As the full specification of a computer can run to two sides of A4 or more, it’s easy to be overwhelmed when you’re in the market for a new business computer. However, there are actually only a few items you really need to focus on
If you understand these key elements before you start comparing specific computers, you’ll be able to make an informed buying decision.
Central processing unit
The central processing unit (CPU) is the powerful computer chip at the heart of your computer. It performs the ‘heavy lifting’ – no matter whether you’re browsing the internet or editing a document, it’s the CPU that’s making things actually happen.
The speed of the CPU influences how fast your computer runs overall, and is measured in Gigahertz (GHz). In general, the higher the speed, the faster your computer will be, although speed increases won’t be quite as profound as they are when adding more memory (RAM) or an SSD hard disk.
Some computers come with ‘dual core’ or ‘quad core’ CPUs, which are effectively two or four CPUs in one. They give you extra performance if you’re trying to do several things at once with your computer.
Look for: a CPU that's dual-core (or more) with a speed of at least 2.5GHz
Random access memory
Random access memory (RAM) is space that your computer uses when you work on your files.
For instance, when you open a document, it’s copied from the hard drive into the RAM. Then when you click ‘save’, it goes from the RAM back to the hard drive.
RAM has a big impact on the performance of your computer, so get as much as you can afford. Also bear in mind that some modern desktops come sealed and therefore can’t be upgraded after you’ve bought them.
There are different types of RAM. Buy a computer with ‘DDR3’ or 'DDR4' RAM if possible – these are the fastest types of RAM, so you won’t be kept waiting while your computer accesses information.
Look for: 8GB at the very least, but 16GB if you can afford it
If RAM is your computer’s temporary memory, the hard drive is its permanent memory.
It’s used to store both software (like your computer’s operating system and applications), plus your files (documents, images and anything else you’ve saved) – if you don’t keep these on a central server or on a cloud storage service.
Hard drive size is measured in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB). One TB is the same as 1,000GB and is enough room for a lot of stuff. You’ll only need more if you work with or store large video files.
Many computers now use solid state drives (SSDs) instead of a hard drive. SSDs are faster and more reliable, because they have no moving parts.
If you have the choice, it’s usually better to opt for a smaller SSD over a large HD.
Look for: at least 250GB in a desktop or laptop computer
When it comes to computer monitors, size matters. Larger monitors force you to scroll less and are easier on your eyes. Don’t consider anything below a 21-inch screen with a desktop PC, and go bigger if you can.
What you plan to use your computer for will play a big role in your choice of monitor. For example, if you’re using it for graphic design or video editing, your monitor should be at least 22 inches.
You may also wish to consider dual monitors, where you use two monitors side-by-side. It’s a good way of getting extra screen space, as long as your computer supports two monitors.
With laptop computers, the screen size goes a long way towards determining the overall size of the laptop, so your choice of screen size depends on how you plan to use your laptop. You can always connect it to a bigger monitor when you’re not out and about.
Look for: 21 inches for a desktop computer and 13 inches for a laptop
The graphics adaptor controls what is displayed on your computer monitor. Many computers come with an integrated graphics adaptor, which is fine in most cases.
However, if you plan to use your computer for graphic-intensive work like video editing, 3D modelling or playing games, pay extra for a dedicated graphics adaptor.
Look for: integrated graphics, unless you perform graphic-intensive work
Other computer considerations
In addition to the core features, there are few other things to keep in mind when choosing business computers.
Build quality and comfort
If you want your employees to be happy using your new business computers, they need to feel comfortable with the equipment.
This can be very subjective. It partly comes down to choosing a good quality keyboard and mouse, but also relates to the overall look and feel of the equipment.
The best way to get employees on board with your decision is to let them try proposed equipment for themselves. For instance, you can trial a new laptop in your business before issuing that model to all staff.
Size and shape
Always check the size and weight of any proposed business computer.
Will it fit on your company desks? If you're buying laptops, are they too big and heavy to actually carry?
Ports and connections
There's an old saying in geek circles: your computer can never have too many ports.
Make sure your new business computer systems have enough physical ports to connect the accessories you need, alongside the standard Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless connections.
Laptop battery life
Cheap laptops sometimes come with cheap batteries. Manufacturer-quoted battery lifetimes can be hopelessly optimistic, so search online for real-world experiences.
If you need new software, this can be a cost-effective way of getting it. But when comparing computers, check the true value of the software and disregard anything you don’t actually need.
Expect to pay from £350 for a reasonable business computer.