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Selecting Office Equipment

Selecting Office Equipment

Buying office equipment for your business can be a daunting task. What kind of equipment do you need? How do you get what you need to run your office efficiently without breaking the bank?

Equipment needs vary, but there are a few pieces of equipment that just about every office needs to run smoothly…a computer, a printer, a fax machine, and a copier. There are loads of options at various price points. The trick is to get equipment powerful enough for your needs at a reasonable price and not pay for extras you'll never use. The best way to pay only for what you need is to carefully consider what you want to do with your system now, and try to anticipate what might interest you next year.

Here are some suggestions and things to consider when buying your office equipment:

PC

What will you do with it? Almost any PC on the market can adequately handle such standard office chores as word processing and spreadsheets, as well as basic Internet functions like e-mail and general browsing. If you want to do those things faster and more efficiently, or if you need to manage large databases and edit video graphics, you may need more than the basics.

What should you get? You'll want the most memory, most storage, and the highest-resolution or largest display you can afford, because all these things not only make computing more pleasant, but also enhance your productivity. They can help you do more in less time, and if you're in business, time is money. Waiting for databases to update, insufficient memory errors, waiting for Web pages to download-these things waste your time.

  • CPU. The central processing unit is the brains of the computer. You'll want your systems powered by nothing less than an Intel Pentium 4 or equivalent Athlon XP class processor from Advanced Micro Devices.
  • Hard Drive. This is the permanent storage location of your programs and files. A 40GB hard drive is fine for simple word processing or Web browsing tasks, but you'll likely fill that hard drive pretty quickly. It's relatively cheap, and in the long run it's best to buy more storage space than you think you'll need.
  • Memory. Random Access Memory (RAM) is the bucket your computer's processor uses to hold vast amounts of data and program instructions while it works. Consider 512MB the minimum. Adding more can make the price jump, but adding memory is the single-most beneficial thing you can to enhance your PC's performance.
  • Optical Drive. A recordable DVD or CD-RW drive is essential for data storage and transfer. Both allow you to back up important documents, share files with colleagues, and create custom audio or video CDs or DVDs. If you need to back up massive amounts of data or entire hard drives, choose the DVD option.
  • Display. Size does matter, and bigger is better. A 19" CRT monitor lets you see your documents with greater definition (or at a higher resolution) than 17-inch or smaller displays. Better yet, get a 17" LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) monitor. It's viewing area is equivalent to a 19" CRT, has a higher resolution, is easier on your eyes, and takes up less space on your desk. LCD monitors are a little more expensive, but prices keep falling.
  • Keyboard and Mouse. A basic keyboard and mouse are usually the best bet. Many vendors tout fancy keyboards with extra buttons for launching applications. Save some money by choosing the cheapest option unless you have a specific need for a fancier model.
  • Modem. Most PCs come with a 56K modem for connecting to the Internet. You'll probably want to get a broadband Internet access. Depending on your location, that could be via a phone company's T1, ATM fiber relay or DSL, or the same cable that brings content to your TV. Modems for these services are usually either free with a rebate or rented for a small fee from the service provider. It's not a bad idea to have the 56K modem as a backup, however.
  • Connectivity. Many PCs now offer a pair of USB ports on the front bezel, so you can connect multiple peripherals without having to reach behind the case. If you have lots of gear to plug into the PC, look for systems with up-front FireWire or USB 2.0 ports, or optical audio connectors, depending on your needs.
  • Software. Purchase an operating system, an office suite, and an antivirus/firewall package. Very often these are pre-installed and included in the price of the PC.

Extending the life of your PC. If you don't want to be purchasing a new PC every year or two keep the following in mind:

  • Don't go too cheap. There are some really inexpensive PCs out there, but they're usually so far behind the technology curve that you'll have to keep replacing them every couple of years. A good rule of thumb, if you can afford it, is to go for one or two levels down from the current top of the line. You'll get current technology at a reduced cost and extend the useful life of your PC.
  • Make sure it's upgradable. Make sure you can add more memory and storage later. This is an inexpensive way to make your PC useful longer. Also be careful with integrated AGP graphics. Before you buy a computer with integrated graphics, ask if it has an AGP slot. If it doesn't, you won't be able to upgrade your graphics chip.
  • Buy From a Trustworthy Source. Above all, reduce your chances of getting a lemon and buy from a PC maker you trust. Make sure you have at least a one-year warranty.

