1. Computing

Before You Buy a Business Computer: Features to Consider

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Buying a laptop or desktop PC for professional use involves some of the same considerations as buying a computer for home use. Mark Kyrnin, About.com's Guide to PC Hardware / Reviews, has excellent advice on determining what you need before you buy a laptop or desktop computer. In addition to his recommendations on processors, memory, video, etc., below are some additional guidelines for buying a business computer.

Desktop or Laptop

Deciding on whether to buy a desktop PC or a laptop depends, of course, on how mobile you intend to be. Telecommuters working full-time from a home office can choose between desktop PCs, which generally cost less than laptops and have more upgradeable parts, and "desktop replacement" laptops, which tend to be the most powerful -- but larger and heavier -- of the laptop types. Road warriors, however, on the other end of the spectrum, need mobility and therefore will want to have a laptop; which one to select will depend on finding the right balance between portability and computing power.

Processors (CPU)

Although many business tasks, such as word processing, are not processor-intensive, multi-core processors are recommended for professionals because they allow you to run multiple applications at the same time (e.g., Microsoft Word and Firefox and virus scanning software). A dual-core processor will ensure a smoother computing experience; quad-core processors are recommended for graphics-intensive work, heavy database tasks, and other professionals who will be taxing their PCs.

Memory (RAM)

In general, the more memory the better, especially if you are running resource-hogging operating systems or programs (such as Windows Vista). I second Mark's recommendation of a minimum of 2 GB of memory. Because memory is relatively inexpensive, though, I think professionals should definitely get the maximum amount of RAM you can buy, as it will give you the most performance bang for your buck.

Hard Drives

Business users may need less disk space than consumers who save photos, music, and videos to disk; the exception, of course, is if you're a professional working with multimedia or accessing large files like database files. You can still get an external hard drive for extra space, so a drive around 250GB should do for most business purposes. Get a drive that has a 7200rpm spin rate for faster performance.

Laptop business users should look into getting a solid state drive for better performance and reliability.

CD or DVD Drives

Optical drives are becoming less common in laptops, especially the smallest and lightest ones. While consumers may not need a DVD drive any longer because most applications and files can be downloaded or shared online, a DVD writer is more important for professionals, who may still need to send files on disk to clients or install proprietary software from CD.

Video and Displays

Graphics professionals and those in the gaming industry will want to have a discrete (i.e., dedicated) video card, essential for video and graphics performance. For regular business tasks, however, an integrated video processor (integrated into the motherboard) should be just fine.

If you use a laptop as your main working computer, I highly recommend hooking up an external monitor to your laptop, especially if your laptop has a screen size under 17". The extra desktop real estate can make an enormous difference in productivity.

Networking

Because connectivity is key to remote work, professionals should make sure they have as many network connection options as feasible: fast Ethernet and wireless network cards (get at least an 802.11g wi-fi card; 802.11n is preferred and becoming more common). If you have bluetooth headsets or other peripherals such as a PDA that you wish to connect to your system, make sure you get bluetooth installed as well. You can also opt for a built-in mobile broadband card or add that feature to your laptop later for the ultimate in Internet access on the run.

Warranty and Support Plans

While most general consumers can do with a standard 1 year manufacturer's warranty, professionals should look for a warranty of 3 or more years, since you should expect to use your computer for business for about that long. Also, consumer support plans generally require you take the computer to a depot or mail in a laptop for repair; if you don't have a fall-back or second computer that you can use for work, as a professional you should get on-site support -- either same or next day, depending on whether you can tolerate any downtime if your computer breaks.

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