Working remotely can be a blessing and a curse. Many of the factors depend upon how well you are prepared for it. There are several critical elements which one must acquire in order to establish a good working environment for oneself;
- Have the right equipment.
- Ensure that you can work from anywhere.
- Find a corner or two which you can concentrate from.
- Ask yourself whether it is right for you.
Today we’ll cover point 1. Having the right equipment. It is critical that when we do decide to work remotely, we acquire the right type of hardware. Like a circuit driver needs a good reliable car, a business professional requires the right laptop. How do we determine what’s right and what’s wrong. Here’s a simple but effective list to review.
How much information do I need to store?
Today it is easy to find a laptop with a 750GB hard drive or even 1TB. Having that much space usually means you are storing very large files, such as music or movies. If however, like most professionals, you are working with mostly word documents and presentation, the only thing you really have to worry about, is how large your Outlook pst file will get.
With the introduction of Office 2007, Microsoft went the extra mile and introduced a refined file system which compresses its files better than any previous version of Office. You can take a traditional Office 2003 Word document, which sits at say 500kb, convert it into Word 2007 file, and save yourself up to 30% over the previous file format. This small yet unappreciated feature may not seem like much, but your hard drive and your wallet will appreciate it.
Staying on the subject of hard drives, the best way to determine how much space you’ll need is as follows;
- Do I need to store media files such as music, movies or photo’s? If yes, then you most likely need something above 640GB. If not however, then you’ll do with anything around 128GB to 256GB.
- Do I want faster performance? If yes, consider investing into something with a Solid State Drive (SSD). They’re capacity ranges between 128GB to 512GB, depending on how deep your pockets go, but more importantly the speed at which the drive reads and writes is night and day between a traditional spinning hard disk and a solid state drive.
What else do I need from my laptop?
The next few considerations are also very important and will help steer you towards the right group of laptops;
- Do I want solid battery life? Normally the answer is yes, and there are two ways of accomplishing this. Larger battery size or lower performance. For most individuals a low performance laptop is really all they need. As long as they have the ability to do what they need without compromising on speed. An efficient Intel chip with a mobile video card and a SSD will give you both visibly improved speed when working with your files but also good battery life.
- Am I in need of a graphics card? Unlike desktop PC’s, laptops do not have the capability of upgrading their graphics cards (GPU’s). If you’re looking to edit photo’s, play games and render video’s, you’ll need a dedicated GPU rather than the mobile chip. A dedicated chip will not pull its RAM requirements from the board but has it already built-in. Increasing your performance drastically.
- Am I going to be carrying the laptop around a lot? Normally many of us will carry our laptops to and from the office and on occasion to the local coffee shop. Having a portable unit that doesn’t weigh as much as a chunk of concrete, is probably best. A 13″ or 14″ laptop is enough for you to do what you need without straining your eyes.
- What will I need to connect it to? This question is for those who need to do presentations from it or perhaps want to connect it to an external display. Many business centric laptops still have VGA output. More consumer laptops are now available with HDMI or mini HDMI. Determine what you’ll be connected to in order to make sure you’ve got the right connectors. (Most projectors are still only hooked in through VGA.)
Asking yourself these simple questions will help you narrow down the laptop you want. It is important to note that best practice suggests also going out and testing various different laptops on your own. Don’t ask for help from any sales guy (or gal) and just play around with it. Open up Microsoft Office and browse the internet. If a store doesn’t let you take a laptop for a “test drive” don’t invest your money there. You need to take a feel for one to ensure you’re buying what you want. Like test driving a car.
There are generally four categories of laptops one can look at. Ultrabooks, consumer laptops, business laptops and gaming laptops. Each has its own set of pluses and minuses, depending upon what you’re looking for.
These laptops are the ones we see that look like you could normally break them by just typing on it. They’re underpowered, run typically Windows XP and I would never recommend one. There is nothing attractive about these laptops and they are truly a humiliation to the entire laptop world. That’s that. Brands that carry these are almost anyone these days.
These laptops are typically what any family normally goes for. They usually go on sale and are an all around good unit. They range in various storage sizes (between 500GB to upwards of 1TB), can do most things that a normal individual who isn’t a creative needs, can handle moderate games but nothing too graphic intensive, fairly portable but mostly on the bulky side and have an average battery life. These computers are (in my opinion) designed for students, homes or individuals who need to do a bit more but don’t spend much more than 10 to 15 hours a week on one. More popular brands are HP, Dell, Acer, Lenovo and Sony just to name a few.
Business laptops are usually the units which are boasting great performance, ultimate battery life, portability and functionality. These laptops are normally outside of the average consumers price range as well but are packed with goodies that people on the go love. Long battery lives, normally between 6 to 8 hours, performance and speed as well as ultra portability. Laptops such as these will normally be built with SSD’s, good dual or quad-core processors and housed in a sleek slim design. Most companies will have a product line of “business” laptops, however these few are elite in my eyes; Lenovo, Apple and Samsung.
No introduction is necessary I think. These laptops are designed with power-hungry video cards and processors, suck power like your Mercedes ML550 but produce performance like a Ferrari. The gaming elite in this area is AlienWare. The configurations you could come up with are astonishingly fast but costly. Gaming laptops are for those individuals who don’t want a console or a large tower but still love the gaming world.
The laptops mentioned above are generalized mostly. Many companies now offer BTO (build-to-order) units which can be customized to a users specific needs. Having the properly built laptop that will handle and do everything you need it to though is important.
As a professional looking to working remotely or from home, the following generalized configuration would be best;
- Slim design and portable. Don’t get into a 15″ laptop unless you are okay with the weight. The screen size is a big plus, however carrying that things to client meetings or to your work area may become tiresome. Instead, invest the money you would have spent on the larger unit into a good monitor and use that as the disk play when you’re at home.
- SSD for improved speed. The SSD although more expensive is worth the extra investment. First there are no moving parts which reduces the risk of the hard disks going bad on you and the speed boost you see is tremendous.
- Intel based. Although I hate to admit it (I used to be a die-hard AMD guy) Intel has surpassed AMD in the processor market. It’s more efficient and better equipped in my opinion to handle what you’ll need.
- Roughly 6 hour battery life. In combination of a Intel processor and a SSD the battery on a unit you choose should be somewhere around 6 hours with normal use. That’s not to say that it will last that long all the time. Running something in the background, using Bluetooth and streaming will kill the battery.
Overall the choice is really yours. My recommendations stem from personal experience using a variety of laptops for work. Currently I’m utilizing a Dell which is decent and compact but the battery life is horrible. Despite being a less powerful and smaller unit then my tripped out 15″ MacBook Pro, it get’s 40% of the life out of a single charge then its heavier cousin.
Moral of this post is that you need to determine concretely what your needs are and what you are willing to sacrifice. When focusing on working remotely, you really don’t need a ton of room on your drive for things you wont need. Keep the basics without sacrificing speed or performance were needed the most.
Next week we’ll focus on finding the right mobile phone. With so many options and future predictions, it’s not easy deciphering what one needs and doesn’t.