Something to remember... If you need a new PC now, don't wait a few months to see whether prices will drop further and upper-end performance will improve. Technology is constantly improving, and rest assured that whenever you buy your PC, a few months later there will be something bigger and better and whatever you bought will be cheaper. Decide when you need the system, do the best you can at that time, and don't look back.

Printers

What will you do with it? Printers vary greatly in price and capability. It's important to establish what your printer will be used for in order to make a wise purchase. Do you frequently need to print large jobs such as manuals or many copies of long reports, or do you have only the occasional printing job? Do you need to print color presentations? Will you be printing materials that go to clients or will they be used in-house only? How much space do you have?

Depending on what you need to use your printer for, there are a few options:

  • Inkjet Printers. An inexpensive, reliable choice for small businesses that provides good quality black and white and color prints.
    • Price. Inkjet printers are relatively inexpensive. Low end inkjets are under $100, with higher end units reaching the $600 mark. Some PC vendors will even throw in an lower end inkjet printer when you purchase your PC.
    • Speed. Inkjet printers rather slow. Low end inkjets print around 10 pages per minute. The higher end units print around 20ppm.
    • Quality and features. Inkjets at all levels produce good quality black and white and color prints and documents. Lower end units usually include 1200x1200dpi resolution and reasonably good color. Mid range and higher end units usually include 2400x2400 dpi resolution and offer more features such as double sided printing and the ability to use multiple paper trays and paper sizes. High end units produce excellent photo prints.
    • Ink Cartridges. Some inkjet printers have one black cartridge and one color cartridge with three or more colors. This requires that the color cartridge be replaced if just one of the colors runs out. This can become quite expensive if you use mostly one or two colors. Look for printers that have separate cartridges for each color. You only need to replace individual color cartridges as they run out. Avoid printers that use only one color cartridge to print both color and black. Color ink is more expensive than black, and using a combination of color to produce black will result in higher costs.
    One drawback to inkjet printers is that the ink can run if it gets wet.

  • Laser Printers. More expensive but faster than inkjet printers.
    • Price. The lowest cost monochrome laser printers start in the $150 range, with higher end units in the $600 range. Small color laser printers are in the $700-800 range.
    • Speed. 10-15 ppm for the lower end models, and 25ppm for higher end models. The higher speed make a big difference if you need to print large volumes on a daily basis.
    • Quality and features. The lower and medium end models are monochromatic with resolutions of 600x600dpi and are great if you need to print higher volumes without color. Small color laser printers offer high quality and are great for small- to medium-sized businesses that need to churn out dozens of documents a day with some color highlights. They are not meant for the creation of large numbers of color brochures or other heavy color uses.
    • Toner Cartridges. Some laser printers have separate toner and drum units; others include them in one disposable part. The advantage to having separate units is that you save money: Toner will run out way before you have to replace the drum unit. However, it's a lot easier to replace an all-in-one combination.

  • Multifunction Units. These are combination printer/copier/scanner and sometimes fax units that can be a good choice is you're short on funds or office space.
    • Price. These units start at about $150 and go up to about $600.
    • Speed. Comparable to inkjet speeds - in the 10-17 ppm range, depending on price level and whether you're printing black and white or color.
    • Quality and features. Quality varies by manufacturer and price range. The lower priced models usually have limited capabilities, such as a small scanning space and limited paper sizes. The higher priced models offer a larger scanning space, more paper size and weight options, greater resolution, and fax capabilities.
    • Ink. Inkjet or thermal printing process.

  • A note about paper. Make sure that the printer you choose can accommodate the kind of paper you will be using. Some printers can't accommodate heavy weight paper, card stock, transparencies, envelopes, etc.

Copiers

What will you do with it? Do you need to make just a few copies during the course of any given day or do you frequently copy large amounts of material? Do you make lots of copies of one page or do you need to collate several copies of a multi-page document? Do you need color capability?

The main thing to keep in mind when buying a copier for your small office is efficiency. Getting the right copier means getting the copier that will save you time and money. There are many options available with varying features. Here are some features to think about when buying your copier:

Black and White or Color? Color copiers are slower and significantly more expensive than black and white copiers in both purchase price and cost per copy. However, if you frequently outsource color copying for sales brochures, promotional literature, or other business projects, then you may actually save money by purchasing a copier that is capable of printing in color.

