How to Choose a Business Computer
The top performers in our review are the Dell XPS 8900, the Gold Award winner; the HP Z240, the Silver Award winner; and the Lenovo ThinkCentre M900, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a computer to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 products.
One of your company's most critical assets is your computer. A business computer connects you to partners and clients. You process ingoing and outgoing payments with it. You balance your accounts with it. You develop and communicate ideas with it. A business computer contains your company's vital information – tax codes, inventory records, payroll, employee information, trade secrets, debt records, profit margins and more. It runs the software that helps make your business successful. As such, a business computer is not an expense you should skimp on.
Regardless of the type of business you run, working efficiency is critical for success. You simply cannot afford to waste time. This efficiency begins with a fast and reliable business desktop computer that can run multiple apps simultaneously and process data quickly.
While a slow computer for personal use is a minor annoyance, a slow business computer hurts your bottom line. In this article, you'll learn how to choose the best business computer for your small business, including how we evaluated and ranked the top business computers in our review.
Finding the Best Computer for Your Small Business
Every small business has unique needs and challenges. Fortunately, business desktop computers are very customizable, allowing you to mold the PC to your specific needs. There are also different types of form factors that may be better suited to your needs, such as a laptop or an all-in-one computer with a touchscreen. As such, the first step to finding the best computer for your small business is to analyze your specific needs.
Below are the initial questions that you need to answer:
What Is the Primary Purpose of Your Business Computer?
Will it be used for everything from making spreadsheets to processing payments? Or will be used for a very specific purpose, like video or photo editing? Will you need to plug external devices into it like card scanners? Or will it just run software? Do you need a business computer that's portable? Once you know exactly how your business computer will be used, you can determine what type of specs you need.
Will There Be Face-to-Face Client Interaction?
If your company sells directly to your customers, you may want to consider an outward-facing computer with a high-resolution touchscreen display. An all-in-one PC is a great computer for these situations. With one of these PCs, your customers can peruse your inventory with a touchscreen and purchase products directly from the computer.
Will You Be Processing Payments Directly?
If you're going to process payments directly – a customer hands you a credit or debit card for payment – then you need to think about how you're going to process the payment. You can connect a credit card processor to your computer via a USB port, but your computer will need to have sufficient processing power to ensure it doesn't freeze or slow down while processing payments. A quickly processed payment improves customer relations, which means the customer is more likely to return.
Credit card processing is a complicated service industry. Our review of credit card processing services and mobile credit card processing can help you decide on the best option for processing direct payments.
Will You Be Processing Videos & Images?
If you're using your business computer to process video and graphics, then you need a business computer that can do more than email clients and make spreadsheets. Video and image editing is data intensive, which means you need a high-end processor, a dedicated graphics card, and enough memory and storage to handle large files.
If your business deals with AutoCAD or similar 2D or 3D computer-aided design software, you should consider a business computer with a Nvidia Quadro graphics card. These Quadro GPUs are certified for these data-intensive apps.
How Many Business Computers Do You Need?
For many home-based businesses, you are likely the only employee who needs a computer. If you have employees, you might want to upgrade each computer at the same time. Most of the manufacturers in our review are willing to work out deals if you're buying multiple computers. However, bulk discounts can vary from salesperson to salesperson. If you're buying multiple business PCs, make sure you talk to a sales representative before purchasing the computers through the manufacturer's online portal.
What is Your Budget?
Finally, you need to determine how much it will cost for the ideal business computer that meets your needs and then determine how much you can spend. It's important to keep in mind that your business computer should be viewed as both an investment and a business expense for tax purposes. A business computer can be a significant tax write off.
For our review, we evaluated the best business desktop computers in the $1,000 range. After a lot of research, we feel that the computers on our lineup are the best starting place for a buyer looking for a home-based business computer.
Business Computer vs. Personal Computer
The difference between a business computer and a home computer is primarily in the quality of the components. A business desktop computer is built to be durable and reliable. The components are of a higher quality, which is why, on average, most business computers cost significantly more than a home computer. Business PCs are also built to work from a standardized disk image, which is important if you're working with more than one computer, because it reduces licensing costs with the operating system. It's even more important if you're using a fleet of business PCs managed by a short-staffed IT department.
Another difference is in the pre-installed software, or bloatware. Many home computers are pre-loaded with a bunch of unnecessary trial software. These can range from anti-virus software to file-syncing apps like Dropbox. Manufacturers make deals with various software companies to install these bloatware products in order to subsidize much of the costs associated with the computer. This is one of the reasons why the market is saturated with cheap home computers that cost less than $500. The downside is that many of these pre-installed apps are difficult to uninstall. If you don't want the app and you can't remove it, then it can negatively impair the performance.
Almost every business computer in our comparison lacks bloatware. Most of the PCs are installed with a trial version of the Microsoft Office suite, but since this is an essential suite of apps for most businesses, we don't consider it to be bloatware.
