19 December 2020

What to look for in a PC for your small business

When you need to get a new computer for your business in a hurry, it can be tempting to grab a cheap deal from a local store or from the top of Google.  After all, many devices look alike – they have screens, keyboards, more or less features.  However, what you buy and how much you spend will dictate a great deal about the experience you get with that device months or years after the purchase.  Here we discuss what to look for in a business PC and how to avoid pain later.

This article assumes you are looking for a Windows-based PC for general, everyday use.  If you use specialist or particularly demanding software you should consult the vendor to ensure the specifications are appropriate.  We discuss Apple Macs below.  Call us for advice if you are uncertain.

How much should I spend?

The short answer is as much as you can or want to.  A more helpful question is “what is the minimum I should spend?” because this is where things go wrong.  There is a wealth of low-end PCs available.  Many of which look great from the outside, often the same or better-looking than their more expensive counterparts.  We’ll discuss this more below, but in the meantime, here is a rough guide based on 2018 laptops:

Minimum spend for a sensible business laptop: £700 - £1,000 + VAT

Recommended spend for a business laptop: > £1,100 - £1,400 + VAT

Minimum spend for “luxury”, a convertible or more powerful laptop: > £2,000 ++

There is also a huge variety of options in the “luxury”, convertible or super-powerful market.  We are going to focus on everyday business laptops here.

Why not buy a cheap laptop?

Cheap laptops are often fine for general home use, if you don’t expect many years of service.  For business use, you will want something dependable that is not going to demand a lot of time and money for service or repair.  Here is why:

You'll discover the limitations later

Cheap laptops often shout the same big numbers as their more expensive counterparts, such as processor speed and amount of memory.  What they don’t shout about is the cheap and slow variants of components used.  It is usually the things you cannot see on the device, and the things not mentioned on the specification sheet that will let you down.

For example, it might shout about having 2,000 GB of storage – but you will probably find it is an old, slow hard disk or a cheap “hybrid” drive, which you will quickly want replaced.  It might have an Intel i5 or an i7 – but it’s an old, power-hungry variation that will be slow and kill the battery.

They lack business-grade features

Cheap laptops cut out anything that isn’t an absolute requirement for pretty much anyone.  This means, business features get the chop.  You might not feel you need these, but – further down the line – you will.  This often means costly upgrades later.

They are not built to last

When you look “under the bonnet” of a cheap laptop, you start to see where they cut the cost in production.  Weak structures, poor strain relief, and things packed in in such a way that makes it hard or impossible to repair, service or upgrade.  This not only means the device will be unlikely to cope with a bit of rough and tumble, but also that when you need more from it (and you will!) – it won’t be able to help you.

We find that customers who purchase a cheap laptop rarely get more than one or two years of useful life from them.  A well specified laptop can usually last at least three times that!  When you look at it this way, you can realise that a cheap laptop is actually an expensive laptop.

They are not serviceable or upgradable

Cheaper laptops often have everything hard-wired in and are difficult or impossible to disassemble.  This means if things go wrong, you are likely to need to buy a new laptop rather than be able to repair it.

Ironically, high end / luxury devices also suffer from this issue, but for different reasons – because they are generally built to be compact, light and fancy looking over being serviceable.  This is something to consider if you are in the market for a high-end device – be sure you can afford the servicing!

They come with annoying software and exclude what you need

Operating systems and software cost money.  To save money, cheap laptops employ two key tactics:

  1. Use cheap “home” software that lacks business features, such as Windows Home edition
  2. Accept payments for getting everyone’s junkware on to your laptop. As soon as you start, you are bombarded with useless messages, advertising and a slow, junked up device before you have even started

Both points often mean that service and upgrades are required before the cheap laptop is useable for business – money better spent on a business-grade PC.

What to look for in a business PC

  1. Look at the price. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is – especially if it’s below the minimum amount mentioned above
  2. Look for features that only typically exist in a business PC. I like to look for a “Trusted Platform Module”, or “TPM”.  These internal devices are rarely discussed, but they do permit extra security measures and make things like data encryption easier to handle.  It is rare to see these in home laptops, so the presence of one in the specification often means you are on to something good!
  3. Make sure the processor isn’t ancient. Get the exact model name of the processor, and look it up on Wikipedia.  Make sure it isn’t years out of date
  4. Look for fast storage. If it seems to have a very high capacity – like 1 or 2 TB, and isn’t tremendously expensive – it probably has a slow, traditional hard drive.  Look instead for an SSD – a Solid State Drive.  You’ll get less storage, but it will mean Windows and your apps will load in seconds rather than minutes
  5. Check its build quality. The sad truth is more serviceable, business-grade PCs do tend to be uglier than their less serviceable counterparts.  You must make a choice – go for “middle of the road+serviceable”, or “high end+less serviceable”.  For the latter, get insurance or be prepared for service bills.  Just don’t go for cheap “low end+unserviceable”!
  6. Get Pro software. If the device comes with a “Home” edition of Windows, or has a huge long list of useless bundled software – avoid!  You will quickly find it lacks what you need and doesn’t perform terribly well, resulting in the need for costly upgrades and service
  7. Don’t base your requirement on what you need today – consider what you will need in a year or two’s time
  8. Consider service costs. Mid-range PCs are the lowest cost to service.  Low-end and high-end PCs are the least serviceable.  If you buy a PC that is not easily serviceable, then consider the extra servicing costs in your future IT budget.
  9. Check you like it! If possible, have a look at the display and try out the keyboard.  These are often a matter of personal taste, so no specification will tell you whether you will like them or not

What about desktop PCs?

In this article we have focussed on laptops as they are most common.  However, don’t forget about desktop PCs.

You typically get a lot more for your money in a desktop, and they are usually far more serviceable and will provide many more years of service.  You can also easily add / upgrade the displays, change keyboards, add storage etc.  You can also “hard-wire” them in so you can have a fully reliable cabled connection to your network without dependency on WiFi, for example.  A desktop tends to be more dependable and “ready to go” without fuss – which can better suit some work scenarios.

If you don’t need the portability, then see what desktop you can get for your budget, whilst observing the above points.

What about Macs?

If you prefer Macs then in many ways your options are far simpler.  Simply visit https://www.apple.com/mac/ and take your pick.  Consider:

  1. How much power do I need? Want more powerful?  Then look to the chunkier devices!
  2. What form factor do I need? If you want a desktop then look to the iMac series and the Mac Pro

Macs tend to be more expensive vs. their PC counterpart, and generally they are not as serviceable / repairable as mid-range PCs (but quite equivalent in the high-end market).

Whether you should choose a Mac or a PC is an endless, unresolvable argument.  Why?  Because it’s down to individual choice, and down to whether the software you want lives better on one or the other platform.  You can pretty do anything you like on both.  Choose which you prefer and don’t listen too much to what others say. 

In conclusion

When considering what to purchase, it’s important to stop and think carefully about your needs vs. what is available for your budget.  Avoid the plethora of cheap home laptops to get the most return from your investment.

Need matchmaking?

iBizify support is available in both an ad-hoc ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis at £40 per hour (discounted pre-pay packs available) as well as customised monthly packages.  These can be used for “how-to” as well as technical support.

If you need help finding the perfect PC for you, then discuss your needs with us and we will find options for you from the whole market.

If you'd like to find out what can be achieved, then please book a call back.

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This article was written by Steve Munden of iBizify.net

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