of notebooks for a mobile workforce may find budget-priced business notebooks more appealing than the rugged notebooks priced at more than $1,500 a piece.

Less Than $800

Lenovo G550


The new Lenovo G550 is an update to the Value Line G530 with the primary difference being the shift from a 16:10 to a 16:9 screen. This is becoming a common trend for most manufacturers, as they shift to the now more standardized 16:9 screens. The Lenovo G550 is a very solid and durable notebook, but it’s missing some of the features that were standard on the older G530. We would still gladly take this well-built laptop over a lot of the small-business targeted notebooks on the market, but it is just a shame that the Value Line is no longer as nice as it once was.

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HP ProBook 4510s


The HP ProBook 4510s is a 15.6″ business notebook designed to provide solid performance at a low price for small and medium businesses. If your company wants the HP Elitebook 8530p but doesn’t have the budget to spend $1,350 per laptop, the ProBook 4510s might be a good alternative at a starting price of just $529. The nice keyboard and attractive design certainly make this laptop a worthwhile option, but plastic construction, uncomfortable touchpad design, and difficult upgrades might give potential buyers reasons to reconsider a purchase.

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$800-$1,500

Lenovo ThinkPad T400


The T400 ThinkPad is the much-loved 14.1″ business notebook sold by Lenovo. Lenovo added a new high-brightness screen option as well as quietly updated the keyboard structure to limit some of the flex we noted in our first review. We managed to get 5 hours and 58 minutes of battery life with the 6-cell battery. The updated keyboard support is our favorite change, knowing that Lenovo listened to feedback from users and improved the design. Overall, if you are in the market for a business notebook that is usable in direct sunlight, the T400 with the high-brightness screen option is the way to go.

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Lenovo ThinkPad T400s


Lenovo took the popular T400 and created a lighter, thinner, and completely redesigned T400s. The keyboard change is significant, but for all intents and purposes they stuck with the tried-and-true design. The keys feel the same and the core layout is the same with only a few changes to the function and media keys. The super slim and lightweight design is excellent, moving to a layout that is easier to service by the end-user. The inclusion of eSATA and DisplayPort is something that should have come sooner, considering that the T400 doesn’t offer a digital video output without a docking station. If you are in the market for a new ThinkPad and don’t mind spending a bit extra for something thin and lightweight, the T400s is a great choice.

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Toshiba Tecra R10


The Toshiba Tecra R10 is an attractive 14.1″ business notebook featuring the latest Intel processors and Nvidia Quadro NVS 150M wrapped inside an impressively thin shell. The Tecra R10 inherits its good looks from Toshiba’s Portege line of business notebooks but it offers that attractive design at a lower price. The Toshiba Tecra R10 is the best looking, best performing Tecra notebook we’ve seen in years. Still, the R10 is not without its flaws. Designers seemingly had some trouble figuring out where to put things in this notebook since the ExpressCard slot, fingerprint reader, and quick launch keys all should have been located elsewhere. Despite these complaints, the R10 offers a nice balance of design, performance, and price.

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More than $1,500

Dell Latitude XT2


The Dell Latitude XT2 is a business-grade convertible notebook, offering multi-touch finger and digitized pen controls. With a slim and boxy chassis it might not look as cool as some consumer tablets, but it ends up being easier to carry and more compact for easy travel. Build quality is above and beyond even similar Latitude series notebooks thanks to a very rugged chassis. The keyboard is comfortable to type on and feels almost better than the legendary ThinkPad keyboard. Overall, if you are looking for a very portable tablet designed to hold up to the rigors of daily business use, the Dell Latitude XT2 is a great choice. The only big downside to this model is the high price tag and lower battery life, but if you can live with those issues it is hard to find a superior model.

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Lenovo ThinkPad X200 Tablet


To compete in the tablet market, Lenovo offers a touchscreen and Wacom-enabled version of its 12-inch ThinkPad X200. With a starting retail price of $1,909, it is priced at almost $500 less than the Dell Latitude XT2, which is its primary competitor. Battery life was excellent with the 8-cell battery, reaching 8 hours and 48 minutes on the Wacom-enabled sunlight readable version, and 5 hours and 32 minutes on the touchscreen model. Overall performance was very good on both models with little impact to battery life or system temperatures. Considering the low starting price compared to the Dell XT2, the ThinkPad X200 Tablets are a clear winner.

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Dell Latitude E6400 XFR


The Dell Latitude E6400 XFR is a 14.1″ rugged business notebook based on the standard E6400 with a new chassis built around the same internal components to make it rugged and waterproof. The chassis offers rubber bumpers, a built-in carrying handle for easy transport, and completely dust and weatherproof access panels covering all external ports. Dell stands head and shoulders above other rugged notebook manufacturers thanks to the inclusion of high-end components, including dedicated graphics, instead of taking a low-voltage and low-heat approach. The performance of the E6400 XFR is well above other rugged notebooks, but this comes at the cost of battery life. This notebook saw just under 4 hours of battery life, where the Getac B300 with a slower and more efficient processor got almost 9 hours. If you need something that is as powerful as a mobile workstation–but with a fully rugged chassis–the Dell E6400 XFR is a good notebook to consider.

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HP EliteBook 8730w


The HP EliteBook 8730w is the largest workstation in HP’s current lineup of business notebooks. Featuring the latest Intel processors and Nvidia Quadro graphics and available with HP’s exclusive 17-inch “DreamColor” display, the EliteBook 8730w might be a graphic artist’s best friend. The HP EliteBook 8730w is probably the most balanced workstation-class 17″ notebooks we’ve seen. This notebook is designed more for desktop replacement than it is for mobility, but the 8730w is thinner and lighter than other 17-inch workstations. That said, HP didn’t sacrifice durability when making this machine thinner and lighter.

In terms of overall value, the EliteBook 8730w strikes an excellent balance between price and performance. If you just need a basic configuration for your office then the starting price of $1,699 is pretty impressive … particularly since a ThinkPad W700 costs several hundred dollars more and is bigger and heavier to boot. Of course, for those professionals who need the absolute best performance, the 8730w is available in configurations costing more than $4,000 … so there’s something for almost every budget.

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Keep in mind that this list doesn’t include every business notebook currently available on the market. This section of our buyer’s guide merely highlights some of the recent business-oriented laptops we’ve reviewed that our editors think deserve your attention. Be sure to take a look at the other reviews published on NotebookReview.com.

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