The good news is, you've probably learned a thing or two about purchasing computer equipment since you bought your first PC. You're more knowledgeable about your business's technology needs, and you may already know what areas you'd like to improve. Maybe the monitor on your current computer is too small and strains your eyes, so now you want a larger one. Or, if your first PC came loaded with a 3-D graphics card, multimedia encyclopedia and games for the kids, you probably found little business use for these features and want to find a PC without all the recreational features.
"Usually, [homebased business owners'] second purchase won't have anywhere near the bells and whistles their first machine has," says James Staten, industry analyst with Dataquest Inc., an information technology research firm in San Jose, California. "You'll sacrifice things like 3-D graphics cards because you don't need them."
While there isn't a single solution that fits the bill for every homebased business, there are guidelines to follow. For example, if you plan on using your second PC for general productivity purposes such as running word processing, spreadsheet and general accounting software, you'll need to invest in a machine with a faster processor and larger hard drive. If you'll be using it primarily for communication purposes, such as sending e-mail, surfing the Web or faxing, look into a PC with a high-speed fax/modem. Those who plan to create advertising and marketing materials in-house may want a higher-end graphics system with lots of memory.
A slew of technology vendors are rolling out computers designed specifically for the small office/home office (SOHO) market. Overall, these computers serve homebased businesses well because they come stocked with fast processors, large hard drives, speedy modems, remote-control software and advanced support software to diagnose computer problems quickly. They also come pre-installed with leading business software. For instance, Apple Computer Inc.'s Small Business Power Macintosh models boast Microsoft Office, Norton Utilities, Now Software's Now Up-to-Date & Contact contact management program, Jian BizPlan Builder and more.
Packard Bell's all-new Platinum 4200 computer for the SOHO user comes loaded with a fast 266 MHz Intel Pentium II processor with MMX technology, a 7.0GB hard drive, a Digital Versatile Disc Drive, a 56 KBps modem with U.S. Robotics X2 technology, and a telephone answering system with full-duplex speakerphone. It also has a variety of innovative customer support features. One such program is PC Doctor, which performs tests to detect hardware and software errors. CyberWarner warns users when they're about to make a critical computer error and logs the action online so that a customer service representative with remote-control software can easily determine the problem.
When deciding what type of system you need, don't rule out a laptop. Today's laptops boast powerful processors and lightweight designs, making them ideal for displaying sales presentations on the road. They also make sense for accounting, real estate or any kind of homebased business that could benefit from inputting or furnishing information on the spot.