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How to select an office computer with a focus on longevity and value

By Jake Schneider
2022-12-22

What kind of computer should one buy? This guide will answer this question with priority placed on value and longevity, two things business owners find most important! One of the questions I’m most oft asked is, “Jake, what kind of computer should I get?” The answer is of course, “Well that depends.” For this guide I’m going to assume we’re talking about an office computer which does clerical work with speed and efficiency.

First things first, I almost universally never recommend “All in One” computers. What is an all in one computer? An all in one computer is a computer which the computer and monitor/screen are in the same enclosure. These computers prioritize aesthetics and footprint over function, and have limited reparability and longevity! Their only use case would be for point of sale where a sleek looking monitor wouldn’t ruin the aesthetic of a nice front desk setup. Bottom line: All in Ones sacrifice performance and function for style, and in most cases turn into boat anchors once the warranty expires. Talk about a sunk cost!

Here’s my quick must have recommendation for just about any computer let alone an office computer:

The reason we’re wanting a Desktop or Tower instead of a laptop is longevity, as well as reparability, oh and cost. Desktops last longer than laptops. Why? It’s exactly why folks hate desktops! They take up space, are unwieldy, and heat up the space under your desk. Electronics like being relatively cool as they work, they radiate heat while working. In a desktop there is plenty of air and circulation even with the most modest of fans for the electronics to happily dissipate heat without much trouble. Desktops are large enough to also accommodate repairs and upgrades. If you purchase a laptop or All-in-One computer, you’re at the mercy of the manufacturer in regard to repairs. With a desktop almost any part inside can be replaced, motherboard, power supply, peripherals, etc. With a laptop, typically only the memory, hard disk, and battery are replaceable by end users. Since desktops typically aren’t on the go, can’t be left in the car at the mall, or have chicken soup or soda spilled on them, they last a lot longer than laptops. There’s no reason a new business class desktop shouldn’t last at least seven years if well cared for. Most laptops rarely make it past five years when you factor in their fragility and inability to upgrade. The next attribute deals with the target audience more than anything. Business class computers tend to have higher quality parts, are more modular, and have better aftermarket part availability due to manufacturing runs being broader than a one off home computer. Computers which are marketed to home users typically cut corners and skimp performance wise in things like I/O speed and disk access, where they’re needed most by demanding business applications. Depending on price point, the upgradability of home oriented desktops tend to be limited as well. In keeping with stretching the longevity of our purchase, business class computers are the way to go. Here’s a chart with most of the major manufacturers business class lines:

The CPU is the next important thing we’ll select. As of this writing Intel still has the dominant market share of processors in business class computers. You can find AMD processors in business class systems but they’re the exception rather than the rule. For general computing Intel mainly has the Core “I” series of processors, they’re delineated in tiers, Core i3 being the entry level processors at the lowest tier, which have the least amount of cache and cores, going all the way up to Core i9 which have the most cores and the most amount of on chip cache. Think of a core as a physical processor, so when you buy a processor with four cores, you’re really buying a chip with four embedded processors on one physical chip. Core i3 would be for a computer which would do the most basic of tasks, type a document, browse the web etc. Core i5 would be the next step up, this would be a good selection for all around office computing. Core i7 and i9 would be for computers which needed that extra computing power for demanding video editing tasks, things like 3d modeling and drafting.

The AMD Processors as of this writing are called AMD Ryzen, they use the same convention of delineation, starting with the AMD Ryzen 3, going all the way up to the Ryzen 9. The same selection criteria applies, you’ll want at least an AMD Ryzen 5 for middle of the road office computing. So we’re shooting for either an Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 class processor in our office desktop. Next we’ll look at memory. We want at least 8GB ( Gigabytes ) of RAM, 16GB would be better. Sometimes it’s cheaper to install RAM after the fact, since a lot of manufacturers make most of their money via upgrades. Dell is notorious for marking up their RAM and hard disk options. With Windows 11 you’re going to want at least 16GB of RAM. Above 16GB of RAM, you really need either a use case or a specific application which will utilize all that memory to really get your money’s worth!

Lastly the hard drive, or HDD. ( Hard Disk Drive ) this is the component that stores your data. The most important attribute about this component is that it should be solid state (SSD) , and not a magnetic hard drive. The reason we want a SSD is disk access speed and data throughput. The difference between a solid state and magnetic disk is literally night and day in this regard, and once you’re used to the throughput and access times of a solid state disk, it’s hard to go back to anything else. That’s not to say magnetic hard drives are obsolete, they have their place and are still king of the hill in terms of cost effective storage. But for our all-around office desktop, we’re looking for either a 256GB or 512GB solid state disk. That should cover most office computing tasks.

Finally we want to make sure our investment is protected from power surges and loss of power. One of the best ways to corrupt your computer is to remove power from the computer without cleanly shutting down first. You could probably get away with a few hard powers off, but each time this happens there is a tiny chance that your OS will get corrupted which will make it unbootable. Also electronics in general don’t like to be quickly switched off and have the rug pulled out from under them constantly, so having clean uninterrupted power will prevent power surges from causing the computer an early demise. You’re looking for a 500VA or equivalent uninterruptable power supply, something with a 7 amp hour to 9 amp hour battery which you can replace easily. These models below would suffice and their replacement batteries are easily available and replaceable:

This guide distills most of my experience and observations in selecting the longest lived trouble free computers. We’re looking for durability, flexibility, with a bias on performance. There’s really no beating a desktop when it comes to longevity and value. When you couple these guidelines with lot purchasing, you can leverage even better business continuance since you’ll have a field of compatible spare parts to choose from. This is how enterprise mitigates cost and downtime!