How are Lenovo, HP, and Dell Still the Top Three Business Laptop Providers?

Trying to replace my laptop has led to a conundrum. If you read the reviews in computer and laptop magazines, the best business laptops on the market are from Lenovo, HP, and Dell. With a few exceptions, everything else is a cut below. But if you read the comments of the system administrators who have to deal with these laptops, the regard with which they are held by so many of the magazines is baffling.

Some background: not all laptops are created equal. Consumer grade laptops are built to last a couple of years with light use. Business laptops are built to last several years with heavy use. They cost more, but what you are paying for is all build quality — the chassis are better, the components are easier to access for maintenance, there’s more emphasis on backwards compatibility, and the interior is made to minimize problems with heat (a big killer when it comes to laptop components).

(For example, my laptop has an accelerometer attached to the hard drive — if the laptop ever enters freefall, the hard drive is automatically parked to prevent damage. You won’t find a consumer laptop that can pass basic military standard testing, but there are plenty of business laptops that can, my own included.)

At least, that’s the theory. And, when I bought my last laptop (an HP ProBook 455 G3), it held true. I bought the laptop in 2016, and it had a removable battery, optical drive, and VGA port (all of which get used). I am only just now having trouble with the HDMI handshake when I use it as a media PC. If I hadn’t discovered too late that I had bought a laptop with the wrong screen resolution for my needs — it’s HD instead of Full HD — I wouldn’t be looking for a replacement now that the warranty has expired.

What I’m reading — and finding — is shocking. Lenovo’s business grade laptops not only have an issue with overheating, they have a problem with keys falling off, and I’ve seen this in person with my wife’s Lenovo business-grade laptop (which, after she bought it refurbished, started having its chassis break). If you’re buying a computer for anything mission-critical, bits should not be falling off. Any laptop with this problem is not fit for business use. The basic quality problems are bad enough that one laptop reviewer, after giving a glowing review to the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon and buying one for himself, ended up writing a piece on Tom’s Hardware in which he retracted his positive review.

But Lenovo doesn’t hold a candle to Dell. Dell business laptops right now have a big problem with batteries swelling and creating an explosion and fire hazard. Despite the fact that this creates a bona fide physical danger to whoever uses it, there has been no recall. Not only that, Dell was sued in 2010 for knowingly providing their customers with faulty equipment, and when they broke, knowingly replacing them with more faulty equipment. On top of this, Dell’s warranty states that they will use “new and refurbished parts,” with the refurbished parts being those that were returned to Dell previously by customers. This means that a Dell customer can send a laptop in for warranty repair, and have it come back with a replacement part that itself was sent in for being faulty.

HP doesn’t come across quite as badly as Lenovo or Dell (not to say that there aren’t complaints by systems administrators, but there is nothing on the level of bits falling off or swelling batteries), but my own discoveries while looking for a replacement (and I looked at HP first) are telling. HP seems to have abandoned backwards compatibility — none of the new EliteBooks or G6 ProBooks have a VGA port or optical drive option, or seem to have a removable battery. And, as somebody who owns a small business and is a sessional instructor at a university, one of the points of buying a business-grade laptop is to avoid having to deal with multiple USB dongles and peripherals, and to have easy maintenance. Every extra step that I have to take to get something done — such as attaching a USB external optical drive and waiting for the driver to load — is time that I could have spent being productive, and losing my laptop for a day or two so that somebody in a repair shop can change its battery (as opposed to just getting a new one and swapping it out myself) is just not right.

With the situation as it is, I don’t think any of the “big three” should be considered the best of the best for business use. In the case of an unfortunate Dell user, they may be taking their safety into their hands every time they turn on their laptop. None of this is acceptable for a mission-critical system. And yet, laptop magazines continue to sing Lenovo, Dell, and HP praises, even as systems administrators and customers have to deal with overheating, bits falling off, backwards compatibility being left at the wayside, and dangerous batteries.

I don’t claim to know the reason for this. Part of it could be that laptop reviewers have to turn in their reviews before the laptop in question has a chance to fail, and it could be that the laptop companies are sending the magazines machines that are not representative of what gets sold to businesses. Either way, when the people who are attempting to review laptops for business use are singing praises while the systems administrators who have to maintain them are pulling their hair out in frustration, there is a massive disconnect.

For me, there is some good news. ASUS seems to have an alternative that fits my needs in their ASUSPRO laptop line, and I’ve got my vendor pricing one out for me, with the options I need, right now. But as it stands, I wouldn’t touch any of the business laptop offerings from Lenovo, Dell, or HP — they just don’t make the cut.

AUTHOR’S NOTE/UPDATE

In what may be the dictionary definition of “irony,” it turns out that ASUS does not have a laptop that will fit my needs…because they won’t sell it to me.

To explain: I was looking at the ASUSPRO P2540UB, which has a built in VGA port and an optional optical drive — it also has the option of more storage space, and carrying both an SSD and an HDD. But the model they sell in Canada has no optical drive and only a 256GB SSD…and they won’t bring a model with more into Canada, even as a special order. Further, if you open the case to put new parts in and upgrade it yourself, they void the manufacturer’s warranty.

So, in a breathtaking display of stubbornness that approaches the line of false advertising, ASUS managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and I will now be buying one of the few HP ProBooks left that still have a VGA port (and just biting the bullet and getting an external optical disk drive to go with it).

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Robert B. Marks

Robert B. Marks is a writer, editor, and researcher. His pop culture work has appeared in places like Comics Games Magazine.