Review: 4 mid-priced laptops that mean business

You don't need to bust the budget to get your work done. We evaluate four Windows laptops that cost about $600 or less.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

HP ProBook 450 G3

While the other three business laptops concentrate on keeping things simple to get to an ideal price, HP's ProBook 450 G3 adds security options and a rugged design, and it offers an excellent balance between performance and battery life.

The ProBook, $674 (starting Amazon price - What's this?) , measures 14.8 x 10.4 x 1.1 in. and weighs 5 lbs. on its own; with its three-prong AC adapter, the system weighs 5.4 lbs.

This system has been designed to stand up to abuse at work and on the road -- it's got internal reinforcements and a heavy-duty screen hinge. According to HP, it has passed nine of the U.S. military's Mil-Std 810 tests for surviving drops, shock, vibration, dust and high/low temperatures.

In addition, the ProBook includes a spill-resistant keyboard that can survive being doused with several ounces of liquid. It has 18.8mm keys with a generous 1.8mm of depth that provide good feedback.

While the other three business laptops here have plain black plastic cases, the ProBook sports a black and silver design with a soft rubber coating that's generally reserved for more expensive laptops. This gives it a grippy feel that makes it easier to carry.

hp probook 450 g3 fixed HP

HP ProBook 450 G3

As is the case with the Toshiba device, the HP ProBook has an optical drive, one VGA and one HDMI video connection, two USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports.

Its 15.6-in. display matches the others in resolution, but was the brightest at 193 candelas per square meter; to my eyes, it looked bold and bright. The system's speakers are directly under the screen, point at the user and sounded rich, with good volume.

Most secure of the four, the ProBook can foil a hacker by running only approved BIOS start-up software and also comes with a Trusted Platform Module that makes remote log-ins and authentication safer and more reliable.

Performance

HP outfits the ProBook with a sixth-generation Core i5 6200U CPU that adjusts its speed between 2.3GHz and 2.8GHz as the computing load requires. That's backed up with 4GB RAM and a 7,200rpm 500GB hard drive.

As expected, the higher-end processor gave it a performance advantage over the other three, scoring 2,899 on the PCMark 8 series of business tasks. This advantage was mirrored on the Cinebench group of tests, where the ProBook scored 38.82 fps on the graphics tests and 291 on the processor tasks.

The ProBook's removable battery is rated at 2,970mAh and lasted for 4 hours and 31 minutes on PCMark 8's battery test, almost 45 minutes behind the Toshiba.

The ProBook includes a slew of helpful IT software, like a TouchPoint Manager that can help manage a slew of notebooks from the cloud. My favorite was the Software Set Up Utility, a one-stop software utility for installing included programs and getting updates.

Bottom line

HP's ProBook 450 G3 is the value champ of the group with a rugged design, the best performance and the tightest security of the four. In other words, it should fit in well into the IT landscape of companies.

Toshiba Tecra C50-C1500

Toshiba's Tecra C50-C1500 is the long-distance runner of the group, with more than five hours of battery life (working constantly) at its disposal.

At 14.9 x 10.2 x 1.0 in., the Toshiba, $525 (vendor price), weighs 5 lb., the same weight as the HP. However, with its two-prong AC adapter, it has a travel weight of 5.2 lbs., tying with the Dell for lightest travel companion.

toshiba c50 2016q1 fixed Toshiba

Toshiba Tecra C50-C1500

Its plain black case has a striated pattern. While it lacks the rugged design of the HP, it does have a spill-resistant keyboard to help it survive clumsy users. The 19.0mm keys were responsive and had a satisfactory 1.5mm of depth.

Like the Dell and HP systems, the Toshiba offers one VGA and one HDMI connector, two USB 2.0 ports and two 3.0 ports. Like the Asus and HP, it has an optical drive.

The Toshiba's 15.6-in. display rated a brightness of 186 candelas per square meter; to my eyes, it was adequate, but a bit washed out. Its speakers are optimally placed below the screen and aimed right at the user, but to my ears, they had a tinny sound.

In terms of security, the Toshiba offers a TPM 1.2 module for making remote access secure.

Performance

Inside, the Toshiba comes with a fifth-generation Core i3 5005U that runs at 2GHz -- the same used by the Asus system. It has 4GB of RAM and a 7,200rpm 500GB hard drive.

The system's older and slower processor showed up prominently during benchmark testing, where the C50 took last place with a 2,324 on the PCMark 8 series of business tasks. It also lagged on the Cinebench testing in terms of graphics with the ability to display 23.11 fps. It was marginally faster than the AsusPro on the CPU tests, with a 210 score versus 208.

The Toshiba's 2,800mAh removable battery pack powered the system for 5 hours and 13 minutes on a charge, the best of the four.

In addition to a trial version McAfee's Live Safe, the Toshiba comes with a useful tool called Systems Settings Utilities that consolidates all the major hardware choices.

Bottom line

The Toshiba system retails for $525. While you can order it through Toshiba's site, the purchasing link will take you to CDW.

Overall, the size, travel weight and good battery life of the Tecra C50-C1500 is impressive, but you also have to take into consideration its less-than-ideal performance.

Conclusions

Business buyers are the toughest customers around. When it comes to entry-level laptops, all four of the systems I looked at can cut it in the work-a-day world, but they each had their pros and cons.

To start, the AsusPro P2520LA comes with three USB 3.0 ports along with its USB 2.0 port, giving it the best connection potential of the four. But it lacked peak performance and didn't include a TPM security chip.

