2009 Awards: Readers Pick the Best Small Business Tech Tools

By SmallBusinessComputing.com Staff | Posted February 02, 2009
Hardware     Software/Services     Security     E-Commerce    

Warren Buffett says that the answer to our national financial crisis, which he likens to an economic Pearl Harbor, will come from the American people. And we say no one is more resilient and creative about getting the job done than small business owners – especially when they have the right tools. Which brings us to the Small Business Computing Excellence in Technology Awards.

You and your peers chose the winners in 20 categories. These products and services have been tried and tested where it matters most: in the field and on the job. And they made your businesses better. No worries here about performance, reliability or effectiveness. These are simply the right tools to help you at a time when you simply can't afford to get it wrong.

You'll see familiar names and a few surprises throughout our list of winners and runners-up. This year marks the first time in the history of our awards that a non-Dell computer took top-desktop honors. And relatively new technologies are making their presence felt in both the Notebook and Backup and Recovery categories

While hardware may represent the biggest monetary investment, applications are the backbone of a small business. At a time when every dollar and every hour is a precious commodity, it wasn't surprising to see familiar brands taking top honors. However, there was a twist as Adobe is the only company to win two awards in the Software / Services category.

And it's no secret that you can find literally hundreds of free tools on the Internet to help you run your online business more efficiently in addition to saving you money. It's why this year we included a Free E-Commerce tool category.

At a time when you need to get every ounce of productivity out of your IT budget, these are the best tools to help you curb cost and improve efficiency. Of course, dissent is as American as, well, Warren Buffett, so feel free to go to our forum and tell your fellow readers where they went wrong.

Hardware
Desktop PC
Mac Pro (Apple)
      Runner-up: Dell Vostro 220 Mini Tower
Notebook PC
Lenovo SL ThinkPad SL300
      Runner-up: HP EliteBook 6930p
      Runner-up: Dell Inspiron Mini 9

Printer
HP Color LaserJet CP1215
      Runner-up: HP Color LaserJet CP1518ni
Multifunction Device
HP Officejet Pro L7590 All-in-One
      Runner-up: HP OfficeJet J6480 All-in-One Printer
Mobile Device
iPhone 3G (Apple)
      Runner-up: BlackBerry Bold (Research in Motion)
Desktop Storage
Maxtor BlackArmor
      Runner-up:Iomega Rev 120GB Backup Drive
Network Storage
Netgear ReadyNAS Duo RND2150 (500 GB)
      Runner-up: Iomega StorCenter ix2: 225
Server
Dell PowerEdge T300
      Runner-up: Apple Xserve

Hardware

Desktop PC

Despite global notebook shipments recently outpacing desktops for the first time ever, desktop computers still remain the primary tool for small businesses – for now. Ever since we instituted the Small Business Computing Excellence in Technology awards back in 2004, Dell has flat-out dominated this category.

But nothing lasts forever, and after five straight wins Dell's desktop reign comes to an end. What makes this year's winner even more interesting is that it isn't a PC at all. It's a Mac. The Mac Pro, to be precise.

Apple bills the Mac Pro as the fastest Mac ever. With standard features that include two Intel Quad-Core Xeon processors, 2GB of 800MHz DDR2 ECC memory, a 320GB Serial ATA hard drive, an ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card with 256 MB of memory and a new PCI Express 2.0 graphics slot, it's certainly equipped to handle any computing task.

Granted, with a starting price of $2,799, the Mac Pro is no one's idea of a budget PC. But for sheer muscle, elegance and ease-of-use it's tough to beat a Mac. And even in a nasty economy, a business owner can dream…and dream big.

Dell may have been displaced from the top spot, but it's hanging tough as runner up with the Vostro 220 Mini Tower. Designed especially for small business with simple networks, the Vostro offers a range of options with Dell's reputation for reliability and affordability.

Notebook PC

No repeat win for the MacBook Pro this year. Lenovo wins the top portability spot with the Lenovo SL ThinkPad SL300, the first ThinkPad designed and priced for small business. You can expect to pay about $1,000 for 1.6-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5670 processor, 2GB of RAM, Windows Vista Business, a 250GB hard drive and a DVD burner.

Whether you're in the office, at home or on the road, the ThinkPad SL300 is a business-savvy notebook that packs a multimedia punch, good looks and reliable service and support.

The runner-up position turned into a battle of extremes as Dell's first low-cost netbook, the Inspiron Mini 9, took on HP's top-of-the-line business notebook, the EliteBook 6930p. Both tied at 21 percent of the votes. That's an impressive showing for the Mini 9 and a big indication of just how popular the netbook category has become in a very short time.

