Improving a small business network

Tips & Hints

Ten common small business computer questions

2 January 2002

What sort of computer should I have?

The computer you need varies with the needs of your business and industry. It is essential for both your business and sanity to be compatible with your industry, suppliers and customers. If you are in an industry that mainly uses Macintosh computers then you must have a Mac. Some industries use specific software such as CAD (computer aided design) or specialised printers, if you are operating in those industries then you must have that software or equipment.

For general office work then a middle of the road Mac or Windows computer with 128 Mb RAM and a 20Gb hard drive is sufficient. Expect to pay around $2,000 for a good quality computer. This price will include basic software but printers, office and accounting software will be extra.

Is my existing computer up to the job?

It depends upon the age of the computer and your business needs. Many businesses will struggle with anything older than three years old and anything older than five will be more trouble than it is worth. If you are currently using more than 3/4 of your hard drive space, then you can expect to run out of space in the near future. It is rarely worthwhile upgrading a computer older than three years.

Is it worth upgrading my existing computer?

Upgrading components can be a low cost way to improve the speed and extend the life of your computers. The danger with upgrading is that you can spend too much on upgrading parts. If you have to upgrade more than two components on a computer then it is almost certainly better value to get a new computer.

We have previously looked at what parts are worth upgrading in our Upgrading your Computer article. Which computers are worth upgrading and which are a waste of time was examined in our 30 August 2001 Problem of the Week.

Should I get a laptop or desktop?

A laptop is an excellent idea if you are going to be moving around as part of your business. If the computer is going to stay in your office then a desktop is a much better investment. Previously we've compared the prices of laptops and desktops which showed, even with the dramatic fall in laptop prices in the last year, that desktops are still far better value for money.

What type of printer should I be using?

Many small businesses try to get by using a cheap inkjet printer. For all but the smallest businesses this is a mistake as the cost of running a inkjet is much higher than a laser. Despite the much higher initial purchase cost, a laser printer is the sensible choice for most small businesses.

Should I have a network?

If you have more than one computer in your office then you should have a network. Sharing equipment such as printers saves a small businesses a lot of money. All modern computers are supplied with the network software built in. The hardware, if it isn't already included, is easy and cheap to add.

Are viruses and hackers a real threat to me?

Yes. At the very least a harmless virus infection like the Kak Worm can be embarrassing when it sends itself to all your clients. In the worst case a Magistr or Sircam infection could bring your business to a stop. It is essential to have an up-to-date anti-virus program. While hackers are not a great concern for small business it is a good idea to have a firewall on your system if you have a cable, ADSL or permanent connection to the Internet.

What is the best way to connect to the Internet?

Once again, this depends upon your business. If you are just browsing the net for an hour, and sending and receiving a few e-mails a day then a dial-up connection is probably all you need. A dial-up connection uses a modem and your telephone line to dial the Internet provider when you want to check your mail or surf the net. These connections can be as cheap as $7.00 per month, although most people and business find plans costing between $20.00 and $30.00 are the best value.

If you are surfing the net a lot, sending or receiving huge files, or you need to be connected all the time, then ADSL or cable are the better options. ADSL uses the existing telephone lines and is available through a number of different providers. Cable connections use the cable-TV connections through both Optus and Telstra. Neither option is available everywhere but ADSL is more widespread, at present cable provides better performance than ADSL.

Should I leave my computer running all the time?

There are two schools of thought with turning computers off. The first is to leave them running as the expansion and contraction of the system components as the computer cools and heats up shortens the life of the machine. The other school of thought is that computers are susceptible to power surges so it is better to turn them off.

Both are right, but we recommend turning computers off. Apart from the danger of your computer being damaged during a storm or power surge, personal computer operating systems (particularly Windows) like to have a rest every few days. If they are left running for days, weeks, or months they can behave oddly.

How do I protect my computer from power surges and lightning strikes?

One of the most common ways computer parts fail is from power surges, brownouts or lightning strikes. Usually the power supply or modem and sometimes the motherboard has to be replaced occasionally the entire system needs to be written off. Protecting your computer is essential.

The most basic protection is a surge protected power strip, these will lose their protection after stopping one power surge. A small red-light on the strip indicates the surge protection is working and that should be checked regularly. It's a good idea to have these on stereo and video equipment too.

More substantial protection