How to Buy a Computer for Your Business

This article originally appeared way back in November 2006 and has been updated for 2015.  For your convenience, it is divided into these sections:

OVERVIEW

imagesWe are often asked  the same questions by our clients. One of the most frequent, and important, is: “What kind of computer should I buy for my business?

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.

DETERMINING WHAT TYPE OF COMPUTER YOU NEED

Not all computers are created equal. So you should ask yourself these questions before picking a system:

Does it need to be mobile?

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.

How much use will it get?

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.

Do you live in a Microsoft-centric world?

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.

Do you live in a Google-centric world?

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.)

Will it be located in a hot, wet, dusty or accident-prone environment?

imgresRuggedized specialty computers (like the Panasonic ToughBook) are available for these environments. They may cost considerably more but they’ll last considerably longer.

Does it need to have wireless capability?

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.

Does it need specific software loaded on it?

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.

Do you want a “hybrid” tablet?

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.

Is your computing task better handled by a server?

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.

BUYING A COMPUTER FOR YOUR BUSINESS

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.

Business-grade computers

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.

Here’s a chart that shows how these different models stack up:

MakeConsumer LaptopConsumer DesktopBusiness LaptopBusiness DesktopHigh-end (Engineering/Video)
DELLInspiron, XPS, AlienwareInspironLatitudeOptiplexPrecision Workstation
HPPavilion, ENVY, many othersPavilion, many othersProBook, EliteBookProDesk, ProOne, EliteDesk, EliteOneZ series
Lenovo
many – click heremany – click hereThinkPadThinkCentre (Lenovo)ThinkStation
ToshibaSatelliteTecra / 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.

Tablets Worth Looking At

If you want a full-featured Windows-based tablet instead of a traditional laptop, you’ll definitely want to consider the following systems:

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga

(Note: you’ll want at least 4GB of RAM and a Core i3 processor in a tablet.)

A note about ‘white-box’ or ‘clone’ computers:

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.

 

BASIC RECOMMENDED CONFIGURATIONS

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:

DesktopLaptop
CPU Intel Core i3, i5, i7 or betterIntel Core i3, i5, i7 or better
Disk space500GB minimum or 256GB+ SSD500GB minimum or 256GB+ SSD
Memory8GB minimum4GB minimum
Operating system Windows 8 ProWindows 8 Pro
Frequently Recommend BrandLenovo ThinkCentreLenovo ThinkPad

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • Consumer-grade systems are widely available but unsuitable for business use.
  • Don’t buy computers for your business from a retail store or a TV ad.
  • Stick to computer resellers who have access to business-grade PCs available from major manufacturers, or order them directly from those manufacturers via their websites.
  • Though business-grade computers may be slightly more expensive than consumer-grade systems, they’ll have a longer warranty,  will last longer, run more smoothly and require less maintenance (and thus save on support costs) than consumer-grade systems over the lifespan of the unit.

Questions?  Call or e-mail us – we’re here to help!