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I'm looking for some ammunition for upper management.

One of the things I get asked on a regular basis is...

"How come the laptops we buy for the office are so expensive when I can get a cheap from Best Buy."

So some of my standard answers are;

  1. Metal hinges
  2. Durable case
  3. Outstanding customer support
  4. 3 year warranty (standard, not purchased extra)

What else is there?

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Does this happen in other industries? Does a restaurant owner balk at a $10,000 commercial oven when you can get a consumer oven for $500 at Sears? –  user640 Jun 17 '09 at 15:40
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There is a large, visible difference between a commercial oven and a home oven, even to a lay-person. The PC industry try hard to say "everything has an Intel CPU and Windows", so the differences are far less obvious. –  crb Jun 17 '09 at 15:43
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I guess fundamentally the problem is that consumer gear doesn't list "breaks easily" and "doesn't exactly work right" on the list of features and benefits. –  user640 Jun 17 '09 at 15:45
    
I work in data mining, and we purchase gaming laptops, as they let us analyze datasets on fast GPUs, have crazy max RAM, and big 1080p screens. –  Neil McGuigan Dec 16 '12 at 22:03

23 Answers 23

up vote 14 down vote accepted

My thoughts ...

1- Durability and serviceability -- the "business class" systems are designed and engineered to be standardized and easily serviced.

2- Standard components and designs -- a line of machines are similar, so the techs don't have to figure out a bunch of systems. This is reliably worth several hundred dollars per machine over it's life.

3- Preloaded OS - XP/Vista Pro is required to join a domain, but most consumer laptops have XP/Vista home. There is $100 of the difference right there.

4- Warranty and Support differences between consumer and business.

If they insist, I suggest you buy a Dell consumer model and a similar Dell business model and show the differences, or take some pictures and make a report.

EDIT - someone downvoted .. how about a comment to indicate why? Corrections and differing viewpoints are welcomed!

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Add MS Office to this list: the consumer price won't include it. –  Joel Coel Jun 17 '09 at 16:01
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I agree with points 1, 2, and 4. Preloaded OS's and office software (at least in larger environments) don't really matter as MS EA agreements are usually in effect. –  Dayton Brown Jun 17 '09 at 16:43
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Dayton -- the MS agreements aren't available for small companies. We have < 200 PCs; I wish I could get an EA instead of having to keep track! And I get this very question every few months from come busybody in Accounting or a department manager. –  tomjedrz Jun 17 '09 at 17:19
    
Point taken. However, even in smaller offices, I usually don't purchase office with the PC as I'm usually transferring licenses. MS does have some newer licensing programs though that can help out with the < 1000 desktop/user count orgs. (And no I'm not getting paid by MS to say that.) –  Dayton Brown Jun 17 '09 at 18:04
    
some people are just pricks about downvoting, rise above the - besides I just upvoted you so they're down 2, you're up 8 :) –  Chopper3 Jun 17 '09 at 20:28
  • availability of docking station that can handle two independent displays [ it's usually both docking station and graphics card. to be precise ].
  • standarisation
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LOVE standardization. I'm super lazy and hate to spend all day creating a new image. –  Dayton Brown Jun 17 '09 at 16:44

More stable hardware - we buy mostly HPs, and for any model, they keep the specs stable for about a year. We've never bought consumer HPs, but when were buying Dells and went with the cheaper Inspirons, the hardware specs would change every month, which makes imaging a hassle.

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  • Standardize equipment (that way you don't have to be supporting XYZ manufacturers and models). This would lower their support cost in the long run. This is a big one for our company.

  • Warranty and service agreements These might end-up being cheaper with and enterprise solution (depending on the number of clients and sector). If you're in the Education sector, you most-likely will receive educational pricing on your purchases.

  • Customer Support We have a representative we contact every single time we need to make a purchase, have questions, or need to arrange a return of some kind. You will NEVER get that with a 'consumer-class' purchase.

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Buy your laptops and machines from someone like Dell and chances are you can run a standard build, improving support, security and downtime as if something goes wrong software-wise you can rebuild the machine in an hour or so, not a day.

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I would say warranty, support, and detailed specs. I guess you could say you're "paying a premium" to be able to fully customize the machine and know exactly what's in the box. Standardization is definitely one of the major reasons we buy direct from Dell.

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For Windows laptops, the cheap ones come with Home edition, which does not support domains.

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Warranty and spare parts for business laptops (system boards, RAM, hard drives) are kept in stock by manufacturers a lot longer for business laptops.

IBM will still sell you a part for a T20 series laptop, even if they have to have it shipped from another country. From a consumer laptop from that timeframe, you'd be looking at getting one off eBay and hoping you could steal a part.

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Office and three year warranty are usually the two big ones that I run into.

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I would expect he's comparing the cheapest lowest spec machine at Best Buy, that is also on a limited time special offer to a higher spec'd machine that you require for the office. For the same machine you buy in the office, it's probably still going to be a similar price at Best Buy. This is on top of the other arguments such as support, standardization, reliability.

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Some differences:

  • Best Buy laptops comes with XP Home/Vista Home. Business Laptops come with XP Pro/Vista Business. That's $100 right there.
  • The Best Buy prices doesn't include MS Office, or if it does it's only Office Basic (another $100-150)
  • Business laptop prices usually include a better warranty.
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One thing would be "crapware" that comes on almost every home-class laptop or PC.

This is used to subsidize the cost of consumer grade laptops, but most business class laptops would not include this stuff (since businesses don't want to put up with having to remove it all) and are subsequently going to cost a bit more.

