The WSJ is reporting a run on laptops as more and more people are being forced to work from home (WFH). Here’s what you need to know about your WFH computer.
If you are buying a computer to WFH, you need to connect it to the internet. This requires the best broadband connection you can afford (from your phone or cable company, or from another internet service provider). If there are lots of people in the house trying to WFH, consider 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps) service. (And ask your boss to pay for it.) Comcast is charging about $110/month for 1 Gbps (where available). If it’s just you, you can probably get away with 300 Mbps service.
The problem is not the download speed; the problem is the upload speed. This number is usually not published in the promotional material. Comcast and Spectrum both offer 1 Gbps down with 35 Mbps up. That’s enough bandwidth for a household of four to six people online all day. The slower (and less expensive) 300 Mbps download service ranges from $49-$79 per month, but… it only features 10 Mbps upload speed. You may be able to do a low-quality video conference at 10 Mbps up, but certainly not two at a time. If someone else in the house is watching a video or doing something else that is bandwidth intensive, you will find you may need to monitor everyone’s online activity to ration bandwidth.
The current spec is 802.11ac (aka WiFi 5). You’ll be fine with 802.11n (aka WiFi 4).
While you are ordering your new device, be sure that it has an Ethernet port; if it does not, order an Ethernet dongle. WiFi is great for goofing around. It’s wonderful for watching a movie on the couch or for playing a video game. If you need to do serious video conferencing or hardcore work with files in the cloud, connect your computer to the internet via old school Ethernet. Order an Ethernet cable (Cat6) while you’re at it. Cat5 isn’t fast enough; Cat 5e (up to 1 Gbps @ 100 Mhz) may be fast enough. Cat6 (up to 10 Gbps @ 250 Mhz) is best for the world we live in today. Cat 7 (up to 10 Gbps @ 600 Mhz) is what your IoT custom installer will use in your smart home. Cat 8 (up to 40 Gbps @ 2,000 Mhz) is worth it (but only if you know you need it).
Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)
Your computer’s GPU is one of the two features of your computer that makes you think it’s “fast.” The better the GPU, the faster your screens will paint. Get the fastest GPU you can afford.
Random Access Memory (RAM)
The more RAM you have, the faster your computer will appear to work. The rule of thumb is 2GB per CPU core. (A six core i7 CPU would need a minimum of 12GB of RAM.) However… this is not a great rule of thumb. First, it’s not actually true, and second, it’s not actually true. Instead, get as much RAM as you can afford. Get 16GB minimum for current Windows and MacOS devices, and 32GB if you can afford it. In practice, RAM your device up to the hilt if possible. More is better.
Central Processing Unit (CPU)
Intel i5, i7, i9… whatever. The higher the number, the more expensive. Unless you know exactly why you need a super-fast CPU, don’t worry about it. That said, in the world of video everything — while it is not necessary — an i9 will serve you best.
Screen, Keyboard, Mouse
Bigger is better. Higher resolution is better. Sadly, more expensive is better. If you’re buying a laptop for your WFH installation, consider a full-size monitor, full-size keyboard with keypad, and a mouse. You will need dongles. Beware HDMI monitors: check the resolution of your computer and decide if you will be able to live with its different screen resolutions. This is non-trivial. (Check. Please.) I had some old Apple monitors here in my loft, along with a Samsung TV we got from Costco about five years ago. It’s not as awesome as the rig I have in my office in NYC, but it’s working perfectly for me up here in Vermont.
Making it Work
No matter what you have to work with, you can make it work. However, I will offer one bit of counterintuitive advice. As hard as it is to imagine a future where anything gets back to normal, this is one place you should spend to the limit of your ability. Your WFH rig is going to be your connection point to the outside world. This is where commerce will be done and where content will be created and consumed. It will also become a school room, an office, a doctor’s office, a store, a movie theater, a library, and much, much more. Use these guidelines and spend where you will get the most benefit. This is not a place to save money; it is a place to invest in your future.
Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.