It seems like computer manufacturers have split personalities. People are confused by this all the time. What’s really the difference between a “business” Dell Latitude Laptop and a “consumer” Dell Inspiron? Why Does HP Sell a Presario and a ProBook? And why can’t I find the ProBook and the Latitude at the store where I buy paper and staplers?
For years, large PC manufacturers have marketed some systems to the purchasing departments of businesses and others through retailers direct to consumers. As more services migrate to the cloud, and companies adopt “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) policies, the endpoint chosen matters less and less, however there are still some differences worth noting.
There are some advantages to the retail channel. You can try the computer out before you buy it. Retailers have big showrooms and typically very generous return policies. Comparitively, vendors of enterprise computers often charge restocking fees, and the only way to try a business computer is generally to order one. If you want to take a computer home this afternoon, retail is still pretty much the only way to do that. And if you want support, there is a degree of comfort in knowing that you can always just take your computers to the mall, even if it’s Sunday.
For almost all businesses, and even many individuals, there are some strong reasons to skip the retail experience and select computers intended for business use from an authorized reseller. Here are six.
Choose Your Operating System.
Everyone has an opinion about Windows 8, but if you’d like a computer that arrives with Windows 7 on it (and a free upgrade to Windows 8.1 when you’re ready) enterprise computers are worth a look. If you go to a big box retail store, they will tell you that Windows 7 is yesterday’s news, but in the enterprise computing world, it is alive and well.
Security, Domains, and Remote Access
Windows Home Premium and the entry level version of Windows 8.1 can’t join a corporate domain. Corporate domains improve security and allow “single sign-on” which means you don’t have to put in your password as frequently. They also allow administrators to automate tasks such as patch management and software installation. Typically, a professional IT vendor won’t want to deal with “home” versions of the Windows operating system because it makes their job a lot harder. A key difference of business computers is that they come preloaded with Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8.1 Professional, which has all the security, remote access, and management tools built in. Upgrading a retail computer to the “Professional” version of Windows is technically possible, but can be cost prohibitive.
On Site Support
When you buy an enterprise grade machine from an authorized reseller, it typically comes with next business day onsite support, provided free by the manufacturer. This means that if your mother’s motherboard dies an untimely death, vendors like HP and Dell will generally send someone out to take care of it, free, but only if you selected a “business” pc.
Lenovo’s business laptops have metal hinges. Their consumer laptops have flimsy plastic hinges. Does the screen snap in to the bottom panel or just kind of flop over? Does the keyboard bend when you type hard? Business laptops are built for a longer and harder life compared to their consumer counterparts. You’re also going to find it’s easier to find one with premium upgrades like a discrete graphics card or a solid state drive.
IT Administrators refuse to spend hours uninstalling terrible software, so you won’t get much of that if you select an enterprise PC. Sure, you might get a “free trial” of some lousy antivirus, but that’s about it. Some consumer PC’s come preinstalled with dozens of programs that seem to be designed to annoy people and serve no discernible useful purpose.
Market research shows that when people look at computers under harsh fluorescent lighting, they will buy the one that has more contrast and saturation, deeper blacks, and a shinier surface. Virtually every computer you’ll find in a big box retailer has a shiny glossy screen, which is less than ideal for almost any other viewing conditions.
One exception worth mentioning is that Apple, despite their religious and exclusive embrace of the retail channel, consistently builds high quality computers that seem to delight everyone on all fronts. You don’t see a lot of them in the business world for two reasons. 1. Because it runs on Apple’s operating system, the tools that are available to manage an office full of Macs just aren’t comparable with what a talented administrator can do with an office full of PC’s. 2. Apple just isn’t very interested in working with resellers. For reasons that might be insane, brilliant, or both, they insist that the right way to buy computers is to stand in line at the mall. We hope they will change their minds about this someday.
Astonishingly, the difference in price between business and consumer computers is often negligible. There are strong options for business desktops and business laptops starting at $500. It’s certainly possible to spend much more than that on a system that doesn’t have any of these benefits, and if you’re outfitting an office, even a small advantage can have a cumulative effect. Unfortunately, while large companies have been using the enterprise channel for years, small business owners often aren’t aware of the option of computers designed for business and inadvertently miss out on some benefits that would save them time and money.