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We order either Dell Latitude e5500 or Dell Vostro 1720 laptops for our staff. The main differences that we see between these and consumer-level machines are:

  • Built-in port for a docking station
  • Able to downgrade to WinXP with our licensing (we re-image them right away anyway)
  • No "Button of Doom" or what Dell calls the Media Direct button. For some reason, the few consumer laptops that we do have set up with our WinXP image completely brick themselves when that button is pressed. We have no idea why, but it's a killer.

Because I work at an educational institution with a Dell Direct partnership, we tend to get prices comparable to the consumer shops anyway.

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I like to put it to the management like this.

A laptop you buy at Best Buy or another store for home use is made to be used continuously for at most 2-3 hours, and on occasion, not everyday for 6-9 hours. The materials that a home-use laptop is made out of show its purpose is for home use, as they are made out of plastic, and cheap metal.

A laptop made for business use, contains durable plastic, and sometimes plastic/metal compounds to increase it's ruggedness. The keyboards are manufactured in a more durable way, the way the laptop dissapates heat is more reliable, and ensures that it lasts longer. The hinges have much more care given to them. Business class laptops are also serviceable. That is, the memory, hard drive, and other important system components are accessible to your technical support department should you need an upgrade. Also, the warranty on a business class laptop is much better.

Remember to remind them that there is much more to a laptop than CPU, Memory and Hard Drive, such as the choice in motherboards, chipsets, and manufacturing processes. The reason they're more expensive is because most intelligent businessmen will not put up with the crap that gets put in stores like Best-Buy, because the ROI is just that terrible.

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Here's a big difference I see. If we have a Dell business laptop that breaks, we call Dell, and they come to us to fix it usually within the same day. If we have a laptop from Best Buy, we have to go to them to fix it, they can't fix it the same day, and it's sent off for 2 weeks. The data on the hard drive will usually be wiped as well.

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Try walking on it and see if it breaks or not...

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In addition to the specific reasons, I find that drawing an analogy to a different business unit helps to put these scary technology concepts into a comfortable framework.

Question - I can buy TurboTax for $50 to do my taxes, why do we need to pay an entire department to do the same thing for the company?

Answer - because it's more complicated.

IT pays more money for a laptop than Joe User at Best Buy because your IT department has different/bigger priorities (which the other answers have enumerated quite well).

It may also help to assure them that if you could meet business need by buying $500 laptops for everyone, you would be thrilled to do so, but it would just be too expensive in the long run.

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(this is partially covered in The Practice of System and Network Administration's chapter on desktop machines)

Basically, consumer laptops use the cheapest video chip, sound processor, etc. that the vendor can find that week. A business-class laptop changes chipsets once or twice a year, on a schedule that is predictable. This gives you the ability to certify your applications with the new chipsets.

The business-class laptops are also significantly faster, more powerful, and more durable. You can buy the consumer laptops, but you'll spend more time listening to customers whine about how slow they are and managers will hear excuses like, "the project is late but it's my laptop's fault".

The real problem here is that the management people that ask this question aren't involved enough to understand these things. As Dilbert's boss once said, "Anything I don't understand must be easy to do." You might want to build up a comparison chart with them and make it an apples-to-apples comparison: show that the video card will be slower (in management terms: MS-Excel spreadsheets will display updates and scroll slower), that repair costs are going to be high (maybe you'll have to stock a "loaner laptop" that sits idle most of the time), etc. Let them be involved in building up the comparison chart. Heck, if it turns out that the differences are things that they don't care about, you might switch to the cheaper equipment!

More importantly: if you do this project with a manager, they'll be able to explain to the other managers in their language what the result is. That may be more valuable than anything else.

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+1 for manager-to-manager translation –  Matt Simmons Jun 17 '09 at 18:07

Definitely the warranty. You would pay through the roof for a 3 - 4 year warranty at a consumer shop. Add the cost of their extended warranty to your price and see where you stand then! Oh, and trust me, you want the 3 - 4 year warranty!

Get to know you hardware sales rep. Make them beg for your business knowing you will go to their competition if they don't play ball. I know what they are charging bigger players in my field and I expect that price or better. We pay less for Lenovo business class computers with 4 year warranties than we would pay for comparable machines at Best Buy.

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Turn the question around and ask what other business-critical functions are bought at the cheapest end of the market. It makes sense to get cheapo envelopes and paper-clips but do his salesmen drive scooters, is the office a Starbucks and does he duplicate documents by hand or by photocopier?

Day-one hardware costs for laptops is 15%-20% of the total cost of ownership for that asset, if he wants cheap today he'll pay for it later.

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Another option that I don't find on home laptops is hard drive passwords. The business Del's we use at work have this so if it gets stolen none of the data can be accessed. You could use truecrypt for this but it's a lot nicer to have it built into the machine.

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Last place I worked used consumer crap before I got there. We bought a few business grade laptops and compared them side by each, and let everyone vote which they liked better.

Smaller, sleeker, docking station, lighter, smaller power packs, longer battery option, better built those were the key points. (The OS and speed never mattered since people knew this was dependant on the processor installed, etc)

I still by the business line for myself. They are just better.

Also I found the business line of products with Dell, their support centers were almost always NA based rather then the far east. They treated their business customers at a higher level. Also as you buy more you'll get better discounts, but the discounts typically only will apply to business line. My standard discount with Dell was about 10 to 15% and we were only a company of 30 people at the time.

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1) Longer more stable lifecycle e.g.:

2)Firmware and drivers are maintained longer

3)You typically wont have to build a new image for the same model over the lifetime of the model, even if different components are used between later and earlier versions the different components will often be driver compatable

4)The manufacturer keeps spares for the projected life of the model. A lot of the time with a consumer model, this is not the case, so if your laptop goes tits up and there are no spares but you still have warranty you may end up with different components or even a different but "equivalent" laptop as a replacement.

5) docking stations

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+1 docking ability –  Oskar Duveborn Jun 20 '09 at 10:47

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