Current Windows Laptop Recommendations

We have been all Mac for our staff for almost 4 years now and it has worked well. In that time our staff size has changed, church direction, number of campuses, and budget. Trying to save cost, we’ve been looking at and testing Chromebooks for some part time staff and those with lower usage but have been having limited success. We’re pretty entrenched in Microsoft / O365 and it’s proving to be a hard switch. So I’m looking to test out some low-cost windows laptops and Intune.

My question is, what laptops would you recommend for part time staff and those that pretty much check email and look at the occasional Word/Excel/PDF document? I’m fine if we don’t get the same 4-5 years that we have been getting on the MacBooks if the price is right.
Some requirements:

  • Low cost - $350-$500 range
  • 12-14" display (1080p min)
  • Somewhat durable
  • Decent web cam
  • Good Wi-Fi
  • Touch Screen optional

Thanks!

Taking away your cost target, what you have otherwise described is standard user hardware. Standard user notebook hardware typically carries a 800~1500$ price range, depending on quality and specs.

Even the chromebook which I typically spec for user hardware is about 700$ inclusive of a 3 year warranty - and that carries with it the limitations of the ChromeOS ecosystem (notably that you pretty much have to be using gSuite and otherwise rely on only web apps).

If you want to run desktop class apps, be they Microsoft, Adobe, or others - on hardware that matches your spec and has some semblance of reliability - you’ll be looking at prices north of 800$ all in.

If I were in your shoes and needed to save money I’d be taking a hard look at the 8GB/128SSD Surface Go. Even then you may need or want to apply M365E3 licensing to it, which will incur some ongoing costs. The iPad Pro 11 would also be an interesting consideration here as it would be reliable, cheap, and work well with the modern microsoft ecosystem, higher price though.

If it’s all about the price, you can get there with something like the Asus Swift 1 systems - but you’ll need to plan on a 2 year replacement cycle, and a terrible user experience from the day you put them in.

I must also ask the question, saving 500$ between a surface go and a MBA - or 700$ between a Swift1 and a MBA - is that worth it? If your needs are being met, staff are happy, and you’re already setup to administrate it, that delta is only is about 8~12$/month difference over the life of the machine. Not only is that is a very small amount to overall spending on staff overhead, but it’s most peoples primary work tool.

-K

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Currently, we have standardized on Asus. NewEgg seems to have the best promotions from time to time. You can probably get a good i3 in that price range, and may need to nudge a bit above $500 to get touch screen. We have found the machines to be quite durable, and have several of them in our organization (which is Christian Contemporary radio, not a church). Most have 256GB SSD, and we have used WebDrive to connect to DropBox.

Thanks for the comments guys. I know it seems kind of crazy to go from a MacBook Pro to a cheap windows laptop but is it that different from going from a MacBook Pro to a cheap Chromebook? We have some staff that only use their computers a few hours a week (Yes, I have questioned why they have one) and a MacBook Pro is just overkill and expensive. I’m looking at many options right now including renewing our Apple lease, buying it out, or going back to just buying laptops again.

There’s a huge difference between a Chromebook and a cheap Windows PC. They’re miles apart on many fronts.

  1. ChromeOS is designed from the ground up to run on resource constrained machines
  2. ChromeOS has built in management tools designed for the platform
  3. Windows, being a general purpose OS will need much more support and resources to manage and use.

The baseline of a “usable” Windows PC is something around a Core i3 with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD, and getting business class hardware from a reputable vendor (Dell, Lenovo, HPe, etc.) is going to save a lot of hassle in the long run when it comes to managing driver and firmware updates, dealing with warranty support, etc.

But honestly, if the machines are used a few hours a week I’d seriously debate if it’s worth issuing crappy machines when you could run a few nice desktop class machines in a shared workspace, and a few reasonable quality laptops in a loaner pool and save even more money while providing a significantly better experience to your users. I’ve had great success with these sorts of programs in the past, especially when coupled with a reasonable BYOD policy for basic tasks (made a lot easier with Office 365).

Have you tried running the O365 Android apps on the Chromebooks? I had a few users testing that, and it seemed to work really well.

A few hours a week? Man, throw a 32GB iPad6 out there with a logitech keyboard case and all the MS apps. You can then manage it with MerakiSM/Mosyle/JAMF.

Under 500$, it’ll last for ages, and be a good user experience for most use cases of someone using a computer for a few weeks.

iPad + keyboard case is a better ux than chrome books if you are using the Microsoft stack, IMO.

True. The main issue we have with Chromebooks and the Android apps is the lack of features. Also the lack of printing features with cloud-print.

