Budget time is here, and like a lot of managers, you might be wondering if you can squeeze another season of productivity out of your employees' PCs. Maybe you can, if they're only a couple years old.
But there is a point of diminishing returns where downtime begins to approach uptime, IT costs approach the price of new machines, and the loading of new software begins adding extra time to everything an employee does. PCs never really die; they just spring productivity leaks.
Plan B is to refresh desktops with new, small-footprint PCs that ask as little of your capital and operational budgets as they do of your desk space. Cheap? Of course, but the real savings come after deployment. These desktops are focused on saving the costs of office space, utilities and IT management and repair.
If you're ready to get into the game, you'll find most of the chips on your side of the poker table. We're into our third year of a capital-spending drought, and PC-makers are getting desperate. They need to generate market excitement, and ratcheting up processor clock speeds no longer does the trick.
Software designers, managers and other multitaskers in your organization may need a floor-standing computer with lots of slots, megahertz and cache memory, but they are a minority. "You don't need a full Pentium 4 multimedia desktop just to run typical business applications," says IDC senior analyst David Daoud. "Companies are adopting 'good-enough' computing." Sans monitor, a desktop starts at about $700, but figure on paying at least a grand to get the memory and cost-cutting options you want.
IBM's new NetVista S42 is 64 percent smaller than the typical mini-tower, and Dell's new OptiPlex SX260 is about the size of a notebook. Both the SX260 and Hewlett-Packard's Evo D510 Ultra Slim Desktop can be mounted on a wall or under a desk, increasing desktop space and reducing office space. Most companies do both, says Roger Kay, IDC director of client computing.
To shrink these desktops while saving on power and cooling, vendors borrow technology from their portable lines. Dell's SX260 has a 2.5-inch hard drive and an internal design that maximizes heat dissipation. All vendors use chip-level Instantly Available PC (IAPC) technology and their own remote configuration utilities. The electricity draw of every component for every state from full-power operation to sleep mode can be tuned independently. HP's Evo D510 Ultra Slim Desktop uses less than 3 watts in standby mode, a tenth of the power of a standard PC.
For maximum savings in office space, electricity and air conditioning, pair these PCs with LCDs. A 17-inch CRT monitor uses more electricity and generates more heat than a 15-inch LCD, which delivers an equivalent viewing area.
These desktops include key security features consumer PCs don't. Components can be locked down to the chassis, which can be locked to a desk. This protects against theft and tampering.
Not controlling a desktop's software image can lead to a legal claim if the Business Software Alliance finds more programs in your office than software licenses. You may not even want every workstation to have floppy, optical or flash drives so software can't be added or files removed.
Because these desktops all have built-in Ethernet, applications and data can be housed on a server and accessed over a LAN. Each desktop's image can be installed, managed and backed up remotely, and your network manager can enable ports and peripherals for traveling employees.
Your toughest decision may be how much expandability and compatibility with older peripherals you want. In the standard configuration, IBM's 200-watt power supply supports more legacy slots, bays and ports than Dell and HP's base designs, which use less power.
The HP/Dell approach tends to reduce the useful life of a PC, but an upgradable PC tends to invite more calls to the Help Desk. With IT visits costing about $300, says Dell senior manager Chris Zagorski, it becomes cheaper to replace a desktop than to keep it.
It's up to you. But one thing's for sure: The one-size desktop no longer fits all.
Mike Hogan is Entrepreneur's technology editor. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.