This article originally appeared way back in November 2006 and has been updated for 2015. For your convenience, it is divided into these sections:
There are thousands of different computer systems available for purchase, so this seemingly simple question can have a myriad of “right” answers. Unfortunately, much of the information about buying the right computer is murky, driven by relentless marketing techniques and distorted by companies more interested in making a quick buck than in producing a quality machine that will lead to a long-term relationship with their customer.
Luckily, through observing industry trends and tracking our clients’ buying patterns, we’ve been able to come up with some basic guidelines that we use to steer our clients in the right direction. In most cases we depend on these systems for our own use.
Not all computers are created equal. So you should ask yourself these questions before picking a system:
The desktop PC is not dead and continues to offer the best bang for the buck for general office work. Laptops and tablets tend to be more expensive, slower, and more apt to be broken or stolen, but they will let you work from anywhere. This is a very important question. Review your needs carefully before proceeding with the other questions.
A light-duty computer would run web, e-mail, and word processing software for a few hours per day. A heavy-duty computer could crunch spreadsheets and perform database queries for ten hours per day without ever skipping a beat.
Apple manufactures beautiful hardware, and their computers excel in some areas. However, if you’ll be using your computer primarily in a Microsoft environment you will save yourself time and countless headaches if you purchase a Windows-based system from another vendor. (We know from first-hand experience: we’ve been there.) There are some great computers on the market which are just as functional and much cheaper than their Apple counterparts.
Many vendors now sell Chromebooks. These are cheap stripped down computers that are primarily meant for browsing and using web-based services. They are not Windows-compatible but work well if you use Google’s hosted/cloud-based services (e-mail, calendar, word processor, spreadsheet, etc.)
Ruggedized specialty computers (like the Panasonic ToughBook) are available for these environments. They may cost considerably more but they’ll last considerably longer.
Desktop computers should be hard-wired into a network whenever possible if they’re not going to move around. Wireless should only be used on a desktop computer when there are no other options available. Many laptops and tablets these days only ship with wireless capability.
The manufacturer will often offer very significant discounts for specific software packages preloaded onto a new system, such as Microsoft Windows 8.1 or Microsoft Office 2013.
The latest in portable computing combines the power of a full desktop PC with the portability and touch interface of a tablet: the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a fantastic example of this.
If you need to run an application that acts more as an “engine” – i.e. processing large batches of data with minimal user input, you may be better suited by server-grade hardware which is not covered here. Most companies will use a heterogeneous combination of desktops, laptops, tablets, onsite servers and cloud-based services to handle all of their data processing needs.
We find that many people don’t understand the difference between different grades of computers available from some of the largest manufacturers. This often leads to companies inadvertently purchasing substandard systems that underperform because the machines don’t mesh with the day-to-day business demands placed on them.
The little-known secret is that most computers available for purchase from consumer outlets are not designed for heavy-duty business use. Computers purchased directly from Best Buy, CostCo and other big-box stores are designed specifically for home use. These computers are often very inexpensive and come bundled with lots of extra software. Unfortunately, this extra software (sometimes referred to as ‘bloatware’) usually carries a lot of advertising with it which helps subsidize the price of the computer. The software often clogs the operating system up, slowing the computer down to the point of being ineffective for any real work.
A better solution for most companies is the business-grade desktop PC, available from most manufacturers. We’ve generally been happiest with business-grade computers from Lenovo and HP. These systems aren’t as flashy as consumer-grade desktop PCs, but they generally include less extra pre-loaded software and have better-quality components in them. They’re designed to run smoothly and efficiently for at least four solid years–about two years longer than the average consumer-grade desktop PC. They also include extra security features & management systems for better problem reporting and resolution. Finally, business-grade desktop PCs are built to a consistent standard: if you purchase ten business-grade desktop PCs, then purchase ten more nine months later, the components (and thus the software drivers) will be identical. This improves the ability for large IT organizations to use imaging in their desktop deployments and reduces the time needed to resolve problems.
|Make||Consumer Laptop||Consumer Desktop||Business Laptop||Business Desktop||High-end (Engineering/Video)|
|DELL||Inspiron, XPS, Alienware||Inspiron||Latitude||Optiplex||Precision Workstation|
|HP||Pavilion, ENVY, many others||Pavilion, many others||ProBook, EliteBook||ProDesk, ProOne, EliteDesk, EliteOne||Z series|
|Lenovo ||many – click here||many – click here||ThinkPad||ThinkCentre (Lenovo)||ThinkStation|
|Toshiba||Satellite||Tecra / Portege|
Several companies focus solely on the consumer market and thus make systems that are not a good value for business use. These include Sony, Gateway, Acer, Averatec, eMachines, Systemax and any local “white box” clone computer maker.
If you want a full-featured Windows-based tablet instead of a traditional laptop, you’ll definitely want to consider the following systems:
(Note: you’ll want at least 4GB of RAM and a Core i3 processor in a tablet.)
There are hundreds, if not thousands of little computer shops all over the country that can sell you a custom-built PC for not a lot of money. It would seem that having a local shop who can support the PC is a good idea. In a business environment this is a bad idea: there’s no way to know what you’re going to get in a white-box computer. Most of these shops (while they may mean well) don’t have proper warranties or support channels in place when things break. And it’s important to note that there is very little margin left on computer hardware: these shops can go out of business without notice. Full disclosure: I started my IT career way back in 1995 working for a “clone” PC manufacturer and would never recommend “clones” to anyone anywhere for any reason.
Here are some recommended basic hardware configurations (as of November, 2006) for any desktop or laptop computer purchased for business use. Your needs may be greater, but this is a good place to start:
|CPU||Intel Core i3, i5, i7 or better||Intel Core i3, i5, i7 or better|
|Disk space||500GB minimum or 256GB+ SSD||500GB minimum or 256GB+ SSD|
|Memory||8GB minimum||4GB minimum|
|Operating system||Windows 8 Pro||Windows 8 Pro|
|Frequently Recommend Brand||Lenovo ThinkCentre||Lenovo ThinkPad|
Questions? Call or e-mail us – we’re here to help!