Desktop or Laptop: Which is Best for Your Home Business?
In this comparative review, we focus on desktop computers – computers that are rarely moved from your desk. With business desktop computers, you purchase peripheral devices like monitors and webcams separately. If you desire something more portable, you should check out our review of business laptops.
Business laptop computers are ideal for working on the go. You can work on the train, the bus or the plane. The entire computing experience is contained in one, portable device – the screen, the keyboard, the webcam, the mouse. You're not anchored to a desk. However, business laptop computers generally lack the power and performance of a desktop computer. As such, while a laptop is excellent for reports and spreadsheets, it's not ideal for data-intensive tasks like video editing.
Business laptops also lack the expansion potential and connectivity of a desktop computer. Once you order a laptop, it can be difficult and costly to upgrade the memory and the hard drive. In addition, laptops usually only have a few USB ports compared to desktop PCs. If you want a business computer that can grow with your company, then you should consider a desktop computer as your primary device. If you need portability, consider a laptop. Of course, there's no reason why you shouldn't get both.
Choosing the Best Operating System for Your Home Business Computer
The operating system installed on your computer affects your business in major way, especially when other computers are connected to your network. Generally, the most recent and updated version of an operating system is the most secure and the best supported. However, some older software that might be vital to your business may not be compatible with newer operating systems.
It's common for many businesses to stick with older operating systems. For example, almost every computer in our review gives you the option to choose between Windows 7 Pro or Windows 10 Pro. In some cases, it's even more expensive to choose the Windows 7 version because it's the preferred OS for most businesses, as Windows 10 is still in its infancy.
Microsoft Windows is the most common OS for business because of its scalability and wide compatibility. With Windows, there's less of a chance that you'll run into compatibility issues, particularly as files are shared among other colleagues and clients. However, you should choose the OS that you use in your personal, day-to-day computing. You want something that is familiar and easy to use.
The difference between Windows Home and Windows Pro is significant. Windows 10 Pro, for example, comes with everything the Home version has, but it also has Domain Join Services, BitLocker Drive Encryption, Remote Access Services, Group Policy editor and specific Windows updates for business. The Enterprise version of the OS has even more features, but it comes at a significant cost.
Mac OS X is a viable choice that can be preferable for certain industries. This OS is often favored in creative industries like graphic design and video editing. Keep in mind that mixing operating systems within a business is not a good idea. It creates compatibility issues that can turn a simple process of sharing files into a major headache.
Business Computers: What We Evaluated, What We Found
The trouble with comparing business computers is the component nature of desktop computers. On the most basic level, a desktop computer is a box, often referred to as the chassis, with interchangeable parts. In many ways, a desktop computer is like Mr. Potato Head – a characterless chassis that lets you mix and match components, which really makes up the computer's personality.
Almost every desktop computer in our review can be upgraded and customized to your needs, both before and after the purchase. Most of the components that manufacturers use in their computers are made by the same company. For example, every processor in our review is manufactured by Intel. We scrutinized reputable computer manufacturers and based our comparison by selecting the computer closest to $1,000 within a business computer series. This way, we felt, you can better judge the value in relation to the processor, RAM and storage.
The Processor & the PassMark Score
The processor is the most important component of your business computer. It is the brain that allows you to run multiple apps at once. As such, the central processing unit (CPU) received the most attention in our evaluation. We evaluated each processor based on its performance, which is largely the result of its CPU speed, cache and the number of cores it has.
To illustrate the performance of the processor, we turned to the PassMark score, which is determined by benchmarking software developed by CPUBenchmark.net, a third-party organization that collects CPU benchmark results from real-world users and internal testing.
The PassMark score is the culmination of eight tests performed by the PerformanceTest software: the integer math test, compression test, prime number test, encryption test, floating point math test, multimedia instruction tests, string sorting test, physics test and a single core test. Each test gauges the processor's ability to handle multitasking abilities and complex calculations.
The software scores the CPU's performance in each test and averages the results to find the overall PassMark score. Users can then submit these scores, which is added to the overall PassMark score of the specific processor. This overall score is the result of thousands of user-submitted scores.
The higher the PassMark score, the better the CPU is at processing data and multitasking. The best business computers should have a processor with a PassMark score above 9,000. Any scores below 6,000 suggest your computer will experience significant drops in performance when running multiple apps.
Memory & Storage
Memory, or RAM, is the next consideration for a business computer. This is where apps store critical data for quick access while you're using them. Most business apps don't require much memory, but if you're running multiple apps at once, then the required RAM add up. If you use all of your memory, then the performance of your PC can slow down significantly or freeze. As such, it's a good idea to have more memory than you need.
As for RAM specifications, there are two important considerations: how much RAM the manufacturer installed and how much RAM the motherboard is capable of supporting. If you need to add memory as your needs increase, it's good to know how much of a ceiling you have. We also considered the frequency of the RAM, as this can have a big impact on normal work tasks. Most of the computers on our lineup run at 2,133MHz, which has supplanted most of the 1,600MHz models.
