Computer buyer’s guide for small business: selection checklist.

Last updated: 24th October 2015

This guide provides a buyer’s checklist, supported by our recommendations, when purchasing computers for a small business.

Many of the selection areas are covered in more detail in our other guides, please see debaffle.net/guides.

1. What type of computer do you need?

Options include: tablet, hybrid/ “2 in 1″, ultraportable/ Ultrabook, laptop/ notebook, desktop replacement/ portable workstation or a workstation/desktop.

See our guide on computer types at debaffle.net/guides for typical use cases for each type of device. Note that in general, portability and capability for a computer are trade-offs.

2. What is your budget?

Tablets start from $100/ £100 and portable workstations cost up to $5,000/ £2,000. Your budget will directly determine the options you can consider.

3. Do you need more than one type of device?

You may need a highly capable desktop computer for the office, and a portable tablet with low capability when travelling (e.g. for reviewing documents on a train).

4. What resolution display do you want?

If you work on high resolution pictures and video you will need a high resolution display. Office productivity application such as Microsoft Office do not need high resolution displays.

5. What aspect ratio do you want?

Aspect ratio is a characteristic of devices types, thus you cannot directly choose aspect ratio, however it is useful to understand the impact of different aspect ratios. External monitors are usually 16 × 9. Most laptops are also 16 × 9, notably, Apple laptops are 16 × 10. Tablets are usually 4 × 3, notably, Microsoft latest tablets are 3 × 2. Mixing aspect ratios has various impacts, see our guide on computer screens at debaffle.net/guides.

6. Do you want a touch display?

Touch display on a desktop computer, or a laptop is of questionable value. A touch display on a tablet or Hybrid laptop/ tablet is of significant value. Note that Microsoft Windows 7 operating system is not touch compatible, and thus you will not find it on tablet or hybrid devices, rather you will find Windows 8, or from August 2015, Windows 10. Apple iOS operating system is used for touch apple devices (Apple OS X is for Apple laptops and desktops and is not touch compatible).

7. Do you want a matte or a gloss screen?

Gloss screens provide high contrast images, but suffer from reflections from office lighting. Avoid gloss screens for external displays in office environments.

8. Do you need to view the screen from wide angles?

If your screen needs to be viewed from the side make sure it has wide viewing angles. Tablets always have wide viewing angles, however laptops and external displays do not necessarily.

9. Do you need an external display?

When using laptops in an office environment a larger external display can significantly increase productivity by enabling viewing of more applications simultaneously, and in turn reducing the need to swap between application windows.

10. Will you be connecting to a wired local area network?

Look for an Ethernet port, or a docking station with an Ethernet port, or at minimum an adaptor to allow an Ethernet port.

11. Will you be connecting to a wireless local area network?

All portable computers come with Wi-Fi connectivity. Look for the latest “ac” standard for maximum data throughput.

12. Will you be connecting using cellular wireless?

This only applies to portable computers, and really applies to locations that Wi-Fi is unavailable, and where cellular wireless is available at an acceptable price. External display connectivity

13. Will you need to connect to analogue VGA devices?

Match your external display devices to the external display ports on your computer. For portable computers, be aware that many businesses still have displays and projectors that only use VGA, thus consider a VGA adaptor for whatever the outputs on your portable computer happen to be.

14. Will you need to connect to DVI devices?

Match your external display devices to the external display ports on your computer. Having an adaptor to VGA for your portable computer will most likely mean you do not need a DVI adaptor also, as most equipment with DVI will also accept VGA.

15. Will you need to connect to an external monitor using DisplayPort, Thunderbolt or USB Type C?

All these interface types are applicable to external computer monitors due relatively short cable length restrictions. In reality, you will pick a brand of computer, and the external computer display connectivity required will be decided for you. For example Apple computers only support Thunderbolt, or USB Type C.

16. Will you need to connect to HDMI devices?

This is your primary option for connecting to external displays that are more than 5m away, for example in boardrooms. If you plan to give presentations on your portable computer, you will need HDMI. Adaptors are available from all other key computer interfaces.

17. Will you want to connect to an external display using wireless?

AirPlay is your only option for Apple devices, and you will need to buy an AppleTV in addition. Miracast is your best option for Windows devices, but you will probably need an adaptor for the external display (the external display will need both HDMI and a power USB port). Consider Google Chromecast if you are considering a Google Chrome based computer. Microphone, speakers and camera

18. Do you need in-built or external microphone, speakers or camera?

Consider your need for desk based video conferencing or playing video content without using headphones. Desktop computers will require external options, which can be achieved through an external monitor providing all functions. In-built options are applicable to portable computers.

19. What quality microphone phone do you need?

For built-in capability, look for array microphones to reduce echo.

20. What resolution camera do you need?

0.3Mp is low quality (640 pixels by 480 pixels), and 2.2Mp or more (1280 pixels by 1080 pixels) is high quality.

21. What quality speakers do you need?

This is a very subjective question, thus listen to them first-hand or read reviews from others who have.

22. For external microphone, speakers and camera, do you have the necessary connectivity?

Both 3.5mm sockets and USB connections are available. Keyboard and mouse

23. What keyboard layout do you need?

Make sure the layout applies to the region you are in. The placement of £ and $ symbols is a key giveaway! Also consider if you need full size keyboard with all the function keys and number pad. Augmenting a portable computer with an external keyboard is an option to meet your requirements.

