Selecting a PC
Software always, always dictates hardware. The cart goes after the horse. So, before you start your selection process, you should write down the minimum specs of the software you will be using. Windows needs a minimum of 8GB of memory to run efficiently. The more applications you'll run simultaneously, the stronger (i.e. more memory, faster CPU) the system needs to be.
In a nutshell, a new system should have (1) a recent generation processor (released in past year; see below), (2) at least 8GB of memory, and (3) have 64bit Windows 10 (Home for your home, Pro for business; If you're going to network your systems, get Pro). All other features of the system are usually cosmetic or fall in line with these 3 features. If the system will never be moved you can save money and increase productivity by getting a desktop model versus a laptop. I recommend all business systems have two monitors.
A system's performance will directly impact your business, not just an individual's productivity. The better the performance, the higher the price of the system. I contend that the additional money spent on a better performing system will be insignificant compared to the increased productivity over the 3 to 5+ years it is in service. For example, assuming a better system saves you just 3 minutes an hour over a cheaper system (the better system is say $200 more), you would gain 100 hours per year in productivity, which at a $20/hour labor rate comes to over $2000 per year. Think of the countless times you've waited on your computer to respond and the respective productivity you've lost. Don't think for a second that customers don't notice those pauses.
Choosing a PC is a daunting task and the manufactures take advantage of the confusion. The difference in the cost of systems is primarily due to the CPU, which is the brains of the PC. The price of a system raises exponentially as the speed of the CPU increases because the faster systems are much more productive.
Most people use a TV set buying philosophy ('Looks good. It's cheap. Has a warranty. I'll take that one') when choosing a new computer. However, your business plan doesn't include losing business or productivity because of inadequate tools. Here are some minimum specifications to use when choosing a business computer system:
- The computer's CPU should be capable of running 64-bit Windows 10. Note that a 32-bit Windows 10 system can't see any memory beyond 3.5GB regardless of how much is installed. If the system has an Intel processor, choose one with the latest generation (10th generation as of spring 2020) Intel Core i5 or Core i7. Note that there are still very early generations of Intel i3, i5 & i7 processors on the market being sold as new systems. Don't buy any pre-8th-generation Intel processor-based systems because they all have an inherent security flaw. If the system has an AMD processor, get one whose CPU frequency is at least 3500+ (preferably a Ryzen 3xxx with accompanying X570 chipset). See paragraph 3 above.
- Get 12GB or 16GB of memory because performance will improve and the system will do multiple tasks more efficiently. It's always cheaper to add memory now than later. Because of the additional processing overhead built into Windows and because of recently discovered inherent flaws in the pre-8th generation Intel processors, I no longer recommend systems with only 8GB of memory. Systems work best with pairs of memory chips (i.e. two @ 8GB each or two @ 16GB each). Some systems have only two memory slots and some have four.
- 64-bit Windows 10 operating system. If you will be sharing files with another system in the office, get the Pro version, not the Home version. Unless you're really cheap and like to waste your time, never, ever get the 32bit version of Windows.
- Video adapters in computers are well matched to the systems these days. If you will be running video intensive applications (i.e. CAD, design, etc.), either get a high-end video card and/or lots (32GB) of memory and a solid state disk (SSD) drive.
- You can't get small mechanical disk drives any more. Most business workstations need less than 30GB of disk space but you'll be hard pressed to find a new system with a mechanical drive less than 500GB. There's not much difference in the price of mechanical drives. I recommend you get an SSD (Solid State Drive) rather than a standard drive. SSD drives are much faster than than mechanical drives and their price has come down substantially.
- If you choose one of the CPUs in the first bullet item, the respective features (drives, memory, etc.) of the rest of a name brand system are usually more than adequate because manufacturer's components are relative to the CPU's capability.
I recommend Intel (NUC), Dell, or PowerSpec (Micro Center only) for a desktop system; Dell, Toshiba, or Acer for a laptop. These brands have shown to be equally reliable when used with a quality surge suppressor or battery backup. If you don't use quality power protection gear (get a minimum 350VA battery backup with surge suppression), you're just shooting yourself in the foot. Most of the systems I work on don't have adequate surge protection, let alone a battery backup. I have found that many systems would not have had some of the problems they have had if a good battery backup would have been used. Choose APC, CyberPower, or Tripp Lite brand power protection & avoid all Belkin products; remember you are insuring a loved one.
Be careful comparing systems, as there are several device capacity differences. Re-read paragraph 1 and 2 above.
With regard to printers, I only recommend laser printers because you'll spend hundreds less over the life of the printer compared to an inkjet printer. It's cheaper to email your color printing to the local office supply for pickup than to own a color printer. I favor HP printers. I've seen lots of HP laser printers over 10 years old that are still going strong.
Of course any system needs regular tuning and current security software. Windows 10 comes with the very respectable Defender antivirus utility, so you don't need to purchase a 3rd party antivirus program which in almost all circumstances slows down your system. You absolutely must, however, purchase Malwarebytes antispyware utility. Updated software and Malwarebytes combined with common sense reduces your chance of security problems to nearly zero.
And, users need to be trained on how to stay safe and how to take advantage of newer software features of systems utilities and security software. That's where I come in. I recommend my setting up new systems to:
- Assure your system and application software is correctly configured
- Assure you have adequate security software
- Train users on new features
- Configure printers and scanners
- Migration of data from old systems
- Assure all pertinent data is being backed up