8 Best Laptops for IT Professionals & IT Students (2021 Models) – Laptop Study Leave a comment


I am 30 years old. I have worked in the IT Business since around 2009. That’s professionally because I’ve been tinkering with laptops since high school and college (this was also the time I met the guys behind this site). 

And during those +10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work as a “consultant” as well as a “service provider”, “internal corporate support” and everything else in between.

Now I was to asked to write an article about the perfect laptop for IT professionals and anyone involved in the Information Technology business.

Well, first of all….

This question seems redundant. The word “perfect” or “best” can be misleading, it’s like asking what are the best tools to write good software.

The answer is of course, it depends.

You need to build your “own” programming environment or tools, slowly and over time, with the unique and cuztomized settings/IDEs/programming languages that you want and know how to use best.

Laptops for the IT business are kind of the same thing. 

There isn’t a perfect laptop for IT.

In fact, part of your job when entering the Information Technology field, is to find, collect, build and then combine all the tools you need (cables/dongles/converters/adapters) for the jobs you usually perform.

The bag I carry is currently the best evidence of this.

Over the years, it has gotten heavy as hell as well as OCD compartmentalized with color-coded zip-pouches/pockets/sleeves all filled with the tools I might need in a typical day.

The moral of this story is that there’s no standard definition of what an IT pro does, is and what he/she needs.

There are millions of us who do million of different things. So you have to build the one that will works best for you.

Recommended Hardware For IT professionals

Of course, there are those just getting into the IT field and want something to get started with.

And that’s exactly what you’ll find in this post.

Looking back, I wouldn’t want a swiss army laptop. That’s just more power, more heat and more space taken, more stuff that breaks that I may not need and I can’t easily replace.

A good place to start is…

A lightweight laptop with a good battery life, an HDMI/DP out and 3-4 USB ports .

A nice bonus would be to be able to upgrade both the RAM & Storage as needed (save for a few rare cases virtually all laptops let you do this today ).

If there’s anything else you might need, simply add an adapter to the brief case. They don’t really take much bag space(unless you have hundreds of other tools like me), they’re cheap and easy to replace.

The best part of having integrated devices (like an external CD ROM drive) is that you can use those with a computer other than your own.

But Wait…I came here for a laptop with all the ports/DVD Drive and almost no accessories!

I am well aware that there’s a many of you reading this post in search of the “closest” perfect laptop for an IT Pro, that is, to maximize  ports and minimize the use of external devices as much as possible.

Which would be REALLY NICE to have especially if you are a network admin/sysadmins or someone who doesn’t do desktop support.

What kind of laptop would be perfect for IT business ?

A laptop with:

  • An Optical Drive
  • A serial port (or two)
  • At least 4 USB 3 Ports
  • a VGA Port
  • HDMI Port
  • a Fire port
  • SD Card Slot
  • Ethernet port
  • BlueTooth
  • Removable battery
  • And any other port an IT Pro might also need.

Obviously all the above depends on the motherboard, that is, if the motherboard does in fact, support all this I/O. Unfortunately, most motherboards found on today’s (2021) laptops don’t have all of that. You MIGHT find all these ports at once at models that are SPECIFICALLY customized for IT professionals.

What about CPU/RAM/Storage…When are those important?

Maxing out on these specs is only useful if you are a network engineer who needs set up their own lab on a laptop or to recreate networking environments: that is to integrate Cisco Firewalls, routers, switches with ESXi hosts and VMs as well as NetApp Filers for storage.

This may or may not need to be very hardware demanding it depends on the kind of lab you want and the number of VMs you want to run. You can check more details about this on our Virtualization post.

Other considerations

Of course there are those who do IT support from home by using running LabTech/ScreenConnect/VSphere Client.

There’s also a few folks might just be interested on running Linux with minimal fuss.

And lastly, students who are just getting started in the IT Field.

To keep this section concise, this discussion  (the hardware, types of IT jobs, useful ports and so on) has been moved to the end of this post

Because everyone here knows about computers, there’s no point of going over and explaining what the specs mean. Just be aware to choose more power (if you want to run virtual labs) or more ports(for on-site IT support)

If you can’t find any of these around your region, take note of the model’s number and check the manufactuer’s website or amazon (I’ll list a few other worthy alternatives when possible).