24. What size keys do you need?

Standard key sizes allow for 19mm between the key centres measured horizontally. Smaller keys, especially on laptops can result in inefficient typing, especially if you have big hands!

25. Are contoured keys important to you?

This is purely a personal preference.

26. How much key travel do you want?

Increased key travel does result in better touch typing experience, and will be noticed by those who have this skill.

27. Do you need your keyboard to be quiet?

Consider the working environment that you are in.

28. Will you need key backlighting?

Relevant if you work in low light environments.

29. For portable computers do you prefer a trackpad, touchpad, or pointing stick?

This is purely a personal preference consideration.

30. Do you want wired connectivity?

This applies to externally connected options. USB is more common, however PS/2 type connector is sometimes seen on desktop computers. Portable computers with limited connectivity options may benefit from a docking station or port replicator.

31. Do you want wireless connectivity?

This applies to externally connected options. Wireless saves on clutter, but beware the charging requirements. RF tends to be more reliable than Bluetooth, however it requires a receiver to be plugged into your computers USB port. If considering RF, pick 2.4 GHz solutions. Printer connectivity

32. Will you be connecting to a printer over a local area network?

If so, your printer connectivity is dependent on how you connect to your network, see “network connectivity” checklist items earlier.

33. Will you be connecting directly to a printer, without a local area network?

For wired options, USB is most common, however FireWire is also available – check and match to your printer capability. USB 3.0 and 3.1 will provide the better performance than USB 2.0. For wireless options look for Wi-Fi Direct capability on both your computer and your printer.

34. For a portable computer, how much battery life do you need?

While manufacturer specifications can be useful to find out the battery life, be sure to check online reviews as actual performance can vary significantly.

35. Do you need to charge other devices via USB ports?

USB ports can charge devices, but only continue to charge when a computer is off if they are “sleep and charge” type. Docking stations and port replicators This section is relevant to portable computers only.

36. Do you plan on using an external screen, keyboard, or mouse?

Be sure to check that the video resolution supported by the docking station will not limit the resolution of the connected screen. Also check that the video output has the right connectors, or has an adaptor available. For best results match the computer maker with the dock/replicator maker.

37. Do you need to more ports on your portable computer than are available?

Add up the devices you need to connect, and then look for a docking station/ port replicator with available capacity. For best results match the computer maker with the dock/replicator maker.

38. Do you want a computer that can run full versions of computer applications, or are mobile app versions sufficient?

“ARM” processor families are used in mobile devices and many tablets. They run reduced, mobile application versions, of the full applications available on “X-86” processor families. Looks for X-86 tablets if you want full applications.

39. How much processing power do you need?

For x-86 processors, the Intel Core i3/ i5/ i7 range, and AMD A4 and above, are suitable for business machines. In general, i3 is low intensity use (using a few basic applications at any time), i5 is for general use (using many applications at any time), and i7 for power use (video processing or large spreadsheet/ database use). Processor specifications are very subjective, thus compare your existing computer to that of the computers you are considering, by using the benchmark site https://www.cpubenchmark.net for x-86 and http://www.gsmarena.com/benchmark-test.php3 for ARM processors.

40. Do you need a separate graphics processor?

If you run graphic intensive programs, such as 3D simulations, consider a separate graphics processor, otherwise the integrated graphics processor in the main processor will be sufficient. If in doubt, check with your application provider for minimum graphics capability required, and then verify this against the specifications of any computers you are considering.

41. How much memory do you need?

4 GB memory is sufficient for general laptop/ desktop use, buy 8+ GB for intensive laptop/ desktop use, and if in doubt, choose more memory. Note that memory is limited to 4 GB if using 32 bit operating systems – make sure your operating system is 64 bit to allow future upgrade flexibility (all retail pre-installed operating systems are 64 bit).

42. Might you need to upgrade your computer memory in the future?

Some computers have memory soldered in place which is not possible to upgrade at a later date. If you chose a computer with soldered memory, consider buying 8 GB of memory. Note that memory is limited to 4 GB if using 32 bit operating systems – make sure your operating system is 64 bit to allow future upgrade flexibility (all retail pre-installed operating systems are 64 bit).

43. What type of storage do you need?

Storage type is all about speed, and how fast you want your computer to perform. SSD storage is significantly faster than HDD. SSD when coupled with PCIe interface (rather than a SATA interface) provides the fastest performance possible. eMMC storage is only suitable for low end computers and mobile devices.

44. How much storage do you need?

How much storage you need on a computer will depend if you plan to store everything on your computer, or centrally in a file server/ NAS or equivalent central solution. Determine your storage strategy first (including backup and disaster strategy) and then use your current storage requirements as a benchmark. Make sure you can increase your storage if required, if not, buy as much as possible from day one.

45. Do you need navigation capabilities via maps?

If the computer is intended for navigation then make sure it includes GPS and digital compass capability.

46. Are you considering a tablet?

Tablets and hybrid tablet/laptops must have a gyroscope functionality, as without it, you will be continually manually changing content orientation to match the orientation of the screen to portrait or landscape.

47. Which operating system should you get?

Unless you have very specialist needs (in which case you will know), ignore all but Microsoft Windows or Apple OS X. Please read our guide at debaffle.net/guides for Windows versus OS X considerations.