Typically, business laptops lag behind their consumer counterparts in features, to provide maximum compatibility across companies whose update cycles are a little ... protracted.
Indeed, some business models haven't been updated since last year, showing the pace at which the industry moves.
Still, as of Centrino 2 mid last year, we've started seeing the venerable PCMCIA slots make way for the newer ExpressCard, eSATA ports have turned up on some due to the hybrid USB/eSATA ports, charging has been enabled over USB ports while the laptop sleeps, and 802.11n and gigabit Ethernet are the standard, along with Bluetooth to cover all forms of communications.
Lately, some companies in Australia are even starting to get built-in WWAN sorted out, meaning a 3G internet connection wherever you go without having to rely on a soap-on-a-rope style USB dongle or ExpressCard with an antenna sticking out the side.
You still won't find a trace of an HDMI port on these things, as most vendors will ardently tell you that that's reserved for consumer-land. As a result, VGA ports are still everywhere, so you can plug into whatever projector may cross your path. Still, Dell is now including DisplayPort on its Latitude models (despite a relative dearth of products that support the standard), and just about any business laptop will plug into a dock or port replicator that gives you DVI capability.
There's also a hidden bonus: if you buy business, you'll get a matte screen instead of a shiny one, reducing reflections and glare to a minimum.
We've rounded up the laptops from each vendor closest to AU$2500 and thrown them in the ring to compete on the machine's merits alone — let's see who comes out on top.
Dell Latitude E6400
The most featured of all the laptops here, it's also the best performer for its price and has a decent battery life. For a business laptop, it has the odd omission of a fingerprint scanner, but has pretty much everything else.
Toshiba Portege A600
Toshiba has aimed for lightweight with this laptop, but this can make it feel a little flimsy. It has the best battery life of the lot due to its low power processor, and its 21.1-inch screen size makes it the most portable of the laptops in this round-up.
Apple MacBook Pro 13
For the Apple crowd, the MacBook Pro 13 is that perfect trade off between power and portability. OS X 10.6 means Exchange 2007 support too, so if your business is up-to-date, integrating the MacBook into your network at work is less painful than it usually is. Of course, if like everyone else you're running an older version of Exchange, you're back to square one.
Lenovo ThinkPad T400
Lenovo's history and tradition means a full featured laptop that you could likely throw into a brick wall and still have it survive. Of course, we wouldn't recommend it, unless you like causing your tech staff to have an aneurysm.
HP EliteBook 6930p
HP's EliteBook range is a solid offering for those looking for a reliable, affordable, middle of the road laptop. It's not the most featured, but the impressive battery life and availability of 64-bit Windows makes this an attractive offering in certain market segments.
The winner is...
Each vendor has its strengths — Lenovo and Toshiba have particularly strong software suites, the former you could likely run over with your car and nothing bad would happen, while the latter's petite size and weight makes it an appealing travel laptop.
The HP hits the middle of the road nicely yet as a result doesn't seem to do anything spectacularly, and if you need OS X, well, the clear choice is the MacBook Pro 13-inch, especially with its newly enabled Exchange 2007 support (assuming your business runs on it).
But for features, price, performance and battery life, the Dell Latitude E6400 romps it in. Only its lack of fingerprint scanner really holds it back, and even that can be added for around AU$48, along with other such useful features as a backlit keyboard. While support contracts and roll-out deals will ultimately colour which laptop comes out on top, based on the machine's merits alone the Dell takes it.