Duplexing. Duplexing is the ability to print on both sides of the page. Lower priced personal copiers don't often offer this feature, but it may be worth a few extra bucks if this is something that you need. This can also be accomplished by running the paper through the copier again on the other side, but that can take a lot of time and cause a lot of aggravation if you have to do a lot of it.

Paper Handling. You don't want to be constantly refilling paper trays or feeding single sheets through the copier. Look for a copier with a paper capacity of at least 250 sheets - or more. You'll also definitely want a copier with an automatic document feeder that holds at least 30 sheets.

Collating. Collation involves the arrangement of copies as they are produced. If you frequently make multiple copies of multi-page documents, you may want to invest in a copier that collates. Definitely a time saver.

Copier Versatility. You'll want to be sure to choose a copier that's able to handle a variety of paper sizes and weights and other media, such as transparencies and index cards. If you copy frequently from books or magazines, look for a copier with flatbed capabilities.

Copier Response Time. Copiers that have no warm up time are ideal for small and home offices, where copiers may be sitting idle for hours or days. A copy speed of 18 copies per minute is great, but won't save you any time if you have to wait 5 minutes for the copier to warm up every time you turn it on. Some copiers now offer a first copy time of less than 10 seconds.

Copier Volume. Personal copiers aren't designed for heavy volume so check the copier's recommended monthly usage. If the copier uses a cartridge system, the average number of copies per cartridge yield will tell you how often the unit will need to be replaced. If your intended copying volume is above the recommended usage, you may be better off renting a larger copier designed to cope with heavy loads than buying a personal copier for your office.

Fax Machines

What will you do with it? Fax machines often aren't just fax machines anymore. Many are also copiers, scanners, and printers and some have the capability of faxing to e-mail addresses or faxing via the Internet. Whether you need all the bells and whistles or just a plain old stand alone fax machine that's quick and easy to use, here are some things to consider:

Memory. More is always better. Memory allows you to use such features as dual access, broadcasting, and confidential reception and stores incoming pages whenever the machine runs out of paper. Look for a machine that offers at least 50 pages of memory.

Quick Scanning. This feature allows you to scan a document into memory in a matter of seconds and then take your original or originals with you while the machine then transmits them from memory.

Dual access. This feature enables you to do two things at the same time, such as scanning a document into memory while the machine is sending or receiving a document. Make sure your machine offers "Dual Access" and not "Semi Dual Access," which doesn't allow you to scan a document into memory while the machine is sending or receiving, although you can fax a page at the same time it's receiving.

Paper Capacity. This is a prime consideration if you receive a lot of faxes. The larger the paper capacity, the fewer times you'll find yourself replenishing the paper supply. Look for a minimum capacity of 200 sheets.

Paper Sizes. Most fax machines accommodate paper sizes up to 8 1/2 x 14 inches, whereas others can accommodate sizes up to 11 x 17 inches.

Print technology. Laser or Inkjet. Laser models will offer the best mix of features, print quality, and speed. In an office environment where fax volumes are low and the need for a device that may also function as a color printer or copier is high, as is space savings, consider inkjet.

Facedown printing. This feature collates incoming multiple fax pages in the proper page order without using the memory feature of the machine, as opposed to faceup printing, which means pages have to first be received into memory, collated in proper order, and then printed from last page to first page. The advantage with facedown printing is you can start reading the first page first.

Print speed. This refers to the speed at which documents stored in memory are printed out by the machine. Print speeds range from a couple of pages per minute to 17 pages per minute

Power Supply

How often does your home office or small business have power outages or, the lesser noticed, power surge or drop? Losses of electrical power, or, fluctuation in power are two of the most common causes of lost data and information, and can hurt your computer components.

To help avoid disaster, you can buy an "uninterruptible power supply," or UPS. While simple surge suppressors and voltage regulators are still popular, a UPS goes several steps further, providing actual backup power and handling a variety of electronic equipment. Small, battery-operated units with two or more outlets, these protection devices provide a buffer between incoming power and your electronic office equipment, constantly monitoring and filtering your power supply. If any change in supply occurs, the UPS will activate and regulate the electrical current or take over for several minutes if there is a complete power failure.

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