Integrator Laptop Guide

Author: IPVM Team, Published on Oct 16, 2018

This 18-page guide provides guidance and statistics about integrator laptop use. 150 integrators explained to IPVM in detail about their laptops, including:

  • Favorite laptop brands used, with the top 7 ranked
  • Most commonly used CPU, RAM, and Screen Resolutions
  • Detailed commentary on Dell, HP, Apple and other brands
  • Tablets vs Laptops
  • Average laptop lifespan
  • Administrator rights for technicians
  • Top 4 improvements that integrators want from laptops

We answer and elaborate on each of these questions straight from integrator members inside.

Overview

In terms of brand, Dell laptops are the clear favorite, with more than 40% of all mentions:

In second place, HP and Lenovo were tied, breakdown below:

  • Dell - 43%
  • HP - 16%
  • Lenovo - 16%
  • Asus - 9%
  • Microsoft Surface - 5%
  • Acer - 4%
  • Apple - 3%
  • Other - 5%

The two main differences between general laptop brand shipments and security integrators were that Dell was much stronger and Apple much weaker.

Dell Most Common

Texas based Dell held the largest marketshare for integrators, and their answers evidenced good support, easy service, and good reliability as key. Several answers also mentioned they also are Dell-resellers to their own customers, and use that relationship as the basis for their own business:

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  • "We generally keep laptops for 5 years or more and repair them when out of warranty in house. Dell is easy to fix and easy to upgrade. A new SSD is basically a new laptop as long as the screen is good."
  • "Dell, good value for money and can usually get discounts through their online chat. Their support is also quite good."
  • "We used to use HP but have since moved to Dell. It is part of a total technology shift internally from being an HP house to being a full Dell house."
  • "Dell. OUr IT guy has a love affair with Dell and they have great support."
  • "Dell for Reliability & support"
  • "Mostly HP but changing to Dell, HP sometimes is not too dependable, have tried Dell and just cannot destroy them."
  • "Dell. Our IT guy likes them, they are pretty reliable, Dell's service is usually good."
  • "Dell. Sales, pricing, specials, design build features on their site, good warranty and service, return policy."
  • "We use Dell exclusively. We are Dell partners/resellers, and standardization has helped us manage the laptops and other computers we use, and lower our repair expenses. It also helps us to track software licenses and make sure we're compliant."
  • "Dell is our IT choice."
  • "Dell. We are a Dell shop you could say."

HP Tied 2nd

Tied for co-second place is HP. Among the strengths mentioned was good reliability and ready inventory as needed. While overall sentiment was weaker than for Dell, many of the same relative strengths in support and business pricing were mentioned:

  • "We use only HP laptops. We use several different models but try and stay in the Elitebook family."
  • "HP. We've used HP laptops for many years now with little to no issues. HP has been good about working with us on RMA's and warranty issues."
  • "HP ZBook 15 Workstation Class, high performance integrated video card"
  • "We have had the best luck with HP Probooks and Dell Inspiron series laptops. The technicians use HP and salespeople and office staff use Dell typically. We find the HP Probooks tend to hold up and take a lot of abuse, moreso than Lenovo certainly."
  • "HP. Proven to be reliable over time. Seem to have fewer issues than with Dell."
  • "HP... readily available."
  • "HP Business. Prefer business models over consumer. Don't see a lot of difference between HP and Dell, but warranty support from Dell requires phone/chat while HP can be resolved by email."
  • "HP Zbook, because Supports heavy work on the field, and has good performance Dell Inspiron 15 because Dell have good technical Support."

