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Find out what other business leaders are asking in our Q&As, answered by Business on Main contributors, or suggest a question of your own.
Q: I'm a business owner, and I'm in the market for a new laptop. What criteria should I consider? I use my computer for managing finances and inventory and don't travel much beyond local meetings.
A:hat’s an increasingly complex question, as there are so many choices on the marketplace today: Ultrabooks, tablets, Mac machines versus Windows 8 machines, ultra-light browser-based laptops such as the Google Chrome and, of course, high-end multimedia PCs. As always, when you’re shopping for a laptop, you need to balance cost with specific needs for performance, features, portability (size, weight and battery life) and storage.

In your case, since multimedia (aka video streaming or graphics) and high storage needs aren’t a priority, you should be able to get a swinging deal on a new laptop. Average laptop prices these days are in the $500-to-700 range (higher for Macs, of course), which is barely more than buying a high-end tablet.

I chatted with a couple experts who help people buy PCs for more advice. “Take a serious look at an Intel i3 system instead of the i5 and i7 machines, which pack way more horsepower than you’ll need,” says Jeff Haynes, editor at Tech Bargains. “This will save you a lot of money on the computer outright.” He also suggests looking at used or refurbished PCs from reputable retailers. “Most units are checked and serviced by these companies before they’re sold, and they frequently come with limited warranties.”

Be sure to find out what the return policy is when you purchase a laptop, and look into price-matching programs that large retailers such as Best Buy may offer. It’s a buyer’s market for PCs and laptops today.

Also, you probably don’t need full HD displays and 3D video cards when you’re mostly using your laptop for finance and inventory work, Haynes adds. “Luckily, a core i3 machine has some basic graphics functionality built into the processor itself, so you can still watch videos, process images and handle other generic visual tasks with ease.”

Even if you don’t travel much, consider screen size if you move around your office or to offices nearby to visit clients. Russ Colburn of Colburn Consulting, Inc., a Microsoft reseller, says he recently switched to a 11.6-inch tablet running full Windows. “This allows me much more flexibility when working on site, while still giving me a full desktop experience.”

The new convertible tablet/laptop systems are also an interesting option for people who want the portability of a tablet but still need a practical solution for using a keyboard, without lugging around a lot of extra gear, Haynes says.

Storage is always a top consideration. What you choose will depend on whether you’ll be storing a large percentage of your files in the cloud (such as on DropBox or Microsoft SkyDrive) or whether you need to keep the files on your machine. If your local storage needs are low, a solid-state drive (SSD) offers fast access to files, says Colburn. Yet SSD can be expensive. “You can easily find a computer with a 500GB hard drive and have plenty of space for your files,” Hayne explains.

Finally, even though you’re purchasing a laptop for work, make sure it doesn’t limit you during downtime. After all, most small-business people today don’t have separate PCs for home and work. If you love to play games, watch videos or read e-books, look for a laptop or convertible tablet/laptop that can fulfill those requirements as well.
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