Top 10 things to consider when buying PCs

Don't make a hasty decision; take your time to understand what your business needs are.
Written by Jeff Tripaldi, Contributor
Whether buying your first PC or creating a network, your decision must be based on your company’s long term needs. Below are the top 10 things to consider when purchasing PCs.

1. Why do you need a computer?
Write down, in order of importance, the things the company will need to do with the computer. For example:

  • Will the computer handle mostly administrative and accounting tasks?
  • Do employees travel often?
  • Will it be used for demonstrations to customers?
  • Will it run professional programs, like those for graphic design, video production, or engineering?
  • Does this computer need Internet access from different locations in the office?
  • What peripherals, such as scanners and printers, are absolutely essential?
Most of the costs associated with IT are not on hardware but soft costs like labor and time.

2. Beware refurbished or repaired computers
Most of the costs associated with IT are not on hardware but soft costs like labor and time. Technology-savvy employees may ask to upgrade components to extend the computer's life, or build new computers from scratch to save money. Although the finished product may superficially cost less than a ready-made computer, it is infinitely less reliable and distracts staff from more important responsibilities.

For example, picture a small fabric store with five employees that track orders on an upgraded but unreliable computer. If that PC has a slight glitch in the middle of the workday, not only can the person currently using the computer not accomplish the job, but the more technology-savvy employees must stop what they are doing to fix the problem (assuming they are even in the shop). That is at least 40 percent of the workforce immobilized for hours as a result of skimping on IT costs. These are false perceived savings.

3. Laptop or desktop? What do you really need?
If employees are constantly on the road and need access to company data on the go, laptops are the best solution. With wireless technology like Intel Centrino mobile technology, employees can connect to the Internet in most international airports and cafés, as well as in a wireless office. Mobile technology is catching on fast, with an anticipated 31.2 million users by 2006. Many offices are benefiting from office mobility-- employees can look up information on the Web during meetings, or do work as they conference with other employees from anywhere in the building. Laptops are initially more expensive than desktops but offer more long-term productivity and generally improve employee satisfaction.

4. Software--where to start?
First, choose an operating system. Windows, Macintosh and Linux have their strengths. Although 85 percent of computers worldwide use Windows operating systems, Linux is gaining in popularity. Use what seems most comfortable and what accomplishes the most important tasks.

Most companies use some type of word processing and accounting software. Microsoft Office is the most popular software for this kind of activity.

Finally, when buying industry-specific software for engineering, graphic design, video editing or other specialty tasks the company performs, note that most software plainly describe the hardware requirements on its packaging. Make sure the computer purchased meets those software configurations.

5. Extras?
Running professional programs or specialized tasks may require extra components to be added to the computer. A video card with a graphics accelerator will be needed for graphics or video applicatoins. Higher quality cards give better video images on the computer monitor. Digital cameras are a great way to put images of the company and employees on the Web. A Web camera can also allow employees to have face-to-face conferences even when they are on opposite sides of the country. Some companies offer these peripheral devices free with the computer, although many of them will not cost more than $200 on their own.

6. Don’t skimp on security
An estimated one out of every 10 consumer transactions in Asia are subject to Internet fraud, with similar results for business and government transactions. Even if the transactions are secure, viruses threaten to slow down or even shut down computer systems every day. Viruses and worms cost business US$55 billion in 2003. In the first two months of 2004, this number jumped to at least US$86 billion. SMBs cannot risk their business data, so make sure the computers are able to run anti-virus software while not disrupting other programs. A computer with an Intel Pentium 4 processor supporting Hyper-Threading Technology is designed for multitasking. It can process two separate threads, or pieces of information, from two different programs at the same time. For example, it can scan for viruses while simultaneously working on other applications.

7. Memory
Technology changes fast. Random access memory (RAM) is a computer's "conscious" memory, the memory it uses while running programs. It is here that a computer stores information that it is using at the current moment. Basic applications require at least 256 megabytes (MB) of RAM; graphics or other large programs need a minimum of 512 MB. The hard disk is where the computer stores long-term information. For basic word processing and other small files, a hard drive that is 40 gigabytes (GB) should be adequate. When using a lot of images, music, or other large files, invest in at least 80 GB of memory.

8. Power
Powerful computers used to be assessed like racecars--the faster they could go, the better. In the last few years, many computer users discovered that high power isn't the single most important factor when purchasing a computer. For example, now that more people use laptops, they also look at how a processor affects battery life, computer weight and wireless capabilities. Again, take into consideration what the computer will be used for. If it will be often used to compute intensive programs or do a lot of multitasking, then invest in the fastest processor that the budget allows. For security, the Intel Pentium 4 processor supporting Hyper-Threading Technology is a safe bet, regardless of speed. And if it's for a lightweight computer, choose Intel Centrino mobile technology.

9. Cheaper isn’t always better
Your computer is an investment that should provide three years of optimal performance for a desktop PC and two years for a notebook. Optimal performance means performance you need today, headroom for new software and flexibility to accommodate more demanding usage patterns over time. Don’t try to save a few hundred dollars only to regret it down the road. Remember to work with a company with a good reputation and will be around for the life of the computer. Trust companies that lead their industry in innovation.

10. Don’t be dazed by sales lingo
Know what these terms mean:

Byte: The units memory is measured in. 1 Byte is about the size of a single computer character.

CD/DVD-RW: The disc drive can read and write CDs or DVDs

Hard Disk: Computer’s long term storage

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) Monitor: Flat and slim monitor.

Network Card: Allows your computer to contact to a Network (like the Internet) or other computers.

Processor: The computer’s engine and brain.

Processor Speed: how fast the computer thinks. Measured in gigahertz (GHz)

RAM: Random Access Memory. Computer’s short term storage.

USB: Universal Serial Port. The most common way to connect devices to your

Jeff Tripaldi is director of Intel's worldwide Ignite sales and marketing program.

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