Lenovo Also 2nd

And China's Lenovo tied for second. Despite past problems with factory installed spyware, the brand's ThinkPad line remains a popular pick with origins from legacy IBM ownership days. While most mentions reflected low pricing and strong business partner programs rather than purely technological differences, the brand's marketshare appears to remain strong especially among integrators:

  • "Lenovo T440's currently Purchased as refurbs. Cheap, reliable, and durable."
  • "Lenovo T430, good software support."
  • "Lenovo Company Corporate deal with Lenovo for all kinds of use . Office, technicians, lab, etc..."
  • "Lenovo. T series. They hold up very well. Easy to service."
  • "Lenovo. Discount from volume purchase."
  • "We've been using Lenovo E series workbooks. Just a regular laptop, we try to find something that is light and easily replaceable since they will get damaged. I tend to lean towards a price rang of $750-$800. I am looking at moving over to the Microsoft Surface."
  • "Lenovo, got a deal on them."
  • "Lenovo Flex series or Microsoft Surface Pro Because we are a Lenovo partner and enjoy the 2-in-1 functionality. We enjoy the Surface Pros because they allow us to install SD cards for mobile internet in the field."

Apple Use Limited

Despite being one of the world's largest computer makers, Apple only rated a handful of mentions among security installers. The big gap is likely a result of factors like high relative cost, and limited compatibility of Mac OS with common security and VMS platforms, a fact noted in VMS Software Compatible MAC OS:

  • "We also have iPads for all our techs for work orders, utilities, and live view of maintained sites."
  • "Mac ... because Apple"
  • "Microsoft Surface or Lenovo. We are a Microsoft/Lenovo dealer. Some also opt for Apple, as we are also this dealer too- but most products use windows, so the techs opt for VM within the laptop for this. (I've always opted for Apple products, since the hardware seems to have a longer life-cycle)."
  • "Apple Macbook Pro 12"
  • "We have a Dell line of credit, however we use iPADs or iPhone for our dispatch and time ticket software"
Common Tech Specifications

In terms of processors, the most common core used i5 chips, although the more powerful i7 class followed a close second:

For technician laptops, 8 GBs of RAM is typical with 56% of votes, although bumping the amount to 16 GB is more common (30%) than minimizing builds to 4 GB (12%).

And especially given the multi-megapixel resolutions of individual cameras, like popular 4MP and 4K Models, gauging the most common screen resolution shows 1080p monitors to fit the majority of integrator buying specs:

In fact, many integrator color responses of an i5 processor, 8 GB RAM, and ~1080p screen resolution was exactly the same as the most common specifications cited:

  • "8Gb ram, I5, 1920x1080, Meets or exceeds our needs"
  • "CPU/RAM: Minimum current-gen i5 and 8GB RAM. 1080p is preferred."
  • "Intel Core i5 processor or better with at least 8 GB of RAM. 1080p resolution is sufficient but we use an advanced Intel GPU with added memory"
  • "CPU: I5-5300 RAM: 8GB Reso: 1920x1080 Tech need to be able to load multiple ACS and VMS for installation, service, etc."
  • "I5, 8MB, 1080P mostly used for video setups, want the resolution."
  • "i5, 8gb+, and 1080p, with this setup it can handle most applications and for remote hands type situations we don't have to be concerned if additional software has to be loaded for testing/configuration."
  • "Try to aim for i5 4gb ram minimum Ideally i5 8gb ram Most of ours are 3/4th gen i5 1280*768 Will only be buying 1080p from now on , much more room to work."

Many Cite Tech Laptop Work Not Demanding

However, especially in answers citing less demanding specs, the common theme of 'tech laptops do not need to be powerful' because the work techs typically perform does not require aggressive specs:

  • "Generally, our technicians do not need a very powerful machine for basic camera and VMS programming. If a more powerful machine is required then usually we use a client server already in place or being installed during the project."
  • "The techs don’t need a whole of horsepower in their laptops. The most important feature is having an solid state drive. Nothing worse than being on a site and waiting for your laptop to boot up. "
  • "We haven’t found many cases where i7’s are needed. i5’s have enough horse power to load most VMS clients, especially for testing and initial setups."
  • "Whatever is most current but cost effective. They don't have high end technical requirements."
  • "Not bare bones, but a high end powerhouse isn't needed for the basic task they do in the field (most things are configured remotely)."