Lastly, if you were expecting old bricks with every single port in it, I’m only going to list one.

But IMO it’d be best for you to invest on modern laptops and a buy a few more accesories (if you need them) than relying on an old  brick that can die on you any minute which can’t be upgraded.


1. Lenovo ThinkPad 

Best Lenovo Laptop For IT Professionals

  Ryzen 5  PRO 4650U 6 Cores

  16GB RAM DDR4 (Up to 40GB)

   AMD Radeon Graphics

  512GB PCIe NVMe (Up to 8TB)

  14” FHD TN Display

  4lbs

  8 hours

    No DVD Drive

  2 USB 3.2 Gen1, 1 HDMI, 2 USB 3.2 Type-C Gen2, Micro SD Reader, Ethernet Port, Headphone/Microphone Combo Jack + FingerPrint Reader

The best of the best choices would’ve been a Lenovo ThinkPad but ever since the thinkpads were “lenovo-nized” (it was formerly owned by IBM), their usefulness for IT decreased and the price increased.

The trend across ALL manufacturers seems to be to appeal more and more to the masses so they make their laptops smaller, thinner and more portable each year.

This caused the number of accessories/tools(fancy words for ports) intrisically installed to be reduced significantly.

However…

If you compare the ThinkPads to other brands, they will come out on TOP for IT purposes. 

Although not as much as they did in the past….

I remember one of the companies I worked at deployed around 200 of those old puppys (T430 and T431 were our favorites) with a small percentage of issues (2-3%) that required RMs.  That’s how good those models were!

Unfortunately, you find a “modern model” with the huge # of ports the older models had.

So you have two choices…

Go for the older models and go for this model (there are several models in this series). 

I decided not to feature an older model because I just can’t bring myself to recommend old hardware old( the processors can be quite slow for software made today, though this can be fixed with a RAM/SSD upgrade). You can check them out buy them if you want though: Old Lenovo ThinkPads. Just remember to upgrade it and do the appropiate customization to make it more responsive with Windows 10.

My recommendation is…

 To pick the Lenovo T14 featured here (preferably with the Ryzen 5/7 Chip) or the Lenovo ThinkPad T14 with the Core i5/Core i7 10th generation chips.

Older models with more ports:

As discussed, the farther you go back in time with ThinkPads, the more ports you’ll find and the slower/more outdated the hardware will get.

With this in mind, I would ONLY consider ThinkPads from the 4th generation onwards (including Lenovo X1 Carbons which is a bit more portable since it discards the optical drive altogether).

I know…

Whether you get a new or an old ThinkPad , they are still pretty expensive.

But they’re also pretty reliable too I mean if you are the only IT guy supporting 80 people, why mess around?

If you’re on a budget and want something recent, 

You can choose this ThinkPad that sells for about 700$:

Which has the same ports:

x1 USB 2.0
x2 USB 3.1 Gen 1 (one Always On)
x1 one USB 3.1 Type-C Gen 1 (with the function of Power Delivery and DisplayPort)
x1 HDMI 1.4b
x1 Ethernet (RJ-45)

If you are also going to run several virtual machines, it’d be best to grab the first laptop featured or the Ryzen 7 PRO version which has 16 threads/8 cores if its available:


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2. Lenovo X-Carbon

Best Laptop for IT administrators / IT Students

  Core i7-10510U

  16GB RAM

   Intel UHD Graphics 

  1TB PCIe NVMe SSD 

  14” FHD IPS  Anti-Glare

  2.4lbs

  10 hours

  2 x USB-C 3.2 (Gen 2) Intel Thunderbolt 3 (DisplayPort, Data transfer), 2 x USB 3.2 (Gen 1) (1 always on), HDMI 1.4, Network extension for Ethernet/side mechanical docking, Headphone / mic combo

Just like the ThinkPads, the Lenovo X-Carbon come in different flavors, sizes and generations.

This one is the latest of the latest X-Carbon series.

If you go back in time and get the older models, yes you’ll definitely find one or two extra USB ports but none of them will have an optical drive.

Anyways, they’re all still special but they’re expensive. I always recommend them because these models are portable, reliable, have lots of ports and the best hardware, the holy quadrinity for IT into one.

