Choosing the Right Office Equipment for You
Business owners looking to furnish their offices with the right equipment have plenty to think about. Choosing the best products while staying within budget sounds simple, but what exactly do you need? How high-tech should you go? Which items require frequent updates?Appliances such as copiers, faxes and printers run from inexpensive to pricey, simple to complex.
The best way to go about the procurement process is to get started. Technology is constantly improving and there always will be something bigger and better next month or next year. Decide when you need your systems; do the best you can, and don't look back.
Deem "Hardware" a budget line-item upfront, including devices such as computers, printers, wireless hardware and PDAs.
- Make a separate list of projected equipment purchases, such as computers, laptops, printers, copiers, fax machines or all-in-ones.
- Plan appropriate purchases, preferably with the assistance of an IT professional. The trick is to consider the business's main functions. For instance, some PC/laptop models handle database and numbers better, while others are more graphics-oriented.
- When buying hardware, make sure new devices are compatible with existing systems. All desktop and laptop computers should be the same brand and model, with computer peripherals following suit. This facilitates service and software selection.
- Consider bulk buys. Purchasing three laptops can be much cheaper than getting just one, primarily because most vendors offer attractive incentives for this type of deal.
- Do not select a vendor before researching the company's history and customer service track record. Check with colleagues and friends for their suggestions.
- Stick with one dependable vendor. A solid relationship with a single hardware supplier may mean better service, goes easier on the budget - loyal customers get superior deals - and saves time in the purchasing process.
- Don't go too cheap. There are some inexpensive hardware and peripheral products out there, but you'll find yourself replacing them every couple of years. Instead, choose equipment one or two levels down from the top of the line. You'll get state-of-the-art technology at a reduced cost that will last four to six years.
- Choose upgradeable hardware. Better computers will allow you to add more memory and storage later. Computers with integrated graphics should have an AGP slot (Accelerated Graphics Port) connector on your motherboard specifically designed for use with a video card. This will allow you to upgrade your graphics chip.
A Closer Look
Once you've narrowed the field regarding your company's hardware and equipment needs, it's time to take a closer look at what's available on the market - and how it can work for your business. The following technology is standard for most small businesses.
Printers vary greatly in price and capability. To determine the best product for your business, consider these points:
Depending on your printing needs, here are some options:
- Inkjet Printers. An inexpensive, reliable choice for small businesses with only one or two users, these provide good quality black-and-white and color prints. Low-end inkjets run less than $100, and Some PC vendors will even throw in one with your PC purchase. Other considerations include:
- Speed. Inkjets run rather slowly, reproducing from 10 to 20 pages per minute.
- Quality. Lower-end units usually produce 1200x1200 dpi resolution and reasonably good color. Mid-range and higher-end units usually include 2400x2400 dpi resolution and offer more features such as double sided printing, collating and the ability to use multiple paper trays and paper sizes. High-end units produce excellent photo prints.
- Ink cartridges. Some inkjet printers have one black cartridge and one color cartridge containing three or more colors. This means you must replace the entire color cartridge if just one of the colors runs out - an expensive proposition if you use mostly one or two colors. To this end, look for printers that have separate cartridges for each color, and bypass those that use only one cartridge to print both color and black.
- Laser Printers. Lasers are much faster than their inkjet counterparts, and now almost as affordable. The cheapest models start at less than $100 when purchased online, with some small color laser printers starting at about $200 on e-retail sites. Other points to think about:
- Speed. Even lower-end models - around $600 or less - now print up to 42 ppm for black print, while higher-end models boast superior resolution for color copies. Faster speeds make a big difference if you need to print large volumes on a daily basis.
- Quality. The lower- and medium-end models are monochromatic with resolutions of 600x600 dpi and more - great if you need to print high volumes without color. Small color laser printers offer high quality and do nicely for small- to medium-sized businesses that need to churn out dozens of documents a day with some color highlights. They are not meant for the creation of large numbers of color brochures or other heavy color uses.