These comments often mention that more powerful or resource intensive tasks are not normally performed in the field by techs but by other specialized staff remotely or with onsite servers/workstations.

But Low Risk Buying Top End Machines

But some integrators make it clear that overbuilding tech laptops is not a major concern because undersizing machines and potentially building time delays into projects due to tasks too tough for weaker laptops to handle is a bigger risk. In many cases, stronger processors and more RAM was common, but resolutions tended to stay around 1080p:

  • "Most are i7 and 16GB RAM. Windows and OSX both suck on less than 8GB of RAM."
  • "Down time costs a lot of money, I want my people to have the best tool to get the job done."
  • "2.7 GHz Intel Core i7-4800MQ (3.7 GHz Turbo) • 16 GB DDR3L RAM. I don't want anything to stand in the way of their productivity."
  • "We don't want to waste time waiting for things to boot or load. Our tools should be as quick as possible."
  • "A tech's laptop has to be upgraded every 12-18 months if it's not the most cutting edge resolution at the time. Even if it is the best of the best it has to be upgraded 24-30 months."
  • "I7 processor. Minimum 8gb ram. 1080p screen. We usually will over buy on power so it’s longer term investment."
  • "Techs get monster i7's with 16 GB RAM, we simply can't make our techs work with weak laptops because it costs more in the longrun."

Tablet Use, Consideration Growing

While still an overall minority, tablet use versus laptops was reported by several as an interesting option with many citing current or future plans to trial tablets with techs:

  • "We are presently evaluating the use of tablets versus full laptops as they are easier to use in the field and can take photos which may be save to field service app."
  • "We are looking at going to Microsoft Surfaces and testing some in the field now. We are also looking at getting them all on the Domain with monitoring software. This will limit what they can install and use, but will help us eliminate potential security risks."
  • "Techs that are entry level and installers - use the Dell Latitude 2n1, m5, 8MB, 1920x1080 - acts like a tablet. easy to look at drawings and manufacturer instructions while doing the install. Tablet will run for 5 hours or so on a charge. "
  • "More mobile/tablet applications to avoid having to have a full size laptop. Possibility of having them all online all the time via a 5G network is very exciting to enable product support, work order management etc."
  • "A laptop that can transform into a tablet but still have the ability to be used as a viewfinder to focus cameras. Taking a laptop on a ladder poses some safety issues and can also result in a broken laptop (dropped)."
  • "We are getting closer to being able to use tablets for more of the techs. as the mobile processors get faster and the battery life gets better, we will have more techs that want to carry a good tablet rather than a mid-range laptop."
  • "We are actually looking at going to tablets instead of laptops. There are some great tablets that run Windows and are just as good at a laptop."
  • "Laptops may go away with most of our techs and be replaced with the new tablets as they come into their own, performance-wise. That's the biggest improvement I am seeing."

The overall performance differences were mentioned as minor compared to the advantages of tablets being lightweight, easy use on a ladder, and with overall good battery life. Furthermore, outfitting a tablet with a rugged case or sleeve is easier and less costly than ruggedizing a laptop.

Most Requested Laptop Improvements & Upgrades

We asked 'What improvements or changes to your technician's laptops would be most valuable? Why?', and four common answers emerged:

  • Longer Battery Life
  • Solid State Drives
  • Better Ruggedness
  • More Integrated Port Types

In the sections below, integrators provide color comments explaining these choices and why they are important for security work:

Battery Life Critical

The most common improvement mentioned was simply better, longer internal battery life so that time away from an outlet or between charges in the field is longer:

  • "Even though manufacturers claim 8~10 hr battery life, real world performance is considerably less."
  • "Battery life is also another thing that we can never get enough of."
  • "A battery of longer duration: when one technician forget to charge his laptop we have a problem...a surprise in client business and an ask for help from our technician, usually asking for a new battery asap."
  • "Longer battery life to increase portability."
  • "Long battery life and durable construction. Need to be able to work untethered as much as possible and bumps and drops are a fact of life in the field."
  • "Better (longer life) batteries. So they don't look for power outlets all the time."
  • "When new, the battery life is great at 5 - 6 hours, but it seems like they loose capacity in a shorter period of time than previous generations of laptop batteries. 6 to 9 months after purchase the batteries are closer to the 1 - 2 hour capacity range."
  • "Longer battery life, more rugged. That would have them better suited for field work."
  • "Lighter weight, longer battery life, durability."