Dell's Latitude 15 3000 was more satisfactory in terms of performance -- but at the expense of battery life; during our tests, it only ran about three and a half hours. It also lacks a TPM module.

Toshiba's Tecra C50-C1500 is a fine system that comes with a secure TPM chip and a handy two-prong power cord. Its battery delivered the goods with five hours and 13 minutes of runtime, but its performance wasn't as impressive.

Only one system here combines security (with a TPM module), performance (with a Core i5 processor) and a rugged design with a spill-proof keyboard. The HP ProBook 450 G3 offers the most business bang for the buck, and with its rugged exterior, should survive the worst that clumsy workers mete out.

4 mid-price business laptops: Features and specs

 AsusPro Essential P2520LA-XB31Dell Latitude 15 3570HP ProBook 450 G3Toshiba Tecra C50-C1500
Thickness, Front/Rear 1.0/1.4 in. 1.0/1.2 in. 1.1/1.1 in. 1.0/1.0 in.
Size 14.9 x 10.0 in. 14.9 x 10.1 in. 14.8 x 10.4 in. 14.9 x 10.2 in.
Weight 4.9 lbs. 4.9 lbs. 5.0 lbs. 5.0 lbs.
Processor 2.0GHz Intel Core i3 5005U 2.3GHz Intel Core i3 6100U 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 6200U 2.0GHz Intel Core i3 5005U
RAM 4GB 4GB 4GB 4GB
Hard drive capacity/speed 500GB/5,400rpm 500GB/7,200rpm 500GB/7,200rpm 500GB/7,200rpm
Screen size 15.6 in. 15.6 in. 15.6 in. 15.6 in.
Resolution 1366 x 768 1366 x 768 1366 x 768 1366 x 768
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 5500 Intel HD 520 Intel HD 520 Intel HD Graphics 5500
Ports 3 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, 1 HDMI, 1 VGA, 1 audio, 1 Ethernet 2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, 1 HDMI, 1 VGA, 1 audio, 1 Ethernet 2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, 1 HDMI, 1 VGA, 1 audio, 1 Ethernet 2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, 1 HDMI, 1 VGA, 1 audio, 1 Ethernet
Battery 2,560mAh 2,700mAh 2,970mAh 2,800mAh
Flash card reader Yes Yes Yes Yes
Optical drive DVD Multi None DVD Multi DVD Multi
TPM No No Yes Yes
Wireless 802.11ac/Bluetooth 4.0 802.11ac/Bluetooth 4.0 802.11ac/Bluetooth 4.0 802.11n/Bluetooth 4.0

How I tested

To see how these four mainstream business laptops compare, I used each of them for at least a week in my office, at home and on the road.

I started by measuring, weighing and trying out each system. I noted which had replaceable batteries, DVD drives and slippery or grippy surfaces. I measured the size and depth of the keys as well as how big the touchpad was.

Next, I counted the ports and made sure that they worked. Then, I set each system up with an HDMI cable to Vivitek's Qumi Q6 projector and ran a brief slideshow with sound.

After that I measured each system's screen brightness with a Minolta LM-1 luminance meter. I set each system to display a pure white image and took illumination readings in nine equal rectangles evenly spaced throughout the viewing area. I converted the meter's foot-Lamberts readings to candelas per square meter, averaged the readings and rounded to the closest whole number. While I was measuring the system's brightness, I looked for hot spots and dull areas of the screen.

To compare their performance, I benchmarked each system using Futuremark's PCMark 8, using the Work-Conventional settings. This benchmark runs typical tasks that a business employee would encounter during a work day, including Web work, video conferences, word processing and spreadsheet manipulation. The software stresses every major system component, from the processor, memory and hard drive to the graphics and puts together a single score that represents its performance potential.

I ran the software twice and averaged the results if the two results were off by 5% or less. If the difference was more than 5% I ran the test a third time and averaged the three.

After that, I ran Maxon Cinebench R15, which gives the system a good processor and graphics workout by rendering complex video. Its processor test employs roughly 280,000 polygons, uses a variety of algorithms and can take advantage of multicore processors. The software's OpenGL rendering tests use a photo-realistic car chase scene that contains approximately 1 million polygons, high-resolution textures and a variety of special effects. It runs for 30 seconds and measures the frame rate the system is capable of delivering.

Finally, I set PCMark 8 up to run down the system's battery while going through its benchmarking routine. By running its tasks over and over again, it simulates actual real-world usage.

While I ran the tests, I felt around the system's case for places where the case heated up and recorded them using a Flir One infrared thermography camera attached to a Samsung Galaxy S6 phone to record each laptop's hot spots. I followed up by using a Fluke 62 Mini IR thermometer to gauge how hot it got. Happily, all kept their cool.

4 mid-price business laptops: Test results

 AsusPro Essential P2520LA-XB31Dell Latitude 15 3570HP ProBook 450 G3Toshiba Tecra C50-C1500
PCMark 8 2,426 2,658 2,899 2,324
Cinebench R15 CPU 23.19 fps 29.55 fps 38.82 fps 23.11 fps
Cinebench R15 OpenGL 208 245 291 210
Screen brightness 182 cd/m2 184cd/m2 193 cd/m2 186 cd/m2
Battery Life (hours: minutes) 4:24 3:23 4:31 5:13

This story, "Review: 4 mid-priced laptops that mean business " was originally published by Computerworld.

Related:
1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
ITWorld DealPost: The best in tech deals and discounts.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon