This is an excerpt from Entrepreneur Magazine’s Ultimate Homebased Business Handbook by James Stephenson and Rich Mintzer available from Entrepreneur Press .
Getting the Technology You Need
There is basic technology that every business needs: a computer, a monitor, an operating system, software, a modem, a printer, and a digital camera.
Assuming you know how to use a computer (if not, sign up for computer training at your local community college), the main considerations will be processing speed and data storage capabilities.
Whether you are planning to buy a desktop computer or intend to use one you already have, you should look for the following:
- At least 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM
- At least 200, if not 250 or more, gigabytes (GB) of hard drive (the more the better)
- At least 2.3 or 2.8 gigahertz (GHz) processing speed
- At least four USB (universal serial bus) connections for peripherals, typically including a printer and perhaps a scanner
- A DVD drive/burner
- A CD burner
- Windows XP operating system (Vista has thus far not been as “amazing” as billed, which means you can get XP for less money and interface with the many other people who are also not yet taking a chance with Vista.) *Homepreneurs note: Windows 7 is a solid, robust alternative
- An internal modem *Note: Network interface cards have generally replaced modems and dial-up connections
- A 3D graphics card, which will allow you to use the latest software programs
- 5.1 Surround Sound (not essential for your purposes, but always a plus for quality sound, such as background music while you’re working)
- A firewall and antivirus software (The firewall should be part of your purchasing deal; for antivirus programs, consider PC-cillin, Norton 2008 (*now Symantec 2010), or another leading anti-virus program.)
The main part of your computer, the processor (aka central processing unit, CPU), is the component that runs the programs. A CPU typically costs between $400 and $1,000 and is usually packaged (or bundled) with a keyboard, a monitor, speakers, and a mouse, providing a discount against buying them all separately.
For years the typical home computer monitor has been the familiar bulky kind with the big back, resembling a television. It has that look because it uses a cathode-ray tube (CRT) like the televisions we’ve watched for years, with numerous tiny phosphor dots inside the glass tube, each forming a line, with all the lines together creating an image.
The latest trend in monitors is the flat-panel LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor, which uses plasma and light-emitting diodes. While LCD monitors are more technical to explain, they offer a sleeker look than their CRT counterparts. The flat-panel monitors take up less room and are lighter, often weighing less than 20 pounds, far less than CRT monitors, generally weighing 35 to 45 pounds. Here are some basic differences to make shopping for a monitor less confusing:
- LCD monitors cost a little more than CRTs. (*note: the price for LCD monitors is now competitive and CRTs are phasing out)
- LCD monitors typically have sharper pictures than CRTs, although not sharper colors.
- LCD monitors don’t have that occasional flicker that you may sometimes experience on a CRT monitor.
To see an LCD monitor clearly, you need to be in front of it; otherwise, the image on screen can look distorted. A CRT monitor, however, can be seen clearly from various angles.
LCD monitors are more energy-efficient than CRT monitors.
Monitors range anywhere from $170 to $2,000, depending primarily on size and clarity. Most people purchase good-quality monitors in the $300 to $700 range. Again, look for a deal or work a deal with the CPU.
Keyboard and Mouse
Studies have shown that ergonomics should play a major role in your decision about what keyboard and mouse to purchase for your computer. The reason is that hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder positions are affected by your mouse and keyboard. Each has to be in balance to reduce the potential for injury. You may also want to consider purchasing a wireless keyboard-and-mouse set because it frees space on your desk and eliminates those pesky wires that seem to get wrapped around everything. Plan to spend about $50 to $70 on a keyboard, $20 to $60 on a mouse, or $70 to $130 on both. These are very often worked into the cost of the package–CPU, monitor, keyboard, and mouse–since it is worthwhile to the seller to get you to buy a slightly better monitor by practically throwing in the keyboard and mouse. Look at package deals, but don’t be afraid to ask that one item be changed if you prefer another.
Most computers now come with a standard 56K modem, which is needed to connect to the internet. You can also opt for a more expensive modem, giving you the ability to connect to high-speed cable internet, which allows you to download files up to 20 times faster than with a dial-up internet connection, which is now becoming a thing of the past.
