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Before You Buy a Computer: Should You Get a Consumer or Business Class PC?

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An important consideration when buying a computer for work purposes is whether you should purchase a consumer model or a computer specifically designed for business. Many computer manufacturers offer what appear to be the same computer make and model in both their home and business divisions, but they are actually not the same computer. Here's what you need to know about the differences between consumer and business grade PCs, and which kind you should get for your home or mobile office.

Percent of Business vs. Personal Use

First determine how often you will be using the computer for business use. If you telecommute infrequently (e.g., only during rare severe weather), then a consumer class PC should be just fine -- provided the computer has the appropriate applications and resources for your job, of course. Likewise, if you'll be using it 90% for personal entertainment and only 10% for work, a consumer computer may be more fitting.

Computers sold to consumers usually cost less than business PCs, and since they're sold everywhere, including Best Buy and Walmart, you can pick up a consumer computer very quickly and easily.

Durability and Reliability

For more dedicated or serious work use, invest in a business class computer, which offers more value in the long run than the consumer counterpart. Business computers are built to last, with higher quality components that are tested more rigorously. Parts used for consumer computers may be more generic or even cheap, while computers designed for professional use more often include higher grade materials and name-brand parts. This emphasis on durability means that a business class laptop or desktop you buy now should last you several years.

Business-Appropriate Features

Business grade computers offer more features for professional work, such as fingerprint readers, remote desktop control software, and encryption tools. The professional operating system version that comes on business PCs is also more suited for workers than the home version; Windows 7 Professional, for example, has features -- which Windows 7 Starter and Home editions do not have -- for easily joining a corporate network and using Windows XP software. If you're not convinced yet, consider this: business PCs typically don't include the crapware that bogs down so many consumer PCs.

Service and Warranty

Finally, business computer systems come with better support options and may be more easily supported by your employer's IT department as well. The default warranty on business computers is usually longer than those on consumer models. Business users also tend to get priority support, via a dedicated support line, and you can opt for on-site tech support available within hours rather than having to send in your computer for repair, which could take weeks.

Closing Thoughts

Business class computers are designed to reflect and support companies' critical reliability and performance needs. If you're buying a laptop or desktop PC to make money (i.e., for work), invest in one designed for business users and the investment should pay off in terms of better reliability, easier troubleshooting, and more professional features. If you find a consumer model that you're interested in, check if the manufacturer offers a similar model in its business division.

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