When looking for a new computer for your small business, it's easy to be overwhelmed with information — and a lot of it's confusing technical stuff you're not even sure you understand.
Whether it's a high-powered desktop workstation or an ultra-light laptop, the right computer is the one that gets the job done right. Here are five questions to help you find the best business computer system to suit your company's needs.
1. Do I need a laptop or a desktop?
It comes down to how you use your machine. If you take it with you to meetings and trips or use it for presentations, then a laptop is a great option. Ditto if you don't require much heavy lifting for video processing or rendering. If you use it mostly as a "home base," a way to keep all your important documents together in one place, or if you crunch lots of bits and bytes, a desktop is probably a better choice.
2. What processor will keep my business running?
Processors, or central processing units (CPUs), are the costliest part of a system. Processing power is the most important feature when you are deciding which computer to buy. CPUs are all about the numbers: The more "cores" a CPU has (anywhere between 2 and 8), the more data it can crunch. The higher the processor's clock speed (measured in gigahertz, or GHz), the faster it runs.
If all you do is some word processing, online banking and basic eCommerce, processing speed is less of a consideration. But heavy production, rendering or data management requires fast processing to maximize function and productivity.
Desktops accommodate larger, more energy-intensive chips, while laptops generally use lower-powered processors since they're smaller and use space more efficiently. But there are exceptions, like laptops with the super-fast Intel¨ dual-core i7 2.90GHz chip.
3. How much memory is enough?
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 or not you can upgrade, which extends the computer's life and functionality. For example, you can quadruple your device's power by expanding its factory-installed 8 gigabytes of RAM to 32 gigabytes. Some ultra-light laptops have a sealed chassis, or base, that inhibits you from upgrading. If that's the case with your prospective computer, buy the most memory you can afford.
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) make it faster than ever to access your information. Unlike traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), SSDs contain no moving parts and store all their information on a collection of microchips. That makes them more energy efficient, too, which is why they're popular options for laptops.
But HDDs such as external hard drives have their charms, including more storage space and a lower price point. They're also more readily available than SSDs — at least for now. With default storage options on most new computers beginning at 500 gigabytes and swelling into the 1- to 4-terabyte range, it's frequently more economical to run the older technology.
With many businesses storing files on central servers or in the cloud — and since hard disk drives are easily upgradable — this is 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. Business productivity software, like Microsoft¨ Office and Symantec¨ Endpoint Protection, is sometimes included with the system and can be a worthwhile value. Also factor in connectivity: laptops tend to have fewer USB ports than desktops, but low-cost USB hubs can expand those capabilities. Additional computer monitors — for your laptop or your desktop — create extra screen real estate for multi-document projects or dashboard monitoring. And warranties are also worth weighing as you look at total cost of ownership, etc.
Perhaps the best question to ask is the most obvious: What are the core functions you need to complete on the computer? Understanding that can help you — and your sales consultant — make smarter choices about which computer is the best fit for your enterprise.