Home Office Under $2000

If you're setting up your home-office tech on a budget -- and who isn't -- we've got some tips to keep costs down.

By Amanda C. Kooser • May 5, 2006 Originally published Jun 6, 2005

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You've found a spare room in your house. It may be thebasement or an extra bedroom. Now, you're ready to transform itinto the home base for your new business. The first step tobuilding a home office is finding a space that is separate fromyour daily life. Add a good desk and a comfortable chair, and youhave the foundation to add the next step: technology. First,we'll give a general overview of the components and then getdown to a specific setup. Since you probably already have a cellphone, we're going to skip that.

Getting Started

Your computer will be the basis of your entire technology setup.Your choices boil down to two main options: desktop or laptop. Orif your budget and needs allow, you might consider investing inboth. Let's start with the desktop. You'll be diggingthrough a mire of megabytes, hard-drive sizes, processor speeds andextras, but it's worth the effort-and you won't have tospend a fortune.

"From a computer standpoint, you don't need the latestand greatest. It can be one or two steps behind," says DaveEhlke, president and co-founder of Boston-area computer consultingfirm GeekHousecalls.

A few basic guidelines: Look for a Pentium 4 processor, at least512MB memory, a 60GB hard drive and a re-writable CD/DVD combodrive. Ehlke points to memory as an important factor. "Memoryis one way you can crank up the performance on your computer,"Ehlke says. "You shouldn't shortchange any of yourcomputers on memory." Next, you need a monitor. The days ofthe old-fashioned CRT are fading as flat-panel LCDs have hit newlevels of affordability and quality. They're easy on the eyes,easy on space and fit almost any budget.

Today's laptops are right on the heels of desktops when itcomes to power and performance. There's an array of options,from desktop replacements to ultraportables. A desktop replacementnotebook may be a bit weighty, but it will have at least a 17-inchLCD and comparable punch to a regular desktop. Ultraportables areideal for frequent travelers but cost several hundred dollars morethan their heavier brethren. Decide how often you will carry yourlaptop around to see if the extra cash outlay is worth it. One keyfeature that is sometimes overlooked is the warranty. "Laptopsare more prone to problems. I would definitely get at least athree-year warranty," says Ehlke. Find out what themanufacturer offers, and consider upping it at the time ofpurchase.

You'll also need some basic software. Ehlke recommends goingwith Windows XP. Windows XP Professional is preferable to the Homeedition if you plan to network computers. The Microsoft Officesuite will cover the bases for word processing, spreadsheets,e-mail and scheduling. Security software is an absolute must,including anti-virus, anti-spyware and a firewall. McAfee, Norton and ZoneAlarm are somewell-known providers.

A printer is another cornerstone of your home office. Once youhave a computer to create documents and other business output, youneed a way to make hard copies. Lower prices, improved speeds andhigher quality are factors in your favor. You're no longerstuck with just an inkjet printer or multifunction. All-in-ones arestill popular choices for home offices that want to save space andmaximize the functionality bang for the buck. While a solid inkjetprinter/copier/scanner/fax can come in at about a few hundredbucks, it may be worth checking into a laser solution for the lowerlong-term operating costs. "If you do much color, you shouldprobably get a color laser because inkjet costs can just eat youup," says Ehlke. A color laser printer can be picked up for aslittle as $500.

Of course, all this technology won't do you much goodwithout a reliable connection to the outside world. That'swhere broadband comes in. If you're going to check e-mail orspend any amount of time on the web, cable and DSL are the topchoices for home offices. They are fairly comparable in speed,price and basic functionality. Expect to pay at least $40 permonth. Which you choose may simply be a matter of availability.Your distance from the central office can affect DSL speeds, whilethe number of people logging on can affect cable speeds. Ask aroundyour neighborhood to see what other people are using and howsatisfied they are with the service.

Once you have your broadband connection set up, you may want toshare it with multiple computers. Chances are, you have at leastone office computer and one personal use or family computer. AWi-Fi network is the ticket for sharing your connection and filesif necessary. 802.11g equipment offers a lot of bandwidth and comesin at a very affordable price. Just don't forget to protectyourself. "If you do a wireless connection, make sure youencrypt your router so people can't get in," Ehlke says.It's not just war drivers and hackers you need to worry about.Curious neighbors piggybacking on your network can be a hassle anda security hazard.

Most home-office startups aren't rolling in dough, sogetting a good deal on your technology is almost as important asgetting the technology itself. Invest a little time and shoppingsmarts, and you'll be up and running at a good price in notime. Geek Housecalls co-founder Andy Trask cautions againstoverbuying. "Don't be afraid, at least initially, to askfamily and friends who know about computers and networking fortheir opinions and help," he says. Your peers can beinvaluable sources of information and recommendations.

Online shopping can net you some competitive pricing, butdon't neglect local retailers. Check the Sunday circulars fordiscounts and rebates. Just be sure to actually send in all therebate forms. Another popular place to find technology deals iseBay, since many sellers now offer new equipment through auctions.Check if the hardware is new or refurbished, if all documentationis included and if it has a full or partial warranty. Also, someonline retailers like Dell and IBM have internet outlets forcloseouts and refurbished gear. Often, the warranty will betruncated, but the savings may be worth it.

Sample Setup

Now, let's put this all together with a sample setup-on abudget of $2,000. We'll go the desktop route: We found aHewlett-Packard Compaq Presario SR1010z with Windows XPProfessional, 512MB memory, a whopping 200GB hard drive and arewritable DVD drive. We upgraded from Microsoft Works to the basicOffice edition, added a 17-inch LCD monitor and a 15-monthsubscription to Norton Internet Security suite, and ended up justunder $1,400 (after a $100 rebate) for the whole package--with freeshipping. Just one stop at www.hpshopping.com netted us the majority ofour hardware and software.

Next comes a printer. If you already have a fax and scanner ordon't really need those capabilities, a personal laser printeris a smart way to go. The Xerox Phaser 3150, for example, has 32MBmemory, churns out up to 22 ppm and costs just over $300. For about$150, you can snag a multifunction inkjet like the Epson StylusCX6600 with scanning, printing, faxing and copying. If you'readventurous, you could get them both and cover all your bases. Thatlands us at a total of $1,850 with a bit left over to spend onWi-Fi equipment or other extras. Check out the boxes for equipmentideas that are not requirements but would be nice to have.

What you end up with may be close to what we gathered above, oryou may choose to go the laptop route or dispense with amultifunction altogether. Still, it shows that you can stock yournew home office with quality technology without burning a hole inyour checkbook. Find that room, plant that desk, and get going!

Tablet To Go

A laptop may be a requirement for you if you travel a lot forbusiness. A laptop with tablet PC capabilities is probably a stepabove what is absolutely necessary, but it can be a pleasant stepto take. The $1,599 (street) Toshiba Satellite R15-S822 has a convertiblestyle that lets you use it either as a tablet to write on directlyor as a regular notebook. A 60GB hard drive, 512MB memory andbuilt-in 802.11g make it a well-stocked piece of hardware.

Maximum Monitor

What could be better than a 17-inch LCD monitor? How about a19-inch LCD monitor? The $550 (street) Samsung SyncMaster915n features a blazing-fast, 8-millisecond response time in asleek black design package. The price may feel comparatively heftynext to a budget-friendly 17-inch, but entrepreneurs who work withmulti-media will crave the high-end features. Also, at that size,it's easy to keep a couple of applications open side by side toboost your productivity.

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