More and more people are working at home. We have to – it’s a pandemic with stay-at-home orders everywhere.
The odds are your work computers are powerful robust machines designed to handle the load for work. But now that you’re working at home, how good is your computer? And what about that work computer? Is it a powerful robust machine.
Is it time for a new computer. Does your work flow dictate it’s time to upgrade? Are you still running a 10 year old operating system? Is it simply time to upgrade?
No matter what the reason, it may be time for a new computer. But what do you buy? This article will go over the major item you need to know to make an informed decision.
PC or MAC
A number of years ago we were all entertained by the “I’m and Mac, I’m a PC commercials. Apple spent a lot of money trying to convince us an Apple computer was as good as any PC. Many Mac users went a step further and believed the Mac was far superior to PCs.
Well, a good PC and a good Mac are both great computers. It just depends on what you want to do. The best way to decide which one to choose is to look at what you do with your computer.
Most business use Windows based PCs. These are usually connected together in a network, and most businesses have servers. The reason most businesses have PCs is because traditionally business software has been written for the PC. Programs like Office, Quickbooks and AutoCAD were written specifically for Windows computers. Originally this was because of the CPU (Central Processing Unit) in the computer. PCs had Intel based processors while Macs had Motorola based processors. Programs were written specifically for the computer operating system they would run on.
Originally Macs catered to the creative/artistic user. The majority of programs written for the Mac were for graphic artists, desktop publishers and musicians. Programs like Adobe Illustrator, Quark Express and MoTU (Mark of The Unicorn) midi sequence drove the Mac market. Most of this was because the Mac operating systems were integrated with Mac hardware to make the Mac excel at these tasks.
Over time the capabilities of the PC and Mac hardware converged. In addition, the software vendors started writing their application for both the PC and Mac. Microsoft released Office for the Mac, originally way different but today they are basically the same. Adobe has almost their entire suite of software for both platforms. You can get Quickbooks for both PCs and Mac. Finally, many business applications have become web based. You can do all your accounting, create documents and spreadsheets and do your billing – all online. For that you need a computer with a good Internet connection and good web browser.
So which one? If your business is Windows based, stick with a Windows based computer. (Macs can run Windows, but if you don’t need the unique features of the Mac, stay with a Windows PC.)
If you are an Apple products user, iPhone, iPad, AirPods, AppleTV and Apple Watch, then a Mac may be better for you. The integration of all the Apple products us second to none. You can open a web page on your iPad, walk over to your MacBook and pick up where you left off on the tablet.
Price wise, Macs are more expensive initially. However, they are designed to last a long long time, although after 7 years Apple will no longer support the hardware and will not allow the computer to upgrade to the latest operating system. A good iMac or MacBook Pro is going to cost $2300 – $2700
PCs are much less expensive. A good PC and monitor or a good Windows laptop run about $1500 – $1800. However, the expected life of a Windows based computer is 3-5 years with most businesses replacing them on a 3 year cycle. Windows laptops that are used continually typically have a life of about 3 years (the same length as the warranty). So, PCs have to be replaced about twice as often, which makes the pricing equivalent.
The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the “brains” of the computer. Basically it does a few things – math operations, logic operations and moving data around. It’s how fast the CPU does these things that is a major determining factor on how fast the computer is.
The basic CPU has a single CORE – the thinking part – and some supporting parts like temporary memory (registers) and I/O (input.output). To make CPUs more powerful, the computer chip can have multiple cores – 2, 3, 4, 6 – up to 24 cores. To make it even faster, some CPUs HYPER-THREAD the cores, one core shares two sets of registers, switching quickly back and forth between them, making it look and work like two separate cores.
The general rule is the more cores and the faster the clock speed, the faster the CPU. However, multi-core CPUs run a little slower, but since they have more cores running, they actually do more steps in the same amount of time.
Speaking of CPU speeds, to get a CPU to run faster it takes more power. More power generates more heat. Heat is the enemy of computers. The heat has to go somewhere, and if the design of the computer doesn’t dissipate the heat well, the computer dies. Desktop computers are bigger, have bigger fans and vents and can dissipate more heat than a laptop. Because of this, laptop CPUs are run at slower speeds so less heat is generated it can easily be disbursed.
The current CPUs being used are from Intel – the iCore series. AMD also makes CPUs, they tend to be a little less expensive. For the most part they are equivalent to the Intel CPUs, although there are obscure incompatibilities that pop up.