If you are an IT administrator or an admin moving all over the place, might as well grab this one (and buy a few adapters/accessories) and avoid other bulky units(with a few more ports).

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4. Dell XPS 13 9360

Best Laptop For IT Consultant & Support

  Core i5-10210U

  8GB RAM DDR3

   Intel UHD

  256GB SSD M.2

  13” full HD 1080p IPS

  2.7lb

  10 hours

  2x Thunderbolt 3 with PowerDelivery & Display Port, 1x USB-C 3.1, 1x MicroSD Card Reader

Another portable and realiable model from another brand. Probably the most reliable from Dell.

It’s built with a premium form factor all over: full aluminum, thin, lightweight, crispy high quality display,etc.

Laptops like these don’t have extra ports nor do they have insane amounts of power but they have enough juice to avoid any lags regardless of what you do while still keeping a lightweight design.

These are more useful for IT folks working at the office managing servers remotely or those providing IT support from home using a Labtech/Screenconnect/VSphere client. Works even better for that if you get any of the 4k resolution display because you’ll an amazing amount of extra space.

All models let you attach two external monitors too by using the thunderbolt 3 and HDMI ports so you can get even MORE space if you have to interact with clients while keeping an eye with a lot of documentation at the same time.

Note that there is no optical drive or a network port but you can get those with USB-based adapters.

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4. Surface Pro 7

Best Laptop For IT students

  Core m3 , Core i5, Core i7

  4GB-16GB RAM

  Intel HD/Iris

  128GB-1TB PCIe NVMe SSD

  12” IPS 2736×1824

  1.7lb and above

  +11 hours

  1 x USB-C®, 1 x USB-A, 1 x Surface Connect port, Surface Type Cover port⁴, MicroSDXC card reader (the latter 3 are for the docking station/surface Pro accessories).

If you are studying to complete exanimations for your certifications so you can begin your first entry level IT job (networking & server maintance most likely).

I don’t think you’d need a thick and heavy brick for that.

Networking & server maintenace does not require lots of storage, RAM or even a high end CPU.

Considering the fact that you’ll be studying and always on the go you should think about getting an ultra book or any ultra portable machine like the Surface Pro, ASUS ZenBook, etc.

The Surface Pro:

I’m recommending the Surface Pro because it’s the most versatile ultra book out there.

It’s not just a fast thin and light device. It can hold a lot horse power to do pretty much everything you would with a high end machine.

Like every other machine, you can install/run Linux environments and remote accessing  computers, it’s not really a tablet but a laptop that can turn into a tablet.

If you use a VESA-mount and attach an external monitor to it you can turn it into a full desktop environment for you to use HP BTO, Cisco tools or the AWS console.

The Surface Pro doesn’t have the ports to attach an external monitor, sound speaker, ANOTHER monitor, a keyboard etc as you would with a desktop but if you buy the  “docking station“. You can attach all of that and get a few more ports.

You proably won’t need to ever worry about ports like I said, adapters are the trend now.

Serial port? Small USB-to-serial adapter, job done.

Optical drive? Very unlikely you’ll need to use one even if you do you could always buy an external CD/DVD Drive(check the last section on my fav brand) or combine stuff like server iDRAC and IPMI with remote management.

Don’t forget that OS installs can be done off USB sticks too.

The one thing I wish the Surface Pro would have though is an Ethernet but you can work around that though (usb3 to gigabit adapter).

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  AMD Radeon Graphics

HD/Iris  16GB (Up to 32GB)

  512GB PCIe NVMe SSD  (Up to 2TB)

  15.6″ Full HD IPS Anti-glare TouchScreen

  4.41lbs 

  7 hours

The HP Spectre series are the best choice if you’ll be practicing onsite support and you want a few more ports to reduce the number of dongles,adapters.

The HP Spectre X360 works just like the Surface Pro but unlike the Surface Pro it has x4 USB ports (1 USB Type C port). .

The model shown has the following ports:

1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C 
1 x HDMI 2.0
1 xDisplayPort 1.4
2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A 

Among other I/O features like an MS Card Reader.

The Older models:

Only the older models have that huge number of USB like the  HP Spectre x360  15 (2016)   or the HP Spectre x360 15(2017)  Note that these are the only two models that have both x4 USB Ports!