With iPads, the Microsoft apps are still less feature rich than the Windows or Apple apps, but printing is still an issue. Not being able to staple, combine jobs, and so on. It’s been a while since we tested out swapping out to iPads so maybe they’ve gotten better feature wise. Mine is an old iPad Air and doesn’t have pen support so I’ll have to test that out. I do think an iPad or Surface would be a good fit if we can get over a few of the issues.

We use IT1 source for most of our needs when it comes to purchasing machines - they usually have good deals on refurbished units. Also, you can get HP touchscreen i3/i5 8GB/256SSD units (although not 1920x1080) for usually around $500-550, if you check out BestBuy/Amazon. They’re very cheap-feeling, but they work. I agree with others that the price range is a huge constraint, that really makes this task almost impossible if you’re looking at a computer-class device, versus a tablet-class device. Chromebooks are great if you have the infrastructure to manage them; we don’t. (But we do have the infrastructure to manage Windows machines.)

I know at a CITRT a few years ago at NewSpring, that one of the sessions hosted by NewSpring staff talked extensively about Chromebook implementation at their church. Might be worth seeing if you could talk to someone there to see if they are still using as a solution and any pro/cons they have experienced. Great group of guys in IT dept. and given me some good advice in past.

FWIW, I can’t speak to what NewSpring is using today - but the chrome books that they originally started with - and the chrome books that I am deploying today for buisness-usage - are all over Jeremy’s target price. The business-class Lenovo, Dell, and Acer chrome books are all 500~700$ out the door.

If your use case demands people be able to use finishers on printers, or anything else comparably advanced - you’ll need to stick to Windows or macOS. Either on the clients themselves, or you’ll need to put print stations next to your MFPs and have people print from there.

-K

This Lenovo Education Laptop might fit your budget at $406.95.

  • 11.6" HD display and Intel HD 520 graphics
  • Intel Dual-Core i3-6100U 2.30GHz
  • 8GB RAM / 256GB Solid State Drive
  • Microsoft Windows 10 Professional 64 Bit

Caveat: I’m one of those crazy people that moved 90%+ of our org to ChromeOS. I’d still do it again but I’d eliminate Windows 10 completely. We have 3 windows laptops, 5 staff with MacOS, and 70+ ChromeOS systems.

My thoughts on this thread:

  • Your budget and features on any platform will require significant compromise. That’s ok; we have some Chromebooks that we spend <$200 on; they work perfectly for the defined role
  • For a Staff person we spend more than $500 on a Chromebook (and we usually add a $300+ 27" USB-C display!). A very part time staff person of sorts can use our shared office systems or a loaner until the need warrants an assigned computer
  • I suggest scoping your hardware based on role. One size fits all will be hard to steward wisely. Having this means you must define IT’s role well with leadership & you must have candid conversations about what needs are (and who decides what a need is). It’s unhealthy for each user or IT alone to do this and the scope needs to target what the agreed upon most important thing is. Then IT figures out options for executing that. This will leave some people frustrated and disappointed (you changed my thing/didn’t do it the way I like/took away this cool tech I love). That’s reality; time to put on the big boy pants. For example, we determined it wasn’t a need for every user to always have tray and paper thickness control when printing. We did decide (in parallel) that Papercut and good copiers was a related but not required help.
  • We have found (even pre ChromeOS) that having a pool of loaners is critical in a Church. We have Chromebooks, MacBook Pro’s, and iPad’s available.
  • Management tools like an MDM for managing MacOS and iOS is critically important. It’s a non-negotiable for all systems. We use Mosyle, GSuite, and Intune

Thanks for the details Shawn. We used to be about 50% Windows and had things divided by role and it worked well for years. We made the switch to all Mac and it did help on the administration and satisfaction side. But now, 4 years after the switch, budget is again front and center and we have many computers coming due for a refresh (actually past due. About a dozen 2013 MBP’s). I think we’ll end up staying on Mac and going to the new MacBook Airs, but we’re taking a hard look at things. The ChromeBooks sound enticing but we’ve had several deal breaker issues (printing and MS Office & licensing) with them so we’re looking at other options.

I’m going to take another look at iPads now that they have pen support. I may be able to at least get 12 moved over in our refresh. Thanks again!

Just an update for everyone. We got a buyout quote from Apple on our lease of 35 computers that was pretty reasonable so we’re going to go that route. When we factored in the quicker replacement schedule of low end Windows computers or Chromebooks, it wasn’t enough money to make us move. We will be looking closer at some iPads though. Thanks!

Hello Jeremy.

If your Macs are already four years old, you can probably use them for another year or two. The usual problems I encounter with aging Macs are battery life, display issues and sound.