In the vast majority of small businesses, there is a plethora of desktop and laptop computers lying around. While some of these computers may be relatively new, the bulk of them will be about 100 years old. Small businesses rarely dispose of ageing computer equipment, even if it is barely workable. The mantra “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is alive and well. Unfortunately, what many small businesses do not realise is that after a computer has reached the five year mark, it is not only technically decrepit (when compared to the latest models), but also has a much higher chance of failure. And it is not the cost of the computer that is the problem. When failures happen, it is the cost of lost data and lost time as staff scurry around trying to get a replacement and recover documents and important information.
I strongly advise you to take a look around your office and identify any desktop computers that are more than five years old. Likewise, look for any laptops that are more than three years old. These computers should be replaced. Even if these are still working, they are risk to your business.
The question now becomes what sort of computer will you replace these ageing systems with? That all depends upon the job that these computers are performing.
When examining your desktop computers you should ask yourself, “Am I tied to the office because I need to come in and work on this particular computer?” For example, the desktop that holds the accounting information is often an anchor for business managers, forcing them to come back to the office. In these situations, you may wish to consider replacing the desktop computer with a laptop or ultrabook. While laptop computers do not last as long as desktop computers (as discussed in our previous article) they deliver the flexibility to run your business, no matter where you are.
However, there are some functions in your business where desktops will be essential. For example, dedicated printing solutions, point of sales terminals or computers connected to special equipment. In these cases, desktop computers are certainly the way to go.
When buying either portable or desktop computers, there are a couple of key technology factors for you to consider.
The CPU, or Central Processing Unit, or simply the Processor. This is the “brains” of the computer. If you’re buying a Windows device, then you have the option of two brands of CPU (Intel or AMD). Either brand is fine. For the majority of business tasks, every new laptop or desktop computer has a CPU that is many times more powerful than required. Don’t get carried away with trying to buy the biggest and fastest processor for your business machines. For example, you may see a laptop computer offered with an “i5” processor or the newer, faster “i7” processor. Unless you plan to be editing videos or playing video games, the i5 will do just fine.
However, one thing you may want to look for is the number of “cores” in the processor. These days, computer CPUs are actually a stack of multiple processors, allowing them to perform multiple calculations simultaneously. Typically you will be purchasing “dual cores” (two embedded processors), but you can also be offered “quad core” (four processes.) Don’t let all of this technical mumbo jumbo confuse you. Dual cores are more than enough for running accounting packages, web pages, editing, and even calculation hungry applications like “Dragon speaking naturally” which lets you control your computer and type by voice! However, if you do plan on using multimedia applications or graphics and intensive applications, quad core CPUs are helpful.
RAM, or Random Access Memory, is the short term memory of your computer. While many people think that it is the speed of the CPU that gives the biggest performance boosts to their computer, it is actually a combination of RAM and disk speed that makes the biggest difference. The more RAM you have, the faster the performance of many applications.
Where possible, try and obtain a minimum of 4 GB of RAM when purchasing a new desktop or laptop computer. This is more than enough memory for the majority of business applications, but still gives you enough room to run the more intensive applications should you install them in the coming years.
Hard drives. Hard drives are where you store your long-term information, where you place your files and databases, and where you installed applications. And the selection of hard drives is where things get really interesting!
Traditionally, computer Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) have been used in both laptops and computers. These consist of magnetic disks that spin at very high speeds. These drives provide incredibly high storage capacity at very low cost. However, because these mechanical hard drives are based upon moving parts, they are extremely slow compared to the rest of the computer. While CPU and RAM function at the speed of electrons, hard disk drives are bound by the spinning of rotating parts. As a result, the vast majority of a computers’ performance is actually determined by the speed of their hard disk drives.
Solid-State Drives (or SSDs) are an alternative to the traditional mechanical hard drive technology mentioned above. SSD’s do not use moving parts, but instead utilise special silicon chips to store information. In many ways they are a bit like RAM, but they do not lose information with a power is turned off. The result is that SSDs can store and deliver information orders of magnitudes faster than HDDs. Unfortunately, SSDs are also much more expensive than HDDs.
Over the last few years, solid-state drives have begun to be embedded in laptop computers. The benefits have been lower power usage (which means the laptop battery will last longer) and an almost “instant on” capability. You can take less than three seconds to start a laptop with an SSD, compared to the 30 or even 40 seconds for a similar device with an HDD!
When purchasing a new computer, you should balance the opportunity to obtain a solid-state drive with how much memory that device needs to store. The absolute minimum drive capacity should be 120 Gigabytes (120GBs). However, if you plan to store a many photographs, video, or even a large numbers of spread sheets and databases, then you probably be looking at a drive above the 500 GB range. Solid-state drives are relatively affordable in the 120 GB and lower range, but get incredibly expensive if you go above this capacity.
So, when you’re looking to buy a new computer it’s going to be a balance between cost, speed, and storage capacity. If your computer needs to be switched on quickly, go for the lower capacity but higher speed SSDs. If your computer is more likely to be turned on at the beginning of the day and left running, then an SSD is of less importance, and you can opt for the slower speed but high-capacity HDDs.
When buying a new computer, it is also worth considering screen size. These days, 23 inch flat screens are relatively inexpensive for desktop computers. And in the vast majority of cases, a single 23 inch screen is more than enough for a small business environment. You may even wish to go for a slightly smaller screen to save desk space. If you’re the sort of person who thinks bigger is always better, then you can look towards the larger monitors, but costs climb rapidly as you move past the 23 inch size.
With Ultrabooks and laptops, there is a temptation to look for the largest screen. However, in these situations, bigger does not mean better. Remember, the larger the screen, the more power needed and thus the shorter the battery life. If you plan to use your laptop or alter book on a desk, the majority of the time, this is not such a big concern. If you plan to be truly portable with your device and use it while on aeroplanes or while driving around visiting clients, then it may be better to go for a slightly smaller model with a longer overall battery life.
The above provides you with some of the technical ins and outs when looking for a new computer. But where do you get your computer from? Quite frankly, you do not have time to go to a computer shop and hunt around and “be sold” the latest gizmo. Instead, I strongly recommend that all small businesses buy their computers prebuilt and pre-installed from one of the name brands’ online stores, or alternatively from a national retail chain. The deals are cheap, delivery is easy and, importantly, the devices are backed by solid warranties.
When I’m looking to buy a new computer, I generally look to the following websites. Based on my experience with their technologies and service, I have rated these providers from one to five stars.
Direct from Vendors
Dell: http://www.dell.com.au/ *****
Apple: www.apple.com/au *****
HP: http://www8.hp.com/au/en/home.html ****
Lenovo: http://www.lenovo.com/au/en/ ***
JB Hi-Fi: http://www.jbhifi.com.au/ ***
Harvey Norman: http://www.harveynorman.com.au **