- Toner cartridges. Some laser printers have separate toner and drum units; others include them in one disposable part. The advantage to having separate units is that you save money: Toner will run out way before you have to replace the drum unit. However, it's a lot easier to replace an all-in-one combination. Because laser printers do not use standard ink cartridges, the cost per page is as low as one-tenth of inkjet per page costs.
- Multifunction Units. These combination printer/copier/scanner and fax units can be a good choice if you're short on funds or office space. Some units start at under $300 online, topping $1,000 for super-deluxe models. If you're in the market for an all-in-one, take a look at these guidelines:
- Speed. This is comparable to inkjet speeds depending on price level and whether you're printing black and white or color.
- Quality. This varies by manufacturer and price range. The lower-priced models usually have limited capabilities, such as a small scanning space and limited paper sizes. The higher-priced models offer a larger scanning space, more paper size and weight options, greater resolution and fax capabilities
- Ink. Inkjet or thermal printing processes are standard.
The main thing to keep in mind when buying a copier for your small office is efficiency. Getting the right copier means getting the model that will save you time and money while working at the level you require. Here are some features to think about:
- Black-and-white vs. color.Color copiers are slower and significantly more expensive than black and white copiers in both purchase price and cost per copy. However, if you frequently outsource color copying for sales brochures, promotional literature or other business projects, then you may actually save money by purchasing a copier capable of printing in color.
- Duplexing. Duplexing is the ability to print on both sides of the page. Lower-priced personal copiers typically don't offer this feature, but it may be worth a few extra bucks if this is something that you need.
- Paper Handling. Look for a copier with a paper capacity of at least 250 sheets or more. You'll also want a model with an automatic document feeder that holds at least 30 sheets.
- Collating. Collation involves the arrangement of copies as they are produced. If you frequently make multiple copies of multi-page documents, you may want to invest in a model that collates.
- Versatility. Choose a copier able to handle a variety of paper sizes and weights as well as other media, such as transparencies and index cards. If you copy frequently from books or magazines, look for one with flatbed capabilities.
- Response time. Copiers that have no warm up time are ideal for small and home offices where copiers may sit idle for hours or days. Some copiers now feature a first copy time of less than 10 seconds.
- Volume. Personal copiers aren't designed for heavy volume so check the model's recommended monthly usage. If the copier employs a cartridge system, the average number of copies per cartridge yield will tell you how often you'll need to replace the unit. If your intended copying volume is above the recommended usage, you may be better off renting a larger copier designed to cope with heavy loads.
- Memory. Memory allows you to use such features as dual access, broadcasting and confidential reception, and also stores incoming pages when the machine runs out of paper. Look for a model that offers at least 50 pages of memory.
- Quick scanning. This feature allows you to scan a document into memory in a matter of seconds, and then remove the originals while the machine then transmits them from memory.
- Dual access. Make sure your machine offers "dual access," permitting you to scan a document into memory while the machine is sending or receiving.
- Paper capacity. A larger capacity reduces the need to constantly replenish the paper supply. Look for a minimum capacity of 200 sheets.
- Paper sizes. Most fax machines accommodate paper sizes up to 8 1/2 x 14 inches, whereas others can accommodate sizes up to 11 x 17 inches.
- Print technology. Laser models offer the best mix of features, print quality and speed.
- Facedown printing. This feature collates incoming multiple fax pages in the proper page order without using the memory feature of the machine.
- Print speed. This refers to the speed at which documents stored in memory are printed out by the machine. Print speeds range from a couple of pages per minute to 17 ppm.
Loss of electrical power and power fluctuations are the two prime causes of lost data and information - and in the case of computers, can actually damage hardware.
To avoid this disaster, purchase an "uninterruptible power supply", or UPS. While simple surge suppressors and voltage regulators are still popular, a UPS goes several steps further, providing actual backup power to handle a variety of electronic equipment.
Small, battery-operated units with two or more outlets, these protection devices provide a buffer between incoming power and your hardware, constantly monitoring and filtering your power supply. If any change in supply occurs, the UPS will activate and regulate the electrical current, taking over for several minutes in the event of power failure.