Four of the best – Laptops that put your business security first


A survey of IT practitioners in 2016 by the Ponemon Institute revealed that 56% of respondents say that cybercrime is getting more difficult to detect.

Add to that the growing threat of ransomware targeting all sectors of business from healthcare right down to the small startup and it’s or the more concerning that 38% of respondents in the Ponemon report have a strategy to deal with cybercrime.

While firewalls and other security software can mitigate attacks social engineering means that hackers are no longer reliant on operating remotely.

The horror stories of cybercriminals infiltrating business premises are well documented but there is hope.

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Hardware manufacturers have been implementing authentication measures such as biometrics for some time now but developments in technology have made these solutions more accessible and easier to implement.

Among these solutions is Windows Hello. Windows Hello serves as a physical authentication method and requires that a user be behind their PC to unlock it. The software is built straight into Windows and uses integrated fingerprint authentication or a supported camera to scan a user’s face.

In as simple terms as possible the user becomes their password, making it harder for miscreants to access a machine they should not be accessing.

In addition to authentication when logging in Windows Hello can also prevent unauthorised access to cloud storage applications such as Dropbox, OneDrive and password managers such as OneLocker Password Manager.

The one gripe we have with Windows Hello is that you must have Windows 10 Pro which does add a bit of cost to the solution.

That said it is a safe convenient way to secure your endpoints and file access that is caked right into your hardware. So while you do need to spend a bit extra upgrading your software, the hardware is already in place.

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Thankfully manufacturers have started adding their own security solutions to their notebooks.

However, you will need a notebook that supports Windows Hello and we’ve found four great solutions at varying price points so that even if you’re on a budget you can rest assured that your businesses endpoints are secure.

Welcome to our round-up of notebooks for the security conscious.

HP Elitebook Folio G1

This notebook falls under the “high-end” category and likely wouldn’t be suited to anybody outside of the C-suite floor in your firm.

The reason for this is chiefly functionality. The Folio G1 houses only two USB Type C ports though they do support Thunderbolt so you can add a few additions such as a legacy USB hub or an HDMI connector for a secondary monitor.

Aside from adding a few more ports for the “everyday” worker you do get a rather powerful machine with an Intel Core m5 processor that boasts Intel HD Graphics 515.

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Multitasking is made even easier by the included 8GB of RAM which is more than enough for the Google Chrome user that has the express goal of opening up as many web pages as they can.

The notebook can be configured with a touchscreen but the non-touch version boasts the same specs and has the benefit of being a few grams lighter.

Perhaps most importantly this notebook features an infra-red camera that supports Windows Hello.

Beyond that for the asking price of R29 000 you also get HP SureStart which insures that a device is not compromised when you boot it up. Should your notebook be compromised SureStart will “self-heal” using a golden copy of the system’s BIOS stored on the PC itself.

What’s more is that SureStart monitors threats in real-time so even in the event of an intrusion the HP Folio G1 can detect and protect your from cyberthreats.

Our biggest concern with this notebook is its lack of legacy ports. That does put the cost up slightly (at least until USB Type C becomes more ubiquitous) though to be frank you can pick up all the dongles and converters you need rather cheaply. Just remeber to keep them in your notebook bag.

Overall the Folio G1 performs well and Windows Hello integration is great and unlocks the PC quickly and efficiently. We are however concerned about the amount of “extras” such as a UHD display and a touchscreen. Our advice is that if you don’t absolutely need these features you should probably carry on shopping.

Rating – 9/10

Specifications

Processor Intel Core m5-6Y54 @1.1GHz

Graphics Intel HD 515

Memory 8GB

Storage 512GB SSD

Display 12.5inch UHD (3840 x 2160) with touch (other configurations available)

Connectivity Bluetooth 4.2, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac

Security Windows Hello supported camera, HP SureStart

Ports USB Type C x2, headphone/microphone combo jack, DC power

Price R29 423

Acer Swift 7

The Acer Swift 7 is an interesting counterpart to the Folio G1. The reason for this is that technically speaking the specifications are evenly matched but the pricing is rather different.

