How to buy a desktop PC for your business

PC knowledge for your company

TODO alt text

The latest and greatest iPad might be grabbing the world's attention but, good though it is, it doesn't cut much ice in the office environment, where a bigger screen, superior connectivity, a real keyboard and standardised office software are essential. Brand choice may have shrunk over the years but you are still spoilt for choice if you're on the lookout for an office PC.

One thing is certain – you won't need to spend top-dollar in order to get a PC capable of performing most general office tasks well. Most office admin tasks, such as word processing, accounts or sending emails don't place great stress on a PC and so a modestly specified PC will do the job: you shouldn't have to spend more than about £400+VAT to get a respectable business PC.

But maybe your line of business is something a little special and you wanted a PC that could process digital still or video images or handle large 3D CAD drawings then you'd need a better-specified PC. And that's what distinguishes low-cost and more expensive PCs – their specification. This is determined by several key hardware components and it is these components that determine how the PC performs and hence how closely it matches your requirements.

Processors

The Central Processing Unit or CPU, is the nerve centre of the computer and hence the single most important component. There are essentially two choices to make here: the make and the number of cores - CPU clock speed used to be key but not anymore and clock speeds have been fixed for some years.

There are just two mainstream processor manufacturers, Intel, with its Pentium Dual Core and Core i3, i5 & i7 CPUs and AMD with its A4, A6, Athlon II, Phenom II & FX ranges. Most now feature multiple CPUs or cores on a single chip.

One, two, three or more cores
One, two, three or more cores

So an entry-level processor might have two cores but more powerful processors would have three, four or even more cores. And the price reflects this – an entry level CPU might sell for £50 but a well-spec'd one will go for £300 or more.

Memory

Random Accessory memory or RAM is essentially the working memory – the more you have, the more work you can do in a given amount of time. Modern PCs running Windows 7 will require a minimum of 1GB, even for budget systems, while 2GB of RAM provides optimal performance.

If you have the 64-bit version of Windows 7, this supports larger amounts of RAM and as RAM is comparatively cheap, consider going for 4GB if possible.

Hard Disk Drives

All PCs come with hard disks and for office use the most important feature is hard disk capacity. Hard disk capacity is measured in Gigabytes (GB) and you should aim to buy a desktop PC with not less than 320GB - for general office tasks, this is plenty.

Optical Drives

CD or DVD-ROM drives are an essential component of the business PC and most are shipped with one as standard. Expect to find at least a DVD-ROM drive or a CD 'burner'/DVD player combo drive as a minimum. Better specified PCs will have a DVD burner or maybe a DVD-ROM and a DVD burner.

Video Card

Graphics cards can help speed up a slow desktop
Graphics cards can help speed up a slow desktop

For general office use, you don't need exceptional graphics performance at all: the graphics hardware, typically Intel or AMD/ATI Radeon, that's integrated on to the main board of the PC will be more than adequate.

However if you want to run dual displays, you will need a second video port, or an additional video card.

External Connectors

It's never been easier or simpler to connect devices to PC, using external sockets, instead of fitting them internally. The mish-mash of old style ports have been superseded by a single high-speed port, the Universal Serial Bus (USB). So, look for systems that have at least four or more USB 2.0 ports as an absolute minimum.

The better PCs will also have a couple of front-mounted ports conveniently located on the front panel, along with memory card readers.

Monitors

Today, widescreen LCD monitors rule the roost. Better LCD displays feature a digital DVI or HDMI socket and feature built-in speakers and USB ports, though bells and whistles are not as important as good image quality and adjustability for viewing comfortably for long stretches.

It's quite easy to add a second monitor to a PC to increase your desktop and this can definitely improve productivity by allowing you to have more windows open at once.

Many PCs now feature dual-video ports which really simplifies the hooking up of a second screen, so look out for this feature when shopping for your PC.

Form Factor

All-in-one PCs includes everything in the screen casing
All-in-one PCs includes everything in the screen casing

A recent development in the desktop PC world has been a modest diversification of the system case. The typical business PC comes in a mini-tower box, which is probably best sited under or next to your desk. But if space is at a premium, a smaller case would be a better choice. Dell for example delivers it's Optiplex models in mini tower, 'thin' desktop and 'compact' small form factor sizes, each model occupying offering the same computing power but in a different case.

The most recent development of all has been the all-in-one PC which essentially resembles a slightly larger than normal LCD display that contains the processor, hard drive, memory, etc built-in to the screen casing. The end result is a very elegant, clutter-free desktop PC.