Printer

If you're a long-time reader, you may notice that we've consolidated color and black and white printers into one category this year. Color used to be a luxury, but improved technologies have led to a noticeable drop in the overall cost, which makes adding color a viable option for more small businesses.

In what should come as no surprise to anyone, HP wins this category yet again, this time with the HP Color LaserJet CP1215, a personal (read no networking) USB printer. HP has dominated our awards sweeping all but one of the printing categories for in six years straight (Xerox won best Black and White printer back in 2005).

We originally found the LaserJet CP1215's cost per page a bit high, but our readers looked past that hiccup to its first-class out put and decided that the CP1215's makes a great inkjet replacement for anyone who prints less than 50 pages per day.

Grabbing the runner-up position is ‑‑ wait for it – HP's Color LaserJet CP1518ni, a networked sibling to the CP1215. It offers the same print speeds and ink costs, but adds more features if you're looking to bump up to a printer you can share with others.

Multifunction Device

The 800-pound printing gorilla is still in the room and won't be denied. Yes, HP wins this category again – this time with HP Officejet Pro L7590 All-in-One.

Priced less than $300, it features fast print speeds, crisp output, duplexing, direct photo printing and Ethernet networking in addition to scan, copy and fax capabilities. This hard-working inkjet champion is a top-of-the-line, all-in-one printer suitable for both small and home offices.

And in case you haven't had your fill of HP, you can always check out the company's affordable runner up, the $169 OfficeJet J6480 All-in-One Printer.

Xerox, Lexmark, Epson, Brother? Olly, olly oxen free!

Mobile Device

The mobile market is smoking hot, and people in small business know that being able to connect with customers, clients and co-workers anytime from anywhere gives them the fighting edge they need to succeed.

Racking up a second straight win, Apple claimed the mobile throne by a wide margin with the iPhone 3G, thus proving that while business folks demand performance and professionalism, they love a good-looking smartphone as much as the next guy.

Speed is the major improvement over last year's model ‑‑ specifically broadband-speed Web surfing, downloading and e-mail using 3G, a high-speed mobile network technology. Major U.S. carriers such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint operate their own 3G networks.

Our reviewer called the iPhone's touchscreen, "the hands-down coolest of any smart phone we've seen," – and clearly, you agree.

Returning to the deja vue department, BlackBerry Bold held on to its runner-position.

Desktop Storage

What does every small business need more than storage? They need secure storage. This year's winner – the Maxtor BlackArmor – delivers more than cavernous capacity and data backup; it offers total drive encryption.

The 160 GB external drive is protected by 128-bit AES hardware-based encryption. Your password provides access to your data, and without it, no one can use the drive. If you travel with the drive and it's lost or stolen, no worries. Without that password, the drive might as well be a brick. Word to the wise; don't forget the password.

A long-time storage vendor to the small business community

Iomega's been fulfilling the storage needs of small business for years, and it scores the runner-up slot with the reliable Rev 120GB Backup Drive.

Network Storage

Network attached storage is another technology that's evolved over the years to become a small business workhorse. Having moved beyond basic backup and file sharing, NAS now adds streaming media, remote access and capacity expansion to its list of capabilities.

This year, the Netgear ReadyNAS Duo RND2150 (500 GB) earned our readers favor by providing hot-swap drives, support for disk quotas, and excellent media streaming capabilities. You can also access the Duo via an SSL-encrypted connection.

Add the fact that it works with Windows, Mac, and Linux or Unix clients, and it's no surprise that this versatile network storage device took top honors.

Iomega made a strong showing for runner-up with the StorCenter ix2. This two-terabyte monster, the first tangible result of Iomega's merger with storage giant EMC, combines many high-end NAS features at an affordable price.

Servers

Consolidating varied business systems onto a server creates efficiency, saves money and improves productivity. In the case of this year's winner (Dell, for its fifth server-win in six years), the sub-$1,000 PowerEdge T300 also requires less electricity, which helps drive down energy costs.

A general-purpose server capable of handling a wide range of resource-intensive applications, the T300 gets a big power boost from its quad-core Intel Xeon x5460 processor – the type that's usually limited to more expensive, higher-performing servers.

The hot breath Dell feels on its neck comes from the Apple Xserve, making its first-ever – and very strong –appearance as runner-up in our server category. The sub-$3,000 server has up to two Quad Core 3.0 GHz Intel Xeon processors, up to 3 Terabytes of internal storage and includes an unlimited client license for Mac OS X Server Leopard.

To request an .eps version of a Product of the Year Award logo click here.

Awards by Category:
Hardware     Software/Services     Security     E-Commerce    



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