Solid State Drives

Secondly, answers mentioning the major performance improvements by replacing platter style HDDs with SSDs makes them an upgrade worth getting:

  • "We have started purchasing laptops with SSD drives for their faster boot-up time. That has a huge benefit, especially for our service techs."
  • "Component reliability has improved to support longer lifespans, especially with SSD drives. Operating system forced upgrades seem to degrade performance more than lifespan."
  • "We have aftermarket SSD's in most of them as this is the best way to speed up a laptop."
  • "The solid state drives are working really well for us, and we have had no failures due to heat problems."
  • "(High) resolution is not as important. SSD is a must."
  • "A new SSD is basically a new laptop as long as the screen is good."
  • "We typically buy a laptop with higher cpu and add our own memory and solid state drive to keep cost to a minimum, and in most cases, will just move the SSD hard drive from a failed laptop to a replacement."

Ruggedness

One of the most requested improvements, if not widely available, are ruggedized housings and designs for technician laptops often receiving damage in the field through drops, knocks, water, and dust:

  • "For ASUS to make an Industrial grade case with the current specifications bearing in mind price is an important factor for "in field" usage."
  • "Hardend/ ruggedized devices would be great but at a price-point of 4 to 1 it just isn't practical."
  • "Add Hard shell or drop protection for laptops due to dropping unintentionally off top of ladder or table has cause damage to casement of laptop and screens."
  • "Rugged laptops and tablets are very expensive. We would like to see cost effective hybrid units. "
  • "We love the surface platform with Urban Armour Protection. I don’t like the fact that so many accessories have to be kept with."
  • "Making the laptops lightweight and rugged (but still with the necessary specs for troubleshooting) will be the most valuable."
  • "A more impact resistant case would be an important change that would help extend the lifespan of the laptops. This would make it more cost effective to make sure that every technician has a laptop with them at all times."
  • "More ruggedness, without the bulkiness or price of the premium rugged laptops.. the rugged ones are also really hard to use and generally poor on performance."

One of the major drawbacks of existing 'rugged' offerings was their high price compared to non-ruggedized counterparts.

Panasonic Toughbooks: Good Branding, High Price

Interestingly, those citing ruggedness often specifically mentioned Panasonic's Toughbook line. Despite Panasonic not registering as a significant 'favorite' brand, many have the overall perception that Toughbook laptops are benchmark examples of 'ruggedized', although high pricing keeps the offering out of reach for many to use:

  • "Durability. Short of buying toughbooks, etc, there is always room for durability improvements."
  • "Would like to see a more durable, strong, resilient Laptop. Panasonic used to make a Tough Book. Built for the rough life with a technician."
  • "Probably longer battery life and more robust housings (without the cost of a Toughbook). "
  • "More inexpensive tough laptops like Panasonic makes. Inevitably, these laptops gets tortured from drops, scratches, water and etc."

Indeed, examining Toughbook prices shows a ~$3,500 base price for equivalent but non-ruggedized units from Dell costing ~$1,500 or an HP costing ~$1,400.

