Buyer’s guide: Desktop PCs for your business

The humble desktop still offers the best value for money for a start-up. Here's our guide to finding one that's right for you

In this modern age of internet, email and staying in touch with clients, even the smallest business needs to invest in a computer. Desktop PCs may seem less versatile than a laptop, but for the start-up business they still represent the best value for money.

There are a wide array of desktop PCs on the market, from compact slim systems to full tower desktops kitted out with the latest graphics cards and multiple hard drives. However, the basic look and feel pretty much remains the same, with a computer box sat on your desk, with a monitor on top and a keyboard and mouse set-up for inputting information. 

Choosing the right desktop PC for your start-up business should reflect your needs. If you’re working from home it may well be tempting to choose a system that can also be shared with the family. However, this could well be a false economy and we’d suggest keeping both sides of your life separate.

Getting the right desktop PC for your start-up business is about matching your needs with your budget. We’d suggest opting for a machine that offers a degree of future proofing; a good PC should last you around five years before you need to consider upgrading to a new system. Prices tend to start at around £350 for a basic machine that can handle email and word processing, while for more specialised tasks you’ll need to budget considerably more.

The leading names in desktop PCs for business are HP and Dell, who create a range of machines for all budgets. Other brands to consider are Acer and Lenovo, who offer a host of off-the-peg systems at competitive prices. It’s worth bearing in mind that many desktop PCs aimed at business use tend to come with a monitor, so you’ll need to budget accordingly, while at the same time also come with legacy ports that may or may not be appropriate to the sole trader.

If space is at a premium, you could always consider an all-in-one PC, which as the name suggests has the base unit and screen combined. You still connect to it via a keyboard and mouse but these use wireless technology to keep cables to a minimum. It’s worth bearing in mind though that all-in-one computers use laptop technology, so tend to be more expensive, and also offer limited upgrade options compared to a standard desktop PC.

No matter which option you go for, the desktop PC remains the most cost-effective way of rolling out computers across your business. The low build and maintenance cost per unit compared to a laptop or tablet is the main reason for their continued use. Add to this the fact that desktop PCs are designed to be easy to upgrade and tend to have universal compatibility with all peripherals you’re likely to purchase and it’s easy to see why they remain the heart of any business.

What to look for in a desktop PC for a start-up

Choosing the right desktop PC means knowing what you’re after, here we look at the key components of every desktop PC:

Processor:

This is the brain of any computer and there is often a general rule of thumb that the faster the processor, also known as CPU, the quicker it will perform. In a start-up office where you’re likely to need your PC to handle everything from email, word processing and connecting to the internet, as well as more demanding tasks, we’d suggest looking for a quad-core based system. If you’re likely to need high-end graphics, for video and audio work, then consider opting for a more expensive eight-core system.

Memory:

Also known as RAM (Random Access Memory) computer memory is essential as it takes data from the hard drive and stores it prior to the CPU using it. Typically, the more memory your PC has the smoother data will flow. In order for your operating system and programs to run smoothly you need a minimum of 2GB but we’d suggest opting for at 4GB as a basic level, as this will allow you to multi-task with ease.

Hard drive:

Speed and capacity tend to be the two elements that make up a computer’s hard drive. It is the heart of your computer as it stores everything from the operating system to the programs the user uses to individual folders and files. In an office environment speed is often preferred over capacity. Look for a drive with a minimum speed of 7200rpm (revolutions per minute).

Capacities vary widely with the most basic drives offering around 500GB of space, while the latest drives can hold up to 2TB of information. Match a capacity that meets your mid-term as well as immediate needs. At the same time, consider how you’ll back up the data on the hard drive – this can be backed up to an external hard disk or even online.

Monitor:

While business machines tend not to come with a monitor, it’s highly likely that a start-up business will opt for a home office system, which more often than not will include one. Screen size and connectivity options are the key factors when choosing a monitor. At the budget end of the market you’ll find 17- to 20-inch LCD monitors, which are more than usable for everything from email and word processing to photo and even video-editing. At the other end of the scale, 24-inch monitors have now become the norm for those who carry out precision work or for those who simply like having extra screen space.

Buying tips

Warranty and tech support:

If you don’t have in-house IT support then looking after your desktop PC needs to be outsourced. At the most basic level you’ll find that all electrical goods are covered by a 12-month warranty, while an extended warranty of up to three or even five years can be arranged at the point of purchase.

Costs vary greatly depending on the level of service you require, with on-site next business day support tending to be the most expensive, so many small-business operators tend to work on a basic RTB (return to base) account, which can be cheaper – but means you may be without a computer for a longer period if it does fail.

Software:

A basic desktop PC will often come with just the operating system, so you’ll need to budget for extra software. Consider which software packages you need before you buy the PC and haggle to see if you can get a discount to have them pre-installed at the time of purchase. 

Mac versus Windows:

For a long time, it was felt that only high-end media users, designers, music and video-editors and web designers needed what the Mac has to offer. However, while it’s true there is less business software on the market for Mac than Windows PCs, things are slowly starting to change. That said, we would suggest you carry out additional research on what’s available before opting for a Mac as the sole option in your business.

Upgrades:

Desktop PCs are the most cost-effective piece of IT equipment any start-up business will ever purchase. PCs are designed to be infinitely upgradable, so you can switch parts and upgrade as and when you need to – something you won’t find with a laptop. That said, it pays to buy a desktop PC with a fair degree of future-proofing as simply buying what you need right now is often a false economy. Upgrades will cost less at the time of purchase than later on.

Top desktop PCs for start-up businesses

Acer Aspire M3910

The Acer Aspire M3910-2 is a great everyday desktop PC. It comes with a DVD rewriter, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi and eight USB ports. Bundled with a 20-inch screen this compact system will suit most home office set-ups. Price: £399 Processing: Intel Core i3-550 Hard Drive: 640GB  Memory: 3GB Screen Size: 20-inch  Graphics: Intel HD Graphics Contact: Acer UK www.acer.co.uk

HP TouchSmart 610

Combining a large touchscreen display with the latest high-end features, such as Wi-Fi and Blu-ray, this is much more than just an office PC, it’s your multimedia hub. Price: £1200 Processing: Intel Core i5 650 Hard Drive: 1.5TB Memory: 6GB Screen Size: 23-inch Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 5570 Contact: HP www.hp.com/uk/

Dell Vostro 460

Built with small business users in mind, you’ll find the latest Intel processor offering plenty of performance and even a large screen for detailed on-screen analysis. Price: £390 Processing: Intel Core i7-2600 Hard Drive: 500GB Memory: 4GB Screen Size: 21.5-inch Graphics: 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5450 Contact: Dell UK www.dell.co.uk

Lenovo ThinkCentre M90z

The latest crop of all-in-one machines are great for smaller offices and this cost-effective solution has a great design and offers plenty of performance for the price. Price: £800 Processing: Intel Core i5 650 Hard Drive: 250GB Memory: 2GB Screen Size: 23-inch Graphics: Integrated  Contact: Lenovo UK www.lenovo.com/uk/en/ 

*All prices are approximate and will vary – they were correct at time of writing and include VAT.

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