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TECHNOLOGY

Tested: 3 High-Performance Laptops

It's what's inside these machines that matters most. Check out three models with plenty of extra features to power your startup.
The Sony Flip
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A laptop is almost a commodity purchase these days. You can walk into a Best Buy store, past the row of tablets and phones, and grab any old low-cost model from HP or Dell.

Yet, as tech evolves, it's more important than ever to check out what's inside a laptop--they are not all created equal.

For any startup, it just doesn't work to choose a laptop based on the processor and RAM allotment anymore. You'll also want to pay attention to the "fringe" features.

These powerful models offer extra perks to help power your business. They offer high-res displays, support for the latest wireless standards like Intel WiDi (so you can transmit your laptop screen to a projector or HDTV in a conference room) and NFC (a new innovation that lets you tap a gadget on the laptop to create a Bluetooth connection), and even a few bonus features like a Thunderbolt connection (for very fast disk access).

1. Lenovo ThinkPad W540

This super-powerful computer has several selling points. For starters, the display runs at a jaw-dropping 2880×1620 pixels (aka, 3K). Videos and photos look incredibly crisp. The W540 has a Thunderbolt connection so you can connect external drives like the LaCie Little Big Disk Thunderbolt and transfer data at 635MBps--so back-ups take seconds, not minutes. There's Bluetooth 4.0 and WiDi on board, but NFC is an optional add-on. There's an Intel Core i7-4800MQ 2.7GHZ processor with Intel Turbo Boost technology 2.0 to pump the processor speed up to 3.7GHz. The 9-cell battery lasts about six hours.

One minor gripe: there's only an old-school VGA connection for a monitor, not the newer DisplayPort. The W540 starts at $1,257.52 but the one I tested, which has an NVIDIA QUADRO graphics card, costs $3,664.

2. HP ZBook 15 Mobile Workstation

Another monster laptop, the ZBook 15 is packed with high-end features. Like the Lenovo W540, there's a Thunderbolt connection for lightning fast data transfers. You can pack in 32GB of RAM, which is unusual for a laptop. There's also room for up to three internal storage drives. The ZBook has a DisplayPort connection for an external monitor instead of the older VGA.

Some of the perks on the system I tested, which costs $2,999, are a Blu-Ray drive for data back-ups to optical disc, a high-end NVIDIA Quadro K2100M graphics card for making videos and editing photos. The system I tested used a Dreamcolor hi-res display that sucks up battery power--the ZBook lasted only five hours. Without that high-end display, battery life is around 10 hours. Like the W540, the 2.7GHz processor can run in 3.7GHz turbo mode for extra speed. The ZBook does provide Bluetooth 4.0 for connecting external gadgets like headsets but not NFC or intel WiDi.

3. Sony Flip 15

One of the lowest priced performance laptops around, at just $1,799, the Flip 15 is still a powerhouse. The display looks stunning at 2800×1620 resolution. When you pull up a high-res image, it looks more life-like--which is handy for creating brochures and logos. The most unusual feature: the display flips forward and then lies flat like a tablet. The Core i7 1.8GHz processor is not as speedy as the workstation versions in the Lenovo and HP models, but still fast enough for most business apps, photo editing, and video production work.

The model I tested has a 1TB drive and 12GB of RAM; it also includes WiDi, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC. That's a big win for early tech adopters because you can stay current with next-gen standards. The battery on the Flip lasts about five hours, or a hair shorter than the Lenovo W540.

IMAGE: Sony
Last updated: Jan 21, 2014

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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