More Ports

Another key request was for tech laptops to buck the trend of coming with less ports and actually add them back and to even expand them with new types like PoE-out ethernet ports:

  • "It would also be nice to still get serial ports built in instead of converters to use on fire alarm panel programming."
  • "Additional network ports! And possibly the integration of a single POE+ capable NIC."
  • "Would be nice to have a serial port for certain jobs but nothing current seems to support that. USB to serial works well for most things."
  • "More USB ports, no doubts. We have to connect a great variety of devices during installations and the USB ports are not enough. On the other side, the Laptops must have good Bluetooth (in Acer laptops they have little power)"
  • "Offer PoE output on the NIC"
  • "Some still use DVD and some still have Serial connection needs! It would be nice to have a NEW speedy laptop with a serial port and DVD slot."
  • "We like our machines quite a bit, with no real complaints. The only thing I would like to see is a COM port put back into the chassis."
  • "Built in POE would be great."
  • "We work with some old hardware on site and backwards compatibility can sometimes be an issue with traditional com ports being rqd."
  • "Serial ports built. We still have a lot of alarm panels using analog phones that we need to use adapters for that."
  • "With only one USB and no Ethernet port we have to have a USB hub and several other accessories to get the job done."

Several mentioned the security systems techs service commonly still use DB-9 Serial/Comm Ports and USB Ports for communication, and that they are forced to use a variety of adapters or hub to make up the ports their computers frequently lack.

Replacement Cycle Averages

We asked integrators 'How often does your company replace technician laptops? Why?' to gather responses how long tech laptops are in service before factors like unexpected repairs or decreased reliability become a factor:

Every Three to Five Years

The most common replacement range mentioned was 'every 3 to 5 years' with about 75% of all votes falling within that lifespan. Many responses cited the rigors of field use, coupled with the relentless progression of operating systems, causes most laptops to be replace in this range:

  • "Usually, every 3 to 4 years depending. At that point either there is a new OS to use or it has become slow and holds up technicians waiting for program loading or software to run."
  • "Mostly every 3-4 years, within that time battery is still not dead and screen still lights up good, seems to me that after 4-5 years the screen is without brightness and battery does not work good."
  • "3 to 5 years, although more towards 5 yrs if possible. Laptop technology has dramatically improved over last 5 yrs- lighter, faster and longer run time. The laptops last beyond 5 yrs and still work fine, so we try not to replace sooner if at possible."
  • "On about a 3 year cycle. That is long enough to get our money back in usefulness, but not so long they become obsolete."
  • "3 to 5 years is the replacement rotation."
  • "Every three years, just out of warranty period. We want the technicians to be up to date with OS and hardware for security reasons."
  • "3 years. Its technology. It's like dog years. 1 year equals 7. Who wants to work with a laptop that's 21 years old? Plus they get banged around pretty good during routine work. It is what it is."
  • "3-4 years seems to be the limit due to battery life, physical damage or speed loss."
  • "3-4 years. We usually change because the OS is going out of support which seems to happen faster than the physical hardware fails. We are sometimes prevented from using the most advanced OS because software tools we need for programming tend to lag in supporting the latest OS. As an example the software we use for programming fire alarm panels just released support for Win10 within the last few months."
  • "Every 3-5 years. Obsolescence."
  • "Service techs get their replaced about every 2-3 years because they have a higher use percentage than install techs. Service techs use their laptops multiple times per week on the job. Installers are not on laptop as often and seem to just take better care of laptops that is why we get 4 years out of installer laptop. Software application also changes requiring better and faster processing so sometime we need to replace just because the newest application wont run on old laptop. Example is Avigilon appearance search needs hardy graphics card which most techs dont have on laptops."

In relatively few cases were underlying security products forcing changes (e.g.: Avigilon's Appearance Search was cited), but most mentioned reasonable expectancy do not often extend beyond this time.