The current lineup of CPUs are the i3, i5, i7 and i9.
The i3 is primarily for low end computers. Its good for email, web browsing, simple tasks.
The i5 is the minimum CPU for business. Good for typical office tasks like Office suite and accounting.
The i7 is better if you are doing tasks like graphics, photo editing and music. The faster i7s are good for programs like AutoCAD – although you need to look at the video processor for programs like that.
The i9 is a workhorse. It’s great if you are running simulation software.
Intel also has another series of CPUs – the XEON line. While mostly used for servers, you can build a really high end workstation with it. The iMac Pro uses the Xeon processor and it can easily be used for doing movie editing and animation rendering.
Memory and Storage
Memory and Storage are the things that most people get confused about.
When I say “You’re computer only has 8GB of memory and that’s why it’s running slow” I’ll hear back “But I have a 1TB drive, isn’t that enough?”
When a computer is running, the programs that run, the operating system and applications, are moved into the computer’s memory – commonly called RAM for Random Access Memory. Also, some or all of the data used by the applications also is stored in the memory.
The more applications you run, or the more complex the applications, the more memory you need. When you open more programs or windows than the memory can hold, the computer moves the program and its data to a spot on the computer drives. This is called swapping. Moving the programs in and out take time, and drives are slower than the memory. This makes it feel like the computer is slow when really it is doing a whole bunch of extra stuff. You will see this slowdown when you change between the programs you are running.
In this case, the easy way to speed up the computer, or at least make if feel like it is running faster, is to add more memory.
The minimum amount of memory you should have for a Windows 10 computer is 16GB. If you are doing a lot of graphics or photo editing, go with 32GB.
Storage is where the programs and data are stored in a computer. Storage is non-volatile, which means it retains everything when the power turns off.
Most computers use Hard Disk Drive for storage. These contain magnetically coated spinning disks. A rad/write head on an arm moves back and forth to read and write the data. Since these are mechanical, there is a limit to how fast they can go. Technological improvements have made the hard drive faster and the amount they can store larger. When I first stated with a computer a 10 Megabyte hard drive was the biggest you could get. It held 10 million bytes of data. Today you can get 12 Terabyte hard drives – that 12 Trillion bytes.
The latest technology used in computers is Solid State Drives – SSDs. An SSD is a storage device that uses RAM chips to store data instead of spinning platters. Since there are no moving parts, and since the time it takes to read or write the data is shorted in an SSD, they are much faster than hard drives.
Computers that had SSDs tend to run much faster than Disk Drive based computers. For example, a Windows 10 PC with a hard drive could take about 2 minutes to start up while the same computer with an SSD could start in about 20 seconds.
The cost of SSDs is still higher than Hard Drives, even though they’re dropping all the time. In the past a 128GB SSD could be as expensive as $500. Now a 1TB SSD costs about $150. A 1TB hard drive is about $80.
The latest technology in SSDs is call the M.2 drive. A standard SSD comes in a case the size of a laptop hard drive and uses the same SATA connectors as hard drives. The data has to move through a series of interfaces to move on and off the data buss of the computer. The new M.2 drives are connected to the data buss of the computer, so the data is moves in and out much faster.
Big Box Stores compared to Business Class Computers
The comparison should really be between consumer and business class computers,
Many people are tempted to go to the Big Box store and buy a computer for work. They look and they see the low price with what appear to be great specs. Lots of memory, big hard drive, lots of added software.
When you compare these prices to a business class computer, it looks like a great deal. When you start looking at the details, you can see where the differences are:
Big Box Store
In big box stores the components are typically the previous generation. The main board, CPU and memory may be 1 or 2 generations old. Older components cost less.
Business Class computers have the latest design or release of the components. They have the latest CPUs and the main boards have the support chips designed for them.
The CPU in a big box computer may look the same, i.e., and i5 or and i7. The CPUs may be an older generation. Or, they my have lower specs. An i5 CPU comes in different speeds and configurations. Slower speed CPUs cost less.
Business Class computers will have the higher end versions of the CPU.
The big box computer comes with 1 one year warranty. The warranty is usually a “depot” warranty, which means the computer has to be sent to the manufacturer or authorized repair station. The work is done by third part technicians.
Business Class computers come with 3 year, on site, next day service. The warranty work is done by factory trained and badged technicians.
The cost of the 3 year on site warranty is included in the price.