Let me start off by saying that the purpose of this article is not to convince anyone to buy computers from Sawyer Solutions, per se, but to educate people.  Informed consumers make better decisions and we’ve found that the information contained in this post is not always widely understood.

Did you know that most computers for sale at a big box store, like Best Buy or Costco, are geared towards home, and not business, use?   It is true.  Because many people are not aware of this, we sometimes get asked questions to the effect of:

  • If I can go pick up a (consumer class) computer for $200 or $300 from a big box store, why would I want to pay $600 or more for something that appears to be the same?
  • What is the difference between the cheap computers and the expensive ones?
  • Is a business class computer really worth the extra cost?

In a nutshell, once you start looking at the differences in software, expected lifetime, warranties, security and support, the cheaper computers are not so cheap anymore. Below we’ll explore some of the differences, benefits, hidden costs and risks that you might not be aware of.

Hardware

The cheaper computers you can buy from a big box store are designed for light home use: web browsing and email checking.  Having lots of windows open, running many things at once, or opening large files, such as Excel spreadsheets, will cause these cheaper computers to slow to a crawl.

In addition, you may have noticed that as a computer ages its performance decreases.  For example, it may take longer to boot up and for programs to load and/or they start running slower.   Windows is partly responsible for this slow down, due to the way it operates and updates itself.  But, the hardware you are running also plays a part.

As software is updated, or newer versions are released, they often include new or enhanced features, which require more computer resources to work properly.  Therefore, what might be adequate hardware this year is likely to be quite a bit less than adequate in two or three years.  Thus, requiring you to buy a new computer to keep up or deal with the frustration of an increasingly slow one.

Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chips are generally only found in business lines of computers, not consumer ones.  They are most commonly used in encryption, where your encryption keys are kept safe and secure (we discuss the need for encryption here).  This means that if you have a TPM chip in your computer the encryption and decryption process can be seamless to you.  The TPM chip can also help prevent certain types of malware, called rootkits, that can do some really nasty things to your computer.

Office

That super cheap computer you see does not come with Microsoft Office.  This is fine for a home user that is just going to use the computer to check email and surf the web.  But if you need to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Outlook, then you’re going to have to buy Office, or rent it through Office 365.  When comparing computer prices, make sure you are aware if the computers are you are comparing have Office included in the price or not.   If they do, make sure the versions of Office are the same, as this can increase the price of a computer by several hundred dollars.

Warranty

How long can you be without a computer if you encounter a problem? Consumer class computers are meant for home use and generally only come with a one-year warranty.  In the event of a problem, the warranty usually requires the computer to be packed and shipped back to the manufacturer, at your cost.  They then will figure out what is wrong and return to you.  This could mean weeks without your computer or you could pay extra for a “premium” warranty – where they come to you and fix the issue.  You can also pay extra to extend the warranty term, which still generally caps out at three or four years.  Even the “premium” warranty often states that your computer will be serviced at the vendor’s availability, which may take a couple of business days.

Business class computers usually come standard with a one-year, next business day, on-site warranty.  Depending on the type of computer and manufacturer, you may be able to increase the warranty to five to seven years, and/or upgrade it to a get more/better support options, such as U.S. only call centers, or faster response times.

“Wait!  What about getting an extended warranty from the place I bought it from?”  Thanks for asking.  You could do that…  However, then you have yet another company to deal with in the event your computer starts having problems.  These warranties also often require you to ship/leave your computer with them until they are done with it.  Also consider where the service on your computer is coming from with a store extended warranty.  It is almost certainly not coming from the manufacturer themselves.  Some stores have their in-house “tech support” people do this.  Some of these companies are notoriously bad at their jobs.  So you are paying extra to get potentially worse service than from manufacturer.

If you are going to run your business with a computer, and plan to keep the computer as long as you can, you should consider getting the longest warranty possible from the manufacturer.  The fact that the manufacturers (generally) don’t even offer a warranty that lasts as long for the consumer class products is an indication of both life expectancy and priority for support issues.

Operating System Versions

Windows 10 comes in three main versions: Home, Pro, and Enterprise.  You can probably guess what version the consumer grade computers come with – Home.  Unless there is some compelling reason to go with the Enterprise edition, most small to medium businesses will want to go with Windows 10 Pro.

Like in previous versions of Windows, the Home edition cannot join a Windows domain.  This might not affect a smaller business, as domains are less common for them. However, there are many valid reasons to have domain, even for a smaller business.

Windows 10 Home also does not come with BitLocker, Microsoft’s encryption technology.  So, if you need or want to encrypt your computer, you will have to buy something extra.  The Home edition also lacks many of the features that make managing and securing the computer easier when it is part of a network.

The most compelling reason to choose the Pro or Enterprise edition of Windows 10 is Microsoft’s introduction of mandatory automatic updates.  This feature is handled differently amongst the different editions.

Windows 10 Updating

As we have previously written about, Microsoft decided to roll out mandatory updating in Windows 10.  Microsoft’s reasoning is that systems will be more secure because the computers will automatically get all the patches and updates whenever Microsoft approves them.  While this “helpful” feature is great, in theory, there were some issues in practice.  For example, there were several instances where patches caused major problems with computers.  There was no way to tell Windows to NOT install the problem patches and uninstalling did no good because Windows would just download and reinstall the patch again.

As we predicted, mandatory patching did not sit well with businesses.  Businesses demanded, and received, a way to postpone, or even block, patches from deploying automatically.  The Pro and Enterprise editions, out-of-the-box, support the ability to delay patch installation up to three months.  It is a simple feature to enable.  With a little more effort, and the proper software, anyone running the Pro or Enterprise editions can completely control the patch installation cycle on a computer, just like previous versions of Windows.  This gives users running the correct business editions the ability to bypass patches that are found to be problematic until the issues with them are resolved.

Windows 10 Home edition users do not have this option.  Home users will always get the updates when Microsoft approves them and they cannot stop or postpone this.  Home users will be the guinea pigs for the updates before they are deployed to the business line.

This is not actually as bad of a deal as it sounds for the Home users, as they are much more likely to neglect updating their computers.  For a business though, letting someone else be the guinea pigs is something that should to consider, even if you don’t need the other features available in the Pro edition.

The good news is that you can easily upgrade editions from Home to Pro.  The upgrade cost is currently $99.

The Real Price is Higher Than You Think

So, if you are just looking for a bare bones system that will get you running today, or if you are getting a computer to give to your grandmother, then go buy that cheap computer.  However, if you are relying on your computer to support your business you may want to reconsider.  When you start adding in the extra costs for a longer warranty, a Windows Pro license, and considering the lifespan hardware requirements, you’ll that the price difference isn’t as great as it might first appear.

Of course, if you have questions about what computer is right for you, Sawyer Solutions can help.

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