Only As Needed

When a specific interval was not mentioned, laptop replacement commonly was cited 'only when needed' in the absence of a more formally recognized interval:

  • "Not very often. Every 6 years? Only when the Laptop dies"
  • "Laptops are usually replaced when either broken or in some cases lost/stolen. Obviously if software requirements outclass what our hardware is capable of providing a replacement will be provided on request/justification."
  • "There is no refresh program, laptops get replaced with they die. This could be 4-5 years at a time."
  • "Not very often, they get replaced when they are broken or stolen and that doesn't happen very often at all. So every 2 years or more?"
  • "Only when needed about every 6-7 years."
  • "In six years, no replacement. Only one failure, one this unit failed we replaced it with a Lenovo because we know that they were very stable also."
  • "When they die. For troubleshooting use, they don't need powerful CPUs, so older laptops work fine as long as the OS is current."
  • "Only when they break , we did upgrade the XP machines when support ended, tend to find the older site equipment causes hassle with new laptop/OS."
  • "Until they die, we always have a spare in stock."

Passed Down To Junior Employees

Interestingly, several mentioned that when a laptop is pulled from technician use, it often is refurbished and given to other employees as possible:

  • "The lifespan of a technician laptop is 2-4 years. If they don't drop it, which happens 1 out every 5, then they should last over 3 years. A good/responsible tech can stretch it to 4 years and sometimes we can take that and give it to a junior tech for another year."
  • "Usually upgrade on 3 year cycle. junior techs get the hand me down if its still working well enough. "
  • "[A tech response:]Not often enough, we get hand-me-downs."
  • "Sometimes, a high end laptop will be passed done to a person that is moving up the ranks. Often we will provide the laptop and the iPad to a middle range tech - he has a tool to have drawings/plans and manuals while also having a tool to do entry level configuration and deployment. Older machines are sometimes provided to sales people - a laptop that used to be high end after 3 or 4 years is now mid range, usually enough to give to a sales person. we keep older machines for loaners and spares. "

In many cases, aged laptops are not immediately trashed but reallocated to other employees with less intensive jobs.

Technician Admin Rights

Finally, we asked integrators 'Do technicians have local admin rights to install software themselves? Why or why not?' to gauge just how much administration and system privilege techs are typically allowed on their PCs:

For the majority answering 'Yes', the rationale was typically cited as techs are trustworthy and proficient to responsibly use the permissions to be efficient and effective:

  • "Yes. We trust our Technicians. They made need to install selected programs whilst on site to complete specialized works. There is no point in restricting their ability to work or complete a job."
  • "yes. because our techs never know what they find in the field and will have to install active x plugins and various "finder" tools for certain brand cameras. they're also reasonably competent. How can we trust our techs with customer equipment if we can't trust them with our own?"
  • "We allow them admin rights, but do not join the laptops to the company Active Directory, to limit their access in the office. The laptops are used exclusively in the field and we treat them almost like foreign network devices when in the office."
  • "Yes as you never know when they might need to load a new camera software or network tool. To speed up service we allow them to install as needed but only business/technical software. We do not allow personal use software or games on the systems."
  • "Yes, no risk involve since their use is limited to utilities."
  • "We fought corporate for a long time for this and yes, they do now. To often support may have a piece of software, or a hotfix for something, and the last thing we need is to have to call our corporate helpdesk to get a component installed, just to begin troubleshooting a customer."
  • "Technicians always have admin rights to their Laptops otherwise they would never get anything done. I have worked for companies in the past that would give us admin rights but not be able to turn off antivirus software. If you have been in this industry long enough you know security software and antivirus software don’t get along well."

However, while those answering 'No' were less common, the hesitation usually was because other integrator staff/ IT employees were entrusted to manage computers and installed software and maintain network security of devices even if they are primarily used in the field:

  • "No - we work in very secure environments - any new software has to be installed by roll out / auto."
  • "No, only our system engineers or PM are assigned local admin rights. We try really hard to make sure we're not running unlicensed software on company machines, and this is what drives that policy."
  • "No, technicians use pre-installed software. For a business device that is plugged into customer networks, we want it as clean as possible."
  • "Only our IT techs have full admin rights, not installers."
  • "Most do not. It is a huge liability to have them load unlicensed or illegal software on a corporate machine. Torrents downloads, illegal movies, all have given us cause to lock their laptops."
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