You can opt to go the wireless route with a wireless router. These routers are rather small and include an antenna. They can be set up in any location in the house, so that you can use your computer in any room. It’s almost like having your own personal radio station signal tower, only much, much smaller. From this “hot spot,” the wireless connections will go in all directions. Therefore, you may want to select a location that is not only central for your current computer, but also good for a laptop, should you decide to work in other parts of the home. You can also use the router for the computers of family members, although beyond that, I would not opt for networking between a business computer and one being used for computer games. Depending on the speed and distance you need, you can buy a wireless router for anywhere from $25 to $250.
Laptops and Notebooks
If you like working in different places around your office … or around the house … or in the backyard, there are many laptop and notebook computers available. Many weigh less than four pounds and are powerful enough to handle the same functions as a desktop, if not more.
The biggest disadvantages of laptop and notebook computers are the smaller screen and keyboard. While this may take getting used to while on the road, in your home office you can use a docking station, which magically turns your laptop into a desktop. No, this has nothing to do with the Starship Enterprise. A docking station is actually a platform into which you can install your portable computer so that you can use a full-size monitor, a full-size keyboard, your printer, and other peripheral devices.
When you are shopping for a laptop, the same rules apply as for a desktop. The feel of the keys, the size of the screen, and the feel of the trackball, TrackPointT, or touchpad will all be a matter of comfort. How does it look or feel to you? Last, remember: the smaller the components, the higher the prices, so you can expect to pay a little more for a notebook. Popular laptops and notebooks are available from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, Toshiba, IBM, Sony, Gateway, Fujitsu, Acer, eMachines, and, of course, Apple. You can walk away with a good quality model for around $800.
There are two types of printers, laser and inkjet. Which one you need will depend on the type of business you are running and your primary need for a printer.
Laser printers are fast, some printing as much as 30 pages per minute. These are strong workhorse printers for someone who has a higher volume of material and needs printed words more than high-quality graphics and photos. Laser printers typically cost between $200 and $700, but cartridges, although not inexpensive, cost less than those for inkjet printers.
Inkjet printers are slower than their laser counterparts, but they can produce a higher level of color than color laser models and are priced lower. The cost of ink, however, will make them higher in the long run. These are printers for businesses that need a higher level of graphic and photographic materials and do not have as high a volume of printed matter. You’ll find inkjets for $300 to $500.
Yes, some business owners have both to meet their various needs.
Once you have zeroed in on your printer needs, try a few models in stores and ask friends and neighbors which printers they have bought. It’s easy to compare prices online and salespeople will tell you all the positives. However, since printers can be very frustrating when they stop working properly, you’ll wan to get some good reviews and recommendations from people you know and trust.
Popular printer models manufacturers are Canon, Epson, Oki Data, Brother, Lexmark, and Hewlett-Packard.
Computer Data Storage
You’ll want to stock up on CDs for your computer to store your data and back up all important material. It can’t be stressed often enough that you need to back up your files frequently so that you do not suddenly lose valuable customer, vendor, and personal data if your computer crashes or you have a power outage. You can also use a USB flash drive, which is a small, lightweight, removable, and rewritable device used to save computer data, much like disks were used in the past, only sturdier, since disks could get bent or accidentally erased more easily.
Digital cameras are indispensable to home business owners. You can take pictures of products, clients, completed jobs, or your trip to Florida, and then transfer them easily to your website, e-mails, or desktop publishing programs. You can easily create brochures, presentations, catalogs, and fliers using your own photographs. Good-quality digital cameras cost in the range of $200 to $500. Nikon, Canon, Sony, Panasonic, and Olympus USA are among the leading companies making digital cameras.
High-Tech Shopping Tips
When shopping for your high-tech business equipment, it’s advantageous to buy from well-known reputable companies that have been in business for some time and will likely still be there should you need them if you have problems with your business equipment. Here are some other general high-tech shopping tips:
- Look for good deals. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you are not getting what you need.
- Don’t buy into the wealth of features offered on top models, whether it’s computers or digital cameras. Look for the functions that you need.
- Don’t jump at the latest innovations. You can often buy the previously “hottest” items for a better price when the latest models come out. Unless the newest model has a feature you absolutely need, go with last year’s model.
- Shop for a good warranty.
- Make sure you get all paperwork that comes with any technical equipment and keep it in a safe place.
- Buy from companies and businesses that provide excellent tech support.
The full article here: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/207306