Inside there is an Intel Core i7 7Y75 processor along with 8GB of RAM. The translation of those specifications is being able to multi-task efficiently. We never experienced a slow-down in performance no matter how many Google Chrome tabs we had open or how big our spreadsheets got. The Swift 7’s performance is worthy of the devices name.

As for security the Swift 7 comes equipped with a Trusted Platform Module which allows IT teams to verify the integrity of the software on the device using nearly unforgeable hash key summaries of the software.

In addition to that passwords can be set at a BIOS level to insure that even the most unforgiving of hackers can’t simply waltz into a system and start sowing havoc.

Aside from that however your company is going to have to rely on its own security protocols to fully secure this notebook. For us that might not be the best solution for somebody in a small business so we’d recommend this notebook to a C-suite exec at a larger firm. That isn’t to say small business owners shouldn’t consider the Swift 7, just something to consider when making a purchase.

What we really like is that while the IR camera is certified for Windows Hello, Acer has taken a bit of care with the webcam on this notebook. It captures an HD image (1 280 x 720p) whether that be stills or video and it supports HDR imaging so no matter how dark your boardroom is, as long as there is some light your video conference should be able to see you.

The most surprising thing about the Swift 7 is how cool it remains even when you’re pushing the silicon to its limits.

As with the Folio G1 we don’t really like the lack of legacy ports but Acer does include a Type C to USB as well as Type C to HDMI converters so the shock of suddenly moving to a new standard is curbed somewhat.

Perhaps the best part about the Swift 7 is that it also houses a fingerprint scanner so if your camera suddenly stops working you have another option for logging into your PC.

Overall the Swift 7 is rather impressive.

Rating – 9/10

Specifications

Processor Intel Core i7-7Y75 @ 1.3GHz

Graphics Intel Graphics 615

Memory 8GB

Storage 512GB SSD

Display 13.3inch Full HD (1920 x 1080)

Connectivity Bluetooth, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac

Security Windows Hello supported camera, TPM module, fingerprint scanner

Ports USB Type C x 2, headphone/microphone combo jack

Price R20 999

Lenovo ThinkPad E560

The Thinkpad range goes with business like fish pairs well with white wine. The E560 is no different and continues a long heritage of notebooks focussed on business capabilities.

Sadly you won’t be using Windows Hello’s facial recognition but instead you’ll be using the E560’s integrated fingerprint scanner.

The only time this really failed for us was when our hands were caked in sweat but then most fingerprint scanners would. Aside from that authentication worked like a charm and at just under R12 000 for this notebook it’s on the cheaper side of our round-up.

As for computing the E560 would likely suit any worker that has to use multiple web browsing tabs and Office applications. The 4GB of RAM means that you will notice a performance dip the more you demand of the notebook but you can add more RAM if you find it necessary.

When it comes to security however, once again users will mostly need to find their own way which is really good news for big corporations that want to strip a notebook down and fit all manner of security applications to their machines.

We do quite like the inclusion of Bluetooth connectivity in this notebook as it means that firms could likely use a third party application to load software onto a smartphone that would allow a the E560 to be unlocked when the smartphone is nearby.

Given that this is notebook best suited for employees we are concerned about the lack of native security features. Something like HP’s SureStart would have been a gift in this notebook especially since employees are known to click links they shouldn’t.

The lack of 802.11ac wifi support is also a notable exclusion. While internet browsing is functional we did notice that wireless transfers are slower than on notebooks with the support for the 802.11ac standard. That having been said the 500GB hard drive isn’t doing the E560 any favours when it comes to transfers and boot times.

Thankfully the fingerprint scanner works well and overall this notebook is far from the worst we’ve seen but quite frankly we would recommend spending a bit more money to get something that is a bit more hardy when it comes to security.