My Recommendation:

Let me again try to convince that the recent version is fine. In fact, any of these 15 inch ultrabooks + serial port adapter and USB3 blueray will be a lot less to haul than some uggly old brick from 2002 that you won’t use and might even be embarassed to take out of your backpack.

Plus both the Surface Pro & HP spectre x360, will be more useful if you find yourself standing in a data center and in need to operate it with one hand(they are both convertible 2-1 in laptops with a TouchScreen display).

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6. Panasonic Toughbook CF-53 

Best Laptop For IT “Pros”

  Intel i5-2520M 2.5GHz

  16GB RAM DDR3

   Intel HD

  1TB SSD

  14” HD TN Display

  8lbs

  5 hours

  All ports you can think of with a CD/DVD Drive

This is probably the machine you all have in mind as being the perfect IT laptop out there.

Laptops like these will always be rugged or semi-rugged and callign them bulky is an understatement   (that’s how they can toss a ton of ports).

There are several brands to choose from “Getac”, “Dell”, “Panasonic”. I’ve found this panasonic one available recently but you can just type “Getac laptop” in th google search or the amazon search bar to find these kind of laptops, not just models from getac (the search engines understand you’re looking for these kind of laptops when you type Getac).

If you have the cash and you find a recent model with decent hardware you think you can’t just use accessories, then yes they are worth the price. 

These bricks also have more advantages than just having all the ports you’ll ever need.

If you get stuck in a snodrift on your way to a data center, you can use them as shovels and get there right one time.

Just a joke, they sure are useful but they’re pretty scarce unless you go for older models. This is the only DECENT old model I’ve found the extra RAM and the SSD upgrades surely will offset the lack of CPU power, you should be able to easily navigate through Windows 10 with this set up.

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Best MacBook For IT Professionals

  Intel Core i7 3.3GHz

  8GB RAM DDR4

   Intel Iris 550 Graphics

  256GB Flash SSD

  13” Retina IPS

  3lb

  10 hours

  x2 USB 3.0 Port + HDMI Port + Ethernet Port, x2 Thunderbolt Ports

If the link runs out of stock, use this LINK to find more modeals (make sure to double check for the same ports)

Wait what’s a MacBook Pro doing here?

At my current place, everyone in Ops has their pick of what machines they want to use.

We can go for the standard company models (Lenovo T400 series, Dell something) and yes that includes MacBooks too (MBA 13, MBP 15 Retina) or whatever we want (they know we know what we need more than anyone!) AND we can upgrade whenever we have a good reason to. A $2k laptop is trivial compared to what we spend on servers honestly. None of us order a  windows machine with a 4th generation CPU , they’re way too slow! We try to get the most recent models (we go as low as laptops with 7th generation Intel CPUs these days).

If we had a super low budget, we’d go for 5th generation CPUs at the minimum.

However….

With the MacBook Pro, the oppossite holds true: none of us order ever order the new and recent models. 

Why?

The latest MacBooks especially those with a TouchBar/Retina display have more power and are more portable sure but as a Linux engineer (5 years) and IT manager (1 year), these are not very ideal.

The lack of an ethernet port and optical drive is understandable but the wifi reception of SOME models is spotty at best.

But that’s not the main issue with the latest 2019-2021 models, the issue is that they have almost zero ports (and there will be times you’ll need at least one usable port because you can never be so sure about your adapters working at all times).

Don’t opt for the newer models, I know I said everything can be fixed with Adapters/Dongles/Accessories but I never said to get a laptop with zero ports.

The lack of ports of the newest models will make your MacBook stuck in dongle hell and if you do on-site support, you’ll start to look like Neo when he was plugged into the Matrix to the people you are working for.

If you’d really like to have a MacBook Pro (maybe you are a student or maybe you like its Unix-Like and programming environment and features which I love myself), get the older versions like this one or the one features here.

Click these links to get all the options you have: 13” MBP and 15” MBP . Double check they have at least one or two USB ports

Of course, don’t go too old ! Just go back to whatever model has the old fashioned USB Ports. The one features has a decent amount of ports, more than your average 2021 Windows laptop!

