I’m often asked what kind of laptop should I buy for data? But just as often as I am asked that question, I am also not asked that question and see customers purchase the wrong laptop! Below is a list of specs for which I’ve written plenty for you to read. Likely too much for you to read, but if you want my honest opinion on what’s important and what’s not then be ready for plenty of reading.
If you don’t want to dive into the details and are just looking for a quick recommendations then look at some of the laptops below. But it is difficult to make recommendations when new laptops come out every month so it’s always a changing ball game.
Got an unlimited budget? For $3,000 you should choose the Panasonic Toughbook CF-54 with the 1000 nits screen brightness. A truly sunlight readable screen! Sure you can get the dim low resolution screen and save $1000 but trust me its not worth it. Get the bright screen. The CF-54 comes standard with 3 USB ports, ethernet port and most important a carrying handle. Other options include a built in serial port, 2nd ethernet port, and windows 7 if you need it. The most configurable laptop that’s also the most durable laptop. Standard 3 year warranty. Trust me this is the laptop to have for use at the race track. On the cheaper side, consider searching around for a used Panasonic CF-53. The older model is bulkier and heavier but still very rugged. There’s plenty of places online that sell new and used toughbooks.
The new Microsoft Surface Book 2 is an excellent option with dual USB ports, USB-C, standard SD card reader and a wonderful bright 450 nit screen that’s got an awesome 3:2 aspect ratio – meaning you get more vertical space than other laptops. It is a bit pricey at $2500 for the 15″ screen, but the 13.5″ screen is only $1500. Aftermarket covers and silicon protectors should be available. The only downside is you will have to use a USB to Ethernet adapter. Note, I would not recommend the Surface Pro tablet or the Surface Laptop on the sole disappointing fact they only have 1 USB port.
Both HP and Lenovo both make some great 14-15″ laptops with ethernet ports and 14-15″ screens with 1080p resolution. The number of laptops available is just too many to review, but they range from $600-$1200. If you’re interested in a specific model, do a search for reviews of that model before buying and make sure you read the recommendations below.
What kind of Processor
Short answer is an Intel i5 or i7 processor. Too often I see people buying the fastest laptop they can find, only to suffer from short battery life, heat problems and loud fans. I’ve also seen people buy the cheapest laptops only to suffer from really slow performance. My recommendation is to buy something with an Intel i3, i5 or i7 processor. The i3 is the slowest processor I can recommend. Say no to the Intel Atom, Celeron or Core2 or any other slow processor because your computer will just crawl and never run. The i7 processor is the fastest you will find, but they tend to create more heat and you will end up with less battery life. The ideal processor is the i5 because it has the best balance of speed and battery life. There is one exception for when you might choose an i7 over an i5…. when you want a larger SSD (solid state drive) and the factory only puts those in laptops with an i7 processor.
AMD just released a new processor that is worth considering called the Ryzen 5 & 7 processors. These chips should be less expensive than Intel and include much better onboard graphics than any Intel chip. Be careful not to purchase an older generation A8, A10 or A12 processor.
How much RAM
Note: Video can take up to 50GB of space each weekend for a 2 car team. So most teams will use a separate 1TB or 2TB external USB drive for storing video files.
Can I Buy a Tablet
There are some attractive 2 in 1 or convertibles out now which give you the best of both worlds. Stick with a convertible instead of a tablet only.
OS - operating systems