A Small Business Guide to Buying Desktop Computers

By Gerry Blackwell
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HP Compaq 500B Microtower
HP Compaq 500B Microtower
(Click for larger image)

Desktop PCs may not be as sexy as laptops and netbooks, but for employees who only ever work at a computer in the office, desktops are still the best choice. Why? Despite plummeting prices for laptops, prices on desktop models range between $200 and $800 and offer the best value for the money.

They also typically offer more USB ports and other input and output connections. And inside desktop chassis, extra slots for circuit boards make it easier to expand functionality and upgrade components.

Many vendors offer greater flexibility when configuring desktops too, allowing buyers to specify precisely the options they want. Note, however, that many vendors don’t include monitor in their base list prices. The monitor will add another $150 to $350.

Desktops are not all created equal, of course. So how do you choose? Selection criteria include factors such as office layout and available real estate, the type of computing demands the employees have and your budget.

HP Compaq 500B Microtower
HP Compaq 500B Microtower
(Click for larger image)

Consider the Form Factor

Desktop computers do not all sit on a desktop. More in fact use a tower or mini-tower chassis that stands upright on the floor or a shelf beside or underneath a desk. A full-size tower (about 30- x 18- seven-inches) offers the most internal space for installing add-in drives and circuit boards. Choose this option when floor or shelf-space is abundant and the employee requires a lot computing power.

Mini-towers (12- to 18-inches high) provide more limited expandability but also easily fit out of the way under a standard-height desk. True desktop models have a chassis smaller than a mini-tower and lie flat on a table, usually with the monitor perched on top. Newer slim-line models may be as thin as a pizza box and significantly smaller.

PCs that sit on the desk, especially the slim-line models, typically offer limited expandability and connectivity – sometimes less than laptops. They also take up more desk space than towers.

All-in-one desktops are a relatively new category. Core components are housed in a cavity behind the flat-screen monitor. Only the monitor stand, keyboard and mouse take up desk space. And some models come with a wireless keyboard and mouse.

Dell, Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and others offer all-in-ones, most priced below $700. They tend to be under-powered, though, so they mainly make sense for light computer use. Since makers usually pay special attention to styling, an all-in-one may be a good choice for public-facing employees.  

ZT PC, Reliant 861Mi-40
The ZT PC Reliant 861Mi-40
(Click for larger image)

Windows Operating Systems

Most desktop PCs will ship with Windows 7, Microsoft’s new operating system, launched in October. This is generally a good thing. Windows 7 is a more efficient and stable operating system than its predecessor, Windows Vista, with a better user interface than either Vista or its predecessor, Windows XP.

You may have to choose between computer models shipping with the 32-bit or the 64-bit version of Windows 7. If you plan to use older hardware and programs with the computer, there is little advantage to moving to 64-bit computing — and it may create compatibility problems. If you use mostly modern gear and programs optimized for 64-bit, especially resource-hungry applications, a 64-bit Windows 7 machine will deliver better performance.

What if all your other computers run XP or Vista? You may want to delay moving to Windows 7 to minimize support and training headaches and tp keep a uniform computing environment. Some vendors will allow you to downgrade by substituting Vista or (more often) XP for Win7, usually at additional cost.

You may also still find models, usually older stock, that come with XP or Vista. Avoid Vista unless you already use it and are happy with it. And keep in mind with XP that you will have to migrate to Windows 7 within a couple of years, at some expense.

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This article was originally published on November 23, 2009
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