Rating 7/10

Specifications

Processor Intel Core i5-6200U @ 2.8GHz

Graphics Intel HD Graphics 520

Memory 4GB (expandable with one free DIMM slot)

Storage 500GB HDD

Display 15.6inch HD+ (1366 x 768)

Connectivity Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11a/b/g/n

Security Fingerprint scanner

Ports USB 3.0 x 3, VGA, HDMI, LAN, 4-in-1 card reader, headphone/microphone combo

Price R11 445

Dell XPS 13

The Dell XPS range has been the gold standard of the “ultrabook” category for the longest time and the XPS 13 is no different.

Fitted with an Intel Core i7-7500U processor and 16GB of RAM, you will struggle to find a task the notebook can’t run.
Sadly you will once again be relegated to using your favourite finger to gain access to the XPS 13 as the integrated camera doesn’t support Windows Hello.

That having been said, the biometric scanner works a charm and while visually it blends into the notebook’s paint job it’s easily found by sliding your finger across the area adjacent to the touchpad.

And Dell has really come to the party with native security solutions.

Dell Data Protection and Encryption allows IT administrators to manage encryption policies out of the box. That means that you could start using your notebook right away without it being whisked off to IT for a week. You could do that but we doubt your IT team would allow that.

The XPS 13 also comes with Endpoint Security Suite enterprise. Much like SureStart from HP, Endpoint Security stops malware in its tracks. Add to that enterprise grade encryption and authentication and you have a system that is incredibly secure out of the box.

Of course it’s not just protection the XPS provides but resilience. Being able to not only fend of an attack but continue to work while you do is incredibly important which is why we’re mightily impressed with the XPS.

Rating – 8/10

Specifications

Processor Intel Core i7-7500U @ 3.5GHz

Graphics Intel HD Graphics 620

Memory 8GB

Storage 256GB PCIe SSD

Display 13.3inch QHD+ (3200 x 1800)

Connectivity Bluetooth 4.1, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac

Security Fingerprint scanner, Dell Data Protection and Encryption, Dell Endpoint Security Suite

Ports SD card reader, Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.0 x 2, headphone/microphone combo port

Price R35 999

Conclusion

Security costs money.

You may have noticed a distinct lack of sub-R10 000 notebooks in this round-up and to be frank that’s because we struggled to find notebooks with the security features we wanted.

Here on the southern most tip of Africa our biggest problem is that we don’t get every model of laptop available. In the case of the models that do, the price for a fully configured notebook with enough performance for even the most demanding users and security features that will please the IT team, is usually enough to turn users away.

Despite our product woes we do have options here in South Africa so long as you are prepared to look long and hard for a solution that suits your needs. For the most part technical specifications for employees’ machines are much of a muchness given that most PCs running Windows 10 will cope with 4GB of RAM. As for storage capacity with many businesses digitising we find that manufacturers are opting to decrease the amount of on-board storage notebooks ship with.

For the end user this might be a problem but for a business you need to cut costs where you can and a smaller hard drive is hardly the end of the world.

As the world becomes more security conscious we would like to see more manufacturers implementing “out of the box” security capabilities. In a large enterprise these features are usually stripped to make way for software that adheres to very particular policies but for a small business features such as SureStart are vital.

Selecting a winner is tricky because while all of the notebooks we tested performed well not all the notebooks are the best choice for business. For instance the Folio G1 has great security features but we feel that the UHD display and touchscreen are optional extras that aren’t well suited for a business environment.

Our overall winner then has to go to the Acer Swift 7. Not only does it house an infra-red camera that supports Windows Hello but it also sports a fingerprint scanner. In addition to that the notebook offers a similar Ultrabook profile to the Folio G1 and the XPS 13 but at a much lower price than either of those notebooks.

We must also give an honourable mention to the Lenovo Thinkpad E560. While it is not the greatest performer it’s a fantastic solution for a business that needs to kit out employees with a notebook that at least supports Windows Hello and won’t break the bank.

[Main Image – CC BY 0 Public Domain Pixabay]

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