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8. Dell M6500

Old Laptop For IT

  Core i5 2.3GHz

  4GB RAM DDR3

   NIVidia FX2800 1GB vRAM

  2x 320GB HDD

  17” HD

  15lb

  ????

 

I’m just listing this one for information purposes only.

This is the oldest brick on the list, what was used in the 90s. It has a full-size key board (with num pad), 17″ screen, 2 USB 3.0/2 USB 3.0 ports + LAN port + wireless + optical drive, those were really beefy and you can still find them (second hand obviously).

The only downside is that as you guessed it they’re slow as hell compared. You can find these laptops on amazon or ebay or the museum just for your viewing pleasure. Don’t buy these.


Last Words:

I think in general IT people have resigned themselves to being in dongle-land for the moment. The very few times you’ll need the old serial port+ optical drive, you’ll realize it’s just not worth it to carry a giant slab just for those few ocassions. Better to have a really sleek and easilly carried ultrabook and live with the dongles, imo.

I believe that the need for these dongles and ports and such will fade even in IT since the general masses (and therefore the laptops) no longer have needs for these tools. Over time you’ll find a very few ocassions where you’ll need the occassional serial port…mostly when a switch stops working or something.


As mentioned in the introduction IT folks come in a wide variety of flavors but they can be divided into:

1. Students

If you are a student entering the IT field, trust me when I say this. Unless your program clearly specifies to buy a laptop, you won’t need one. Whenever you need a computer you’ll just end up using the desktops provided in class. The programming environments & languages you’ll probably have to go through are:

None of these really require much in terms of computing power, and the ones that do will give you access to compute servers anyway (virtual machines networks). If I were you I’d just buy something you don’t mind lugging around, perhaps a ChromeBook (for which you can throw in a full Linux install) or a cheap light laptop with decent battery life.

However…

If you are in a school that asks you for it and clearly specifies you’ll run Virtual machines throughout your courses then you’d probably need to less than a thousand dollars to run a few virtual machines and 1500-3000$ to run several nested Virtual environments. This is unlikely though so you’re better off sending an email to the department asking explicitly what you’ll be doing with your laptop.

Mac/Linux?

There’s a high chance your school recommends Macs.  Programming is easier in a *nix environment(gcc, which is bunch of compilers, doesn’t work natively on Windows’ command prompt).

Although you’ll definitely need Windows over the course of your studies. Both Linux & Mac however allow you to dual boot into it.

2. Virtual Machines

If you want to manage virtual servers or play around with virtual machines for your own labs and networks studies with minimal fuss. You should give the virtualization post a good read, there are way too many details to be covered here.

3. IT Support

Tech support

IT Folks providing desktop support and moving around the building fixing issues are the ones that will suffer the most in this age as modern laptops keep reducing the number of ports.

Administer Servers

If you just administer servers remotely then you could really buy any laptop with a modern CPU & RAM with a wireless AC network card , there’s not reason to worry about the rest.

IT support from home

Likewise there isn’t anything special about giving desktop support remotely either. Labtech/Screenconnect/Vsphere client only require a fast internet connection (actually just a decent). So an ethernort port might come in handy that’s about it.

Ports & Optical Drives

Finding a laptop with a lack of network port and DVD can real pain these days. It doesn’t make sense for manufacturers to dismiss IT folks altogether by cutting on USB ports.

There should be at least one model designed for IT people on the HP/Dell/Lenovo’s website right? Well there isn’t as far I am aware.

If you want a modern laptop there’s really no way to get out of dongle hell, only the oldest bricks you find might support x4 USB ports an Optical Drive + a network card.  

If you are going to do work in a single office, you shouldn’t really worry about it.

It’s mostly IT folks who have to provide on site support and would rather not have their clients looking over their shoulders as they wait for the accessories to be recognized and work. Even simple things like copying files from a network share to a flash drive can be a real pain.

Accessories

Here are my go-to brands when it comes to accesories:

  • Optical Drive: If this model is not available, pick any VicTsing brand.
  • TRENDnet: serial converts installations are quickly done and they’re recognized in every device I’ve tried.
  • Ethernet Adapter: Very cheap, very compact, very reliable. A must have for anyone in IT.
  • Extra USB ports:  No need to download drivers, works seamlessly across everything.

 

 

 



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