How to Buy a Business Desktop Computer

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Business desktops may not be the hottest players in the PC market, but in terms of the actual number of units the big manufacturers ship each year, they represent a significant segment. Think about it: You can still write a novel on a typewriter, shoot photographs with film, or play music live and record it with a DAT deck, but very few businesses can get their work done without a PC. Even a mom-and-pop outfit that caters to a non-technological audience needs a PC to communicate with suppliers, customers, and potential customers. Email, Twitter, the Web: All of these technologies make today’s business happen.

While it may be tempting to buy a simple consumer PC from a big-box store like Best Buy or Wal-Mart, you’ll probably be doing yourself and your customers a disservice if you do. Specialized business PCs have extra features that make them better suited to the office than the $250 sales-circular special. For one, business desktops are built to last longer, and are easier to service than consumer PCs. After all, the longer a business PC is down, the more money it costs you in lost earning time. Business PC makers may have specialized tech-support lines to help you troubleshoot your QuickBooks problem. At the very least, you can add a service contract to your business PC so that on-site tech-support calls are handled by techs who respond in hours or minutes rather than in days or weeks, like the ones who handle consumer tech support.

The Heart of the Matter: How Much Power?
Dual-core processors, particularly AMD A4 or Intel Core i3 models, are the norm in business PCs. Celeron and Pentium dual-core CPUs are found in lower-priced desktop PCs, and use technology from Intel Core processors. For example, so called low-end Celeron and Pentium processors are based on the same Haswell oe Broadwell technology that is found in fourth-generation and fifth-generation Core i3 chips. I recommend at least a dual-core processor, whether AMD or Intel, because it’s a must for today’s attention-challenged, multitasking PC users. Quad-core is an option for the users, like graphic artists, hard-core number crunchers, and other gearheads who stress over the speed of their PCs.

Look for at least 4 gigabytes of RAM, and the more memory the better. People who work in graphic design and Web development are better off with 8GB to 16GB. More memory allows you to do two things: Open up more programs and windows at once and perform multimedia processes (like editing photos) faster. Windows is a resource hog, particularly with the integrated graphics commonly found in business PCs, so 4GB is a minimum.

Storage: It’s Okay to Go Light
Business PCs require less storage than consumer PCs, since you’re less likely to sync your iPod or download lots of video to them. Since storage is so inexpensive these days, a hard drive with 300GB to 500GB of space is a good balance between economy and space. Frankly, 40GB to 60GB of available storage could be enough for just about all the PowerPoint, Word, and Excel documents you use on a day-to-day basis.

Compared with traditional hard drives, solid-state drives (SSDs) are usually smaller in capacity, due to their high cost. However, an SSD-only system will boot and launch programs almost as quick as a tablet. A 120GB to 128GB SSD should be sufficient for office workers’ needs, today and for the near future, but it’ll cost you more than a system with a traditional hard drive.

Optical drives are less critical for consumer PCs these days, since you can stream multimedia from the Internet or download content directly to hard drives. But a DVD burner is still a must for a small business PC. You may need it to burn copies of projects for your clients, and you’ll still need to read the occasional CD or DVD sent to you by a supplier or customer. Look for an optical drive with a tray that opens—it will help for the occasional business-card-size CD that comes your way. (Mini CDs, survivors of a fad dating to the early 2000s, tend to get stuck in a slot-loading drive because of their odd size, and if that happens you have to open up the drive to extract them.) High-speed Internet basically replaced the need to ship large files on optical discs, so Blu-ray is only necessary if you work for a movie company.

High-Powered Graphics Not Necessary
Most business PCs come with integrated graphics, whether from AMD or Intel. Integrated graphics are fine, since you won’t be playing 3D games on the system. Most workers who require discrete graphics will use them for specialized tasks, like GPU acceleration in Adobe Photoshop or 3D graphics visualization for architectural drawings. Ultra-small or ultra-slim form factors will likely have only integrated graphics and no card slots. These systems are best suited to general PC tasks (the majority of business tasks).

Expansion Room: Space to Grow
Most minitower and some SFF budget desktops will have a measure of expansion. You’ll find space for at least one extra internal hard drive, PCIe x16 graphics card slot, PCI or PCIe expansion slots, and maybe space for another optical drive. You may find extra DIMM slots, which will let you upgrade your system memory later. Eventual upgrades in a business PC are likely to be modest: the 125W to 350W power supply unit (PSU) in these budget PC won’t be able to power more than a midlevel graphics card or more than two internal hard drives.
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