How To: Select the Best Small Business Computer
by: Larry Bills | ChooseWhat.com
You've used your personal computer to get the ball rolling, but now it's time to get a machine that's just for your business.
A quality computer dedicated to your business is not an expense, it's an investment. You'll save a tremendous amount of time using a fast machine that is not cluttered with bloated software that is meant for personal use. No more crashes; no more freezes; far less time waiting for little dreaded spinning balls to go away.
Note: This article will guide you through purchasing a PC with Windows, because they machines are typically less expensive and they don't have any compatibility issues with business software.
Before you purchase a computer, you should:
- Get a Business Credit Card
- Decide on Basic Business Software
- Tip: Buying a computer and getting basic business software are steps that should occur simultaneously. You will need to determine your software needs so that you purchase a computer that is compatible with your software choices, and vice versa.
- Decide how many computers you need.
- Tip: Once collaboration between multiple office computers becomes a hassle to do through "the cloud," you will need a server. This could be the case for 2 computers or 12 computers, depending on the interdependence of your employees’ work. Read our Tips section below for more on setting up an office server.
The primary option we recommend for the small business owner is a laptop computer that runs on a Windows Operating System. It's extremely convenient for the new small business owner to have mobile capabilities that make it easy to meet clients or conduct other business transactions on the go. The ability to take your computer with you on the road is preferable to being stuck without a computer or depending solely on secondary mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablet computers. Laptops are especially useful for business owners who haven't yet leased office space or are using a virtual office setup.
As we recommend in our Basic Business Software section and our STARTicle on Operating Systems (OS), you will most likely want a computer that runs Microsoft Windows. Quite simply, it's the most widely used OS in the world. Most software is available for Windows (and there are many programs that run only on Windows), making it your most flexible option.
A good laptop will typically cost anywhere from $600 to $900 and will last about two to five years. When it comes to technical specifications, the standard user will need the following features:
- Range of RAM: 2 GB - 8 GB
- Hard Drive Space:
- SSD (Solid State Drive): 128 GB - 500 GB- these are MUCH faster and more durable. Although they are considerably more expensive, we highly recommend them for laptops.
- Hybrid drives: 500 GB - 1TB- has a small amount of SSD storage, allowing it to be faster than a standard hard drive while offering more storage space at a lower price. This is recommended if you NEED more storage space.
- Standard hard drives are not recommended for laptops.
- Range of Processor Options: Intel i3, i5 or i7 or AMD A Series 6th Gen. Intel is known for having superior performance in laptops. The three Intel i series processors have been around since 2010, but they have come out with several new generations with faster speeds in each line. Generally, the faster the better, but when you get to the top speeds, most people who do not do serious graphics and video editing probably won't notice the difference. For more detail, check out this article from TechRadar.com.
There are a couple of downsides to a laptop computer, though. First, a laptop can be easily lost or stolen, especially when you're working in a public place or low security office space. You can mitigate this problem by purchasing LoJack for Laptops, a software product that tracks and helps recover stolen laptops. We also recommend regularly backing up your files so that you can still access important business documents in case of disaster. (For more information, read our guide on How To: Back Up Your Files.)
Second, a laptop has a smaller keyboard and monitor than a traditional desktop computer. This issue can be mitigated, though, by purchasing a docking station -- a device you attach to your laptop, which allows you to use a regular monitor and keyboard (basically turning your laptop into the equivalent of a desktop PC tower).
The other option for an entrepreneur is a desktop PC that runs on a Windows Operation System. If you perform most of your computing tasks in your office or home office, and therefore are not too concerned with mobility, a desktop would serve you well. The advantages of a desktop over a laptop include extreme durability (largely due to the fact they they aren't carried around in bags), faster processing speeds, much larger storage capacity and more options for expandability to extend the computer's life. The life cycle of the desktop is also a little longer than a laptop, three to five years, mainly due to the fact that there is less wear and tear since it remains in one place.
When it comes to price and technical specifications, a desktop and laptop are fairly comparable, which makes mobility the driving factor in your decision. A desktop PC will cost anywhere from $600 to $1,200. The ideal technical options include:
- Range of RAM: 4 GB - 16 GB (32 GB is available, but it's overkill for today)
- Hard Drive Space:
- SSD (Solid State Drive): 128 GB - 500 GB- these are MUCH faster and more durable.
- Hybrid drives: 500 GB - 2TB- has a small amount of SSD storage, allowing it to be faster than a standard hard drive while offering more storage space at a lower price. Desktops aren't likely to be moved around much, therefore, hybrid drives' excellent combination of performace and value make them the recommended option for desktops.
- Standard hard drives are not recommended.
- Range of Processor Options: Intel i3 to i7 or AMD A Series 6th Gen. Intel offers superior performance for desktops. The three Intel i series processors have been around since 2010, but they have come out with several new generations with faster speeds in each line. Generally, the faster the better, but when you get to the top speeds, most people who do not do serious graphics and video editing probably won't notice the difference. For more detail, check out this article from TechRadar.com
Tip: We recommend buying an additional monitor with your desktop computer. Hooking one computer up to two screens is extremely efficient and reduces the need to print out documents when you are comparing data sets such as two spreadsheets.
Where to Buy Your Computer(s)
Once you've decided what type of computer to purchase, the decision of where to buy it can be just as important to ensure you have the best experience possible. For the small business owner, buying directly from the manufacturer will provide you with the most options. The pros and cons for that choice, as well as for the other two main sales avenues (retail stores and online stores) include:
- Highly customizable
- Prices are usually negotiable
- Very experienced customer service and sales representatives
- Cost is higher with customization
- Shipping and handling costs
- Longer wait times for arrival
- Harder to return
- Cost is typically low
- Computers are usually customizable
- Longer wait times for arrival, especially if the computer is being customized
- No face-to-face customer service
- Shipping and handling costs
- Harder to return
Retail Stores (e.g. Windows Store, Best Buy and OfficeMax)
- Physical testing of machines
- Face-to-face customer service
- You will walk out with your machine the same day
- Typically more expensive
- You typically can't customize the machine and will have to buy whatever is available on the floor
- Sales associates can be pushy or not very knowledgeable
- Buy monitors that have an HDMI hookup, which will allow you to get a digital signal. A 17-inch monitor is good enough for most people.
- Buy a battery backup with a surge protector for your computer. It will save your machine if you get a power surge and give you time to save what you’re working on if the power goes out. Also, if the power just goes out for a few minutes, you won’t miss a beat.
- If you're networking 10 or fewer computers together, you can apply for Microsoft BizSpark's free business server program. Read more about how to get a Business Server OS.
- If you’re networking fewer than 20 computers together, you can use a PC as a server. You can set up a designated machine that operates on Windows 7 as a shared hard drive. Read our STARTicle on Buying a File Server for more information.
- Although typically more expensive than PCs, Macs (both laptops and desktop versions) may be better for people in specialized businesses such as graphic design, web development, music, and film.