As far as storage is concerned, you generally want as much as you can afford. Because we've standardized the price for the computers on our lineup, the PCs with the greatest amount of storage are more appealing.
Most of the business computers we evaluated come with at least 1TB hard drives by default. Should you need more, it's important to know how much can be built in. The most expandable computers on our lineup offer options up to 4TB of storage. If you deal with video files or raw files on a daily basis, make sure your computer has plenty of storage space.
You simply can't afford to have computer components fail. Any downtime results in lost work, lost transactions and lost revenue. As a home business, you don't have a dedicated IT person to help you minimize downtime when you experience computer problems. As such, it's important to consider the tech support of each manufacturer.
In order to help you decide which manufacturers give you the best service, we looked to our colleagues at Laptop Mag for their tech support grades, which are updated every year. Most manufacturers are happy to work with your business to ensure that your PCs have excellent uptime. Of course, when things go wrong – and they always do at some point – it's reassuring to know that the PC's manufacturer will help you in several ways.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in a way that best serves the consumer. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our evaluation, nor was the evaluation method provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. The results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else is Important in Selecting a Business Computer?
Business computers are complex machines with a lot of variables. While CPU performance, RAM and the storage are the most important considerations, there are other facets you should consider. The value and importance of these features depends largely on your business needs. For example, if you expect your business to grow considerably in the next several years, then expansion potential is an important consideration, because this reflects how well the computer can adjust to increasing demands.
Below, we've detailed additional specifications to look at before you purchase:
In addition to processors, consider how the business computer will handle graphics-intensive work. While the integrated Intel HD graphics are fairly capable, you may need a dedicated video card to get your work done. We evaluated each video card based on its specifications. Generally, with graphics cards, it's easy to determine performance by looking at specifications. Including a dedicated graphics card can up the price of a PC considerably, so not all of the builds on our lineup have them, but a graphics processing unit (GPU) can be vital to some businesses, especially if you deal with AutoCAD programs.
Typically, more USB ports are better since many peripherals plug into them: webcams, USB microphones, keyboards, mice, drawing tablets and more. Monitor connectivity is also important. Do the monitors you intend to use and the computer support DVI, VGA or HDMI connections? In order to answer these questions, plan where you will set up the computer and what devices you want to plug in. Then, try to make sure the computer has at least two more USB ports than you know you need.
In an ideal scenario, your home-based business quickly outgrows your expectations, which means that you may outgrow the capabilities of your business computers. Instead of buying all new computers every few years, you should look at the computer's expansion potential, which starts with the motherboard and the chassis – the rectangular box that holds all the components.
The chassis is built with internal and external bays. These bays allow you to add additional components like hard drives and audio cards. However, the motherboard only has so many expansion slots for additional drives and DIMM slots for additional memory. In most cases, the number of expansion slots is equal to the number of drive bays.
Another consideration with regard to expansion potential is the power supply. Every business computer has a power supply box that determines how much wattage the computer has to power the various components. The higher the wattage capabilities, the more components you can power. If the chassis comes with a power supply rated for low wattage, then you risk overheating and damaging components if you install more items that the power supply can't handle.
Help & Support
Look for manufacturers that allow you to extend warranties, as this can help you put off buying new computers a little bit longer. Most manufacturers give you access to 24/7 support for troubleshooting.
Many also offer on-site support, which means that if something goes terribly wrong, the manufacturer will send a technician to you in order to get everything working. Other services, such as accidental damage protection, asset recovery and data backup, are also attractive and useful options.
Business Computers: Our Verdict & Recommendations
The Dell XPS 8900 earned our Gold Award because provides the best performance at the $1,000 range. Its Intel Core i7-6700 processor has the highest PassMark score in our review with 11,000. In addition, it comes with a dedicated graphics card, 16GB of memory and 1TB of storage. Quite simply, you get more for your money.
The HP Z240 earned our Silver Award because it features an Intel Core Xeon E3-12240v5 processer with a PassMark score over 10,000. It also comes with the Nvidia Quadio K620 graphics card. You can expect great performance from this machine. The one significant downside is that it comes with just 4GB of memory. The Lenovo ThinkCentre M900 earned our Bronze Award with the Intel Core i7-6700 processor, which is the same processor as the Dell XPS 8900. It also comes with 8GB of memory, but it only has eight USB ports and few expansion bays.
Dell has some of the strongest business computer options on the market, and the Dell OptiPlex 9020 is an excellent choice. In our price range, you get an i7-4790 to power through all of your work applications. You also get an AMD R7 250 graphics card that should provide you with enough GPU power to handle just about any business task. However, there are a couple of downsides to the OptiPlex: There isn't an upgrade option for SSDs, and you won't find an HDMI port.
Cheap desktops cost your business more in the end. A business computer is an important investment in the efficiency and success of your business. To learn more, read our articles on business computers.