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5 Questions for Finding the Right Business Computer

by Kevin Ackerman, Staples® Contributing Writer

When buying a new computer for your business, there are a lot of questions to ask — and even more answers to sift through. Here are the top five questions to help you find the business computer system that suits your company's needs, because whether it’s a high-powered workstation or an ultra-light, portable machine, the best computer is the one that gets the job done right.

1. Do I need a laptop or a desktop?

Laptops may seem to be all the rage in coffee shops and conference rooms, but don’t be fooled by what you see in those high-visibility locales. Desktops still have serious computing cachet. In fact, when it comes to versatility, longevity and security, towers and all-in-one machines are just as impressive as portable ones.

Really, it comes down to how you’ll be using your machine: Will you take it with you to meetings and trips to use it for presentations? Or will you use it mostly as a “home base,” and a way to keep all your important documents together in one place? Answer those questions and you’ll have a better idea of which form factor will work better for you.

2. What processor will keep my business running?

Processors, or central processing units (CPUs), are the costliest part of a system, which makes this the most important feature in deciding which computer to buy. CPUs are all about the numbers: The more “cores” a CPU has (which can be anywhere between 2 and 8), the more data it can crunch simultaneously. The higher the processor's clock speed (measured in gigahertz, or GHz), the faster it runs.

Laptops generally have lower-powered processors because they’re smaller and use space more efficiently, while desktops can accommodate larger, more energy-intensive chips. But there are exceptions, like laptops with the screaming-fast Intel® dual-core i7 2.90GHz chip. Balancing these figures with your budget is the best way to get the most computing bang for your buck.

3. How much memory do I need?

Random-access memory (RAM) is the short-term storage your computer uses while running programs. More is always better, but it’s also pricier. The key factor in assessing computer memory needs is whether your computer can even be upgraded. Some ultra-light laptops have a sealed chassis, or base, that inhibits users from upgrading their RAM later. If that’s the case with your prospective computer, be sure to buy the most memory you can afford. Otherwise, look to see if your computer’s RAM can be upgraded later, because giving yourself this option will extend the life of your machine.

For example, a device that comes with 8 gigabytes of RAM could be expanded to 32 gigabytes if need be, quadrupling the workstation’s might.

4. How big of a hard drive do I need?

Today’s digital storage isn’t just a question of quantity, it’s one of speed. Solid-state drives (SSDs) have made it faster than ever for users to access their information because SSDs, as opposed to traditional platter-based hard drives, contain no moving parts and store all their information on a collection of microchips. They’re also more energy efficient, which makes them popular options on battery-powered laptops.

That said, storage space is more limited on an SSD than a traditional external hard drive. Equally important: platter-based storage options are far less expensive. With default storage options on most new computers beginning at 500 gigabytes and swelling into the terabytes, it’s more economical to run the older technology.

Keep in mind that with many businesses storing files on central servers or in the cloud — and since hard disk drives are easily upgradable — this should be one of your least important considerations when purchasing a computer.

5. What about the extras? 

Once you’ve considered the previous four questions, everything else is negotiable. For example, laptops tend to have fewer USB ports than desktops, but low-cost hubs can expand those capabilities. In fact, external computer monitors aren’t just for putting a face on a desktop or turning a laptop into a workstation: They also add several more USB ports to your system. Meanwhile, business support software, like Microsoft® Office and Symantec® Endpoint Protection, is sometimes included with the system and can be a worthwhile value. And warranties are also certainly worth weighing as you endeavor to make this investment last for years to come.

The Bottom Line

The computer shopping process doesn’t need to be a dizzying maze of options. By your answering these questions and prioritizing your company’s needs, a few clear choices will emerge. And from there, the right computer will make it easier and more intuitive than ever to run your business efficiently.

Kevin Ackerman is passionate about technology and helping small businesses make the most of their resources. When he’s not writing, Kevin enjoys traveling, introducing people to his hometown of Portland, OR, and rooting for the Boston Red Sox. You can connect with him on Google+.

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