Buyer's guide to Office Desktops

The easiest mistake to make when buying a desktop is to base your decision on price. In order to select the right computer for your business, you need to consider what you will be using your desktop for, what type of applications you need to run and how much data you need to store locally. We’ve pulled out the main features to consider and our quick info panel provides an at-a-glance guide to desktop specifications.

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Performance Features Design Features
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Operating system

The first decision you need to make when choosing a desktop is which operating system to choose and at present you have two main choices an Apple device running the Macintosh operating system or a device that runs Microsoft Windows. Which you choose really depends on your own personal preferences, if you’re used to Apple devices or Windows devices then you will need to go through a learning curve to switch, however the time taken to get up and running in either is negligible. Most desktops on the market run the Windows operating system and give you access to millions of applications written for the platform. There are fewer applications written for Apple devices, however that doesn’t mean you can’t run your favourite Windows software on Apple devices. Many major office productivity applications such as Microsoft Office have Apple versions that are fully compatible with the Windows versions. Additionally there is the ability to run Windows applications on the Apple operating system using Apple’s own Boot Camp, which lets you install Windows on a separate partition of your hard drive. Or you could install third-party programs such as Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion, or VirtualBox, to let you run Windows (or another operating system) as if it were just another OS X application. Note you will need a copy of Windows to install on the Mac desktop.

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Memory and processor

The processor is the heart of your desktop and the more powerful the processor, the more work it can do. If you just require a desktop for web browsing and email then almost any desktop with an entry-level processor – such as an Intel Celeron or a lower-end Pentium processor – should be sufficient.

However, if you need to do more than surfing the web, and you want to be able to run Microsoft Office and some basic business applications, you should look at a specification with at least an Intel Core i3 processor. If you will be using your desktop for high-end video editing, using applications that are processor intensive – such as computer aided design (CAD) – or if you require a platform to do software development, then look for a desktop with an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor.

Your desktop’s speed is also dependent on its internal RAM: the more memory you have, the more applications you can run at any one time, and the faster you can switch between applications. For a basic desktop running a web browser and email, 2-4GB of memory will be more than enough; 4-8GB should be enough for running Microsoft Office applications; and if you’re running applications like CAD or video then look at 8-16GB or more memory.

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The next consideration after processor power and memory is storage options. If you’re expecting to use your desktop on a network and share data on the company server, then you only need enough storage for your operating system, a few applications and some working storage, In this instance, 32-250GB will be more than adequate computers. If you’re using your desktop as your main storage device, and you are typically storing a mixture of Office documents, pictures and video then look at a hard drive with up to 500GB. If you’re working with specialist applications such as CAD or high-end graphics applications, and you’re storing very large files, 500GB-1TB would be a wise choice.

If you are using processor and memory intensive applications then you should also look at a Solid State Drive (SSD) to improve performance. However, as SSD storage is still relatively expensive, a desktop with a mixture of SSD – to store the applications, operating system and the current file you’re working on – with a conventional hard drive to store the majority of your data, is a good compromise. You should also look at a high-end graphics card that can support multiple monitors and the high screen resolutions required to display CAD graphics and high-definition video.

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The monitor you choose for your desktop can make a real difference to your workflow. If you use your desktop to create documents and are a frequent business application user, you should purchase the largest monitors for the space available in the office to maximise viewing options. The bigger the screen, the more applications you can see, and the faster you can work. A 23” screen (or larger) will allow you to have two or three applications on screen at one time, and will enable you to see how both sides of your A4 document will look when printed.

Additionally, if you’re running sophisticated applications, you may want to consider a high-performance workstation that is designed specifically to cope with processor/graphics and disk-intensive applications. Ensure the desktop’s maximum graphics card resolution matches, or is greater than, the top resolution of your monitor.

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All-in-ones, tower PCs and Apple iMacs incorporate the desktop and screen into one device and are an ideal solution if you are short of space. They tend to be more expensive than a separate desktop and monitor and do not offer as many options; however, if you are running standard office applications, they can be a sensible choice.

If you’re going to be using multiple graphics cards and you need to install multiple hard drives, or you need to plug in lot of external devices, you should consider a desktop in a tower format. If you’re short on space and don’t want your desktop sitting on the floor underneath your desk, consider a slimline or small form-factor unit.