Business computer systems are key tools in your company. Yet choosing a business computer can be tricky given the overwhelming number of options.
The trick is to focus on what you want to do with your business computers before looking at specific makes and models.
Computer system basics
The most common type of business computer is a PC (personal computer). PCs are made by different companies but all use the same underlying technology. They usually run Microsoft Windows and are the type of computer most people are familiar with.
The main alternative is an Apple Mac. Macs are more expensive than comparable PCs and have traditionally been used in creative industries.
Macs can be popular with employees and some companies use a mix of PCs and Macs, depending on staff preferences and roles.
Business computer systems are available as:
- Desktops, consisting of a base unit, monitor, keyboard and mouse. They are designed to be set up and used in one place.
- Laptops, portable computer systems that can be used on the move. Laptops come in many sizes, from thin 'ultraportables' to larger units.
Although a desktop computer system will usually be cheaper than a laptop of equivalent specification, laptops offer the added benefit of portability.
In a world where flexible working is increasingly common, your business may value the possibilities offered by laptops.
There is, arguably, a third type of business computer system to consider. Tablet computers are touch screen devices you can slip into your bag and take anywhere.
Because they're so small and light, tablets are very versatile in some ways. However, they don't usually come with a keyboard, nor have many ports to connect other devices. High-end models can run typical business applications and are a good way to embrace mobile working.
Most businesses wouldn't feel comfortable switching to tablets from standard computer systems, but if you're feeling adventurous you could trial the Apple iPad or Microsoft Surface as your main computer.
Features of a business computer system
The business computer market is cut-throat, which keeps prices generally low.
As long as you avoid entry-level business computer systems, you can be fairly confident that your new computer will be up to running typical business software.
It's wise to pay attention to these key features of a business computer system:
Also called the central processing unit (CPU), this is the computer chip that does all the hard work.
Two main factors determine a CPU’s performance: the number of cores and the speed at which it runs. The speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz).
A dual or quad core chip is effectively two or four CPUs in one. This makes your computer more effective when it runs several programs at once.
Make sure your new business computers have at least a dual core processor running at a minimum of 2.5GHz.
Random access memory (RAM) is where a business computer stores data it uses frequently.
RAM is measured in gigabytes (GB). For general business tasks – like word processing and using the internet – 4GB is the absolute minimum. 6GB or 8GB is much better.
The hard drive (HD or HDD) is used for longer-term storage of files. HD capacity is also measured in GB.
Most companies encourage employees to save their work centrally, either onto a network server or cloud storage.
This means that your individual business computer systems probably don't need massive hard drives. A good minimum is 250GB, although many systems will come with more as standard.
Some higher-end laptops now use a solid state drive (SSD) instead of a hard drive. SSDs are faster and more reliable, because they have no moving parts.
If you have the choice, it is usually better to opt for a smaller SSD over a large HD.
Desktop computers usually come with a flat screen monitor. For laptops, it's a good idea to buy separate external monitors for use in the office.
Cheap monitors are adequate, but basic. Spending a little more on larger screens can make employees more productive.
Look for a 21-inch or larger screen with a resolution of at least 1920 x 1080 pixels (this is also called 'full HD'). Learn more about screen size and resolution.
Brightness, sharpness and colour representation can vary between different monitors. The best way to choose a screen is to sit down in front of it and see if you like it.
Watch out for screens with a shiny coating. They can sometimes cause troublesome reflections. Touch screens are also becoming more common, although they have limited use.
Also consider ergonomics and comfort when choosing monitors. Buying movable arms to mount your monitors helps employees achieve a comfortable working position.
Although these are the main things to watch for, other seemingly minor factors can also be important because they can affect how usable your business computer systems.
Could you use thin clients?
If you need to replace a number of computers in your business at once, you might consider a thin client system instead of buying individual business computers.
A thin client is a very basic computer. Essentially just a screen, keyboard, mouse and network connection, it accesses centralised processing power across a network.
Using a thin client feels just like using a normal computer. The difference is that all the work is being done by a central server. This offers some advantages over traditional business computer systems:
- Increased efficiency, as resources can be allocated where they're needed without wasting power.
- Better security, because files and software are all held centrally.
- More flexibility, because your staff can log in and see their desktop from any device.
There are downsides, of course. Your computer is little more than a dumb terminal, so you need a network connection to do any work at all. And it's harder to be flexible with the software everyone uses.
It might be worth considering a thin client system if:
- You use standard business software on your current computers
- You have a fast network and internet connection
- You need to replace a large number of computers in your business
- You want to make it easy for your employees to work remotely.
If you think thin clients could work for you, evaluate the pros and cons carefully. A good IT supplier should be able to help.
Business computer system accessories
When purchasing business computer systems, remember to budget for any accessories you may need.
In addition to monitors (see above), you may require a keyboard and mouse for each employee. Opting for cheap items can be a false economy. These are the tools employees use to interact with their computers, and so it's important they are comfortable and durable.
Business computer prices
Basic PCs start at £250, but may need replacing sooner. Mid-range PCs are best for general business tasks like word processing and accessing the internet. They cost £350 – £500 and should last about three years.
High-end PCs with fast processors start at £600. They can handle intensive tasks like video editing and large databases. These office computers may also be better able to handle system upgrades.
These prices are for desktop computers. Expect to pay a little more for a standard laptop, or significantly more for an ultra-thin model.