Small Business Computing

Depending on your small business and its products or services, your company’s technology infrastructure is either a cornerstone of your business offerings or, at the least, a tool that provides important administrative support for your company’s financial and customer service needs.

And while computers are important to most small businesses, the variety of devices available today can make it challenging to choose the right device (or blend of devices) to serve your company effectively.

Choosing the right computing devices starts, as with most technology purchases, by spending some time thinking about your needs and preferences for how you’ll use your technology equipment.

The role of specific team members will also influence your selection, as some users will need portability while others may need a more powerful machine that never leaves your workplace.

And in some cases, personal preferences or cost will play larger roles in the decision than basing the decision more on how a device is expected to be used.

Windows or Mac?

Another early important choice in picking computing devices for your small business is whether you prefer using Windows or Apple computers. This is a less consequential choice then it would have been in a few years ago, with most common business software programs available in versions for either platform (or at least being able to offer interchangeable documents and files).

Generally speaking, Windows PCs tend to be less expensive for an equivalent computing power than their Apple counterparts.

If your small business uses cloud applications for its most common software functions, you'll be able to access and update files using either operating system. Similarly, the ability to share files between an Apple laptop and an iPhone could be a convenient feature for some users.

If, on the other hand, you prefer a Windows computer, choosing the pro version of the latest Windows operating system is a good idea. Windows Pro offers a number of advanced security and networking features designed for business users.

Given the increased interchangeability between both platforms, your final selection probably depends more whichever system you’re more comfortable with.

Invest in Quality

Regardless of which operating system you choose, it's a good idea to avoid bargain-basement computing devices. For example, you can order a Windows compatible PC for around $200, but such a device is likely to have a slow or outdated processor, as well as less than optimal build quality. What may look like a bargain at first glance is likely to be frustrating to use and, given the importance of the work you are trying to accomplish, the resulting loss of productivity will more than cancel out the savings from buying a cheap computer.

Choosing a Laptop

Laptop computers are the most commonly chosen devices for businesses of all sizes, and they can offer some compelling advantages.

The most obvious one, of course, is their increased portability over desktop devices. With so many of us working at least part of the time away from a workplace, the increased mobility makes a laptop almost a mandatory choice. Even for devices that are almost always in a workplace, their smaller size and improved energy efficiency can make laptops more attractive.

Potential drawbacks of laptop devices, though, include their generally smaller screen and lack of a full-sized keyboard. Another potential disadvantage is that laptops are more vulnerable to theft then desktop machines.

A laptop is likely to be more expensive, and offer less storage, than a desktop in a comparable price range. The comparatively smaller storage capacity may be less of a consideration if your business depends primarily on cloud applications.

In choosing a laptop, pay attention to devices marketed as being designed for business users. While these will generally start in the $700 price range, they will offer features such as larger amounts of RAM memory (you want to look for around 8GB) and more durability than less expensive devices. Some business computers will also offer advanced security features, such as automatic encryption or fingerprint-based password capabilities.

Choosing a Desktop

While laptops are generally more popular among business users, desktops still have their place in many offices because they offer some attractive advantages.

Desktops remain a good choice, for instance, if a computer is not likely to leave a workplace. For example, a computer used by a bookkeeper, receptionist, service manager or similar functions probably don’t need mobility features that would dictate choosing a laptop. 

Desktops also offer comparatively more power, at a lower cost, than laptops, and a higher storage capacity. Another potential advantage is that desktop machines are easier to upgrade (such as by adding memory or a larger hard drive) than laptops.

Budget models start as low as $200 (without a monitor), with 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard disk, but business users should aim for 8GB and 1 TB of hard-drive storage (which makes the investment closer to $500 and up).

Tablets Gaining Momentum

A growing number of small business professionals are also using tablet devices, although these are more commonly a supplementary device to their primary computer. Tablets offer convenient portability as well as the ability to perform basic computing functions (such as email, web browsing) as well as the ability to access, often through companion apps, data and functions from cloud applications and services.

The lack of a dedicated keyboard can be at impediment to mobile productivity, so many device manufacturers offer Bluetooth keyboards that connect wirelessly to tablet devices.

Most tablets depend on Wi-Fi Internet access; all of some premium models also include cellular connectivity as well.

Chromebook Alternatives

A smaller share of the small business computing marketplace is taken up by Chromebooks, which are essentially stripped-down laptops that depend on Web connectivity to use cloud applications.

Chromebooks lack the power and storage capacity of full-featured laptops, but they provide a relatively inexpensive alternative to laptops that can be suitable for travel. having a Chromebooks stolen on a trip, for instance, will be less of a financial hit (as well as a less-severe data loss) than having a laptop taken.

The best computing device for your small business will be depend on your company’s needs, and for many companies is likely to result in a blend of devices serving different purposes to help the company achieve its business goals.