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How to Buy Laptops and Get the Best Deal: Consumer Class vs. Business Class

Updated on August 5, 2014

Do you know the difference between business and consumer class computers?

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It's Easy to Get a Cheap Computer

Understanding how to buy a computer and the differences between a business class and a consumer class machine is an important bit of knowledge that will both save you money on the purchase of your computer and guarantee that you will purchase a computer that will last you an appropriate length of time.

In my experience selling computers on a college campus, the following is the classic case of "I didn't know what I was buying". A student walks in with a laptop that has crashed as a result of a motherboard failure. The computer is less than two-years-old. The student bought the computer at some retailer offering the cheapest price and got exactly what they paid for: a cheap computer built to fail. Now, the repair costs more than the computer. If this student had only understood how to buy a computer and what he or she was paying for, they would have purchased something more reliable.

This happens a lot. And it happens because consumers assume that one computer is like any other and they don't truly understand how to buy a computer. Unfortunately, computers aren't all the same, and if you want to get the best value for your money when buying a computer, you'll buy a business class machine.

It's important to know this simple fact when beginning your search for the right computer: business class machines are better than consumer class machines. Unfortunately, few business class machines are sold in retail stores other than Apple computers (all Apple computers are business class machines).

Virtually every machine you'll find at a Best Buy or a Walmart is a consumer class machine. And while they're cheap, the old adage "you get what you pay for" applies. Don't know the basic differences between the two? Here's a short guide:

  1. Consumer class machines are built with the cheapest parts and may differ across the same model while business class machines have the same parts in the same model - this means that you could buy two Dell Inspiron computers of the same exact model number and they could be filled with different parts. Basically, this means the quality suffers.
  2. Consumer class machines are built to be obsolete. Business class machines are built to last - this point has a lot to do with how they are made, but among other things, driver software in consumer class machines often isn't supported after one year and can cause problems.
  3. Consumer class machines generally come with a shorter warranty than business class machines - this is a direct comment, by the manufacturer, that they know the latter will last longer.
  4. Consumer class machines are less secure than business class machines - basically, consumer class machines are more prone to security breaches.

Know your laptops
Know your laptops | Source

These are some of the basic differences between the two classes and the link I have provided below goes into more detail about them. If you take my advice and decide to buy a business class machine, look for these models (most likely on the manufacturer's web site):

  1. Dell Latitude
  2. HP Probook
  3. Lenovo ThinkPad
  4. Apple

And a short note about Apple. As I said, all Apple computers are business class machines and have the reputation of being more expensive. However, if you shop at an Apple Retail Store and have any educational affiliation, make sure to ask for an educational discount. This might save you hundreds of dollars on the spot. Don't be afraid to negotiate with an Apple salesperson. They are paid on commission and will often bend over backwards to sell you a computer. If you're not affiliated with an educational institution or don't have a child in school, tell them you found a lightly used previous generation online for a great price. I can almost guarantee they'll give you some kind of price break.

Happy shopping!


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