Just like their larger counter parts, small businesses need to watch the bottom-line. Controlling capital expenditures and not replacing your computers every time Microsoft or Intel distributes a new press release can help keep you in the black.
But what do you do when your computers get too slow to handle the latest accounting, CAD, or graphics applications, or when your files get too big for hard drives and Zip disks to back up? Eventually, you'll have to upgrade your systems to both stay ahead of the curve and save yourself some money in the long run.
The key is to find the right system for your business. At one time, we would have recommended the fastest processor. Now, virtually any processor on the market is capable of meeting your needs. The only exception is the Intel Celeron, which is somewhat less capable when it comes to graphics. Make sure your PCs come with enough memory -- no less than 128MB of RAM. And while you may never have enough memory, you will certainly get enough storage space - today's PCs come with 20 GB and larger hard drives.
Today's systems rip through computing tasks so fast that differences in performance are, frankly, not important for most applications. So rather than focus on speed tests, we recommend that you consider how well a system is designed and integrated, and how comprehensively it satisfies your needs, or the needs of your users. Pay special attention to setup and maintenance on the assumption that small organizations probably can't provide the same level of in-house support that Fortune 500 employees take for granted.
It's also good to see how much room a system offers for future expansion. We know some users will be able to compute for a decade without changing a thing, but others may need to start adding components, purchasing updated software, and expanding features as soon as the purchase order clears.
What are your key requirements? Before plunking down good money on computer equipment, you need to determine what your office requirements are. If price is your main concern, you'll need a different system than someone who requires cutting-edge performance. Find out which applications are important to each department before making a decision on configuration. Keep in mind that you can upgrade individual components and systems later.
How little can you get away with? Just as it doesn't make sense to buy an underpowered system, going overboard is also a mistake. If your employees are paging through spreadsheets they probably don't need a high-end 3-D graphics card. If they write memos and reports, they don't need a 21-inch monitor displaying 1600 by 1200 pixel images. Don't waste cash on capital equipment that no one will take advantage of.
How much support is needed? Supporting computers takes training and experience. You don't have to rely on the vendor's support, though sometimes it's the best choice. Does your organization have the expertise to manage the new systems? If not, can you hire reliable outside contractors? Forgoing the vendor's optional plans and extended warranties can save money, but if your organization can't take up the slack, you could get stranded with dysfunctional equipment and idled workers.
Test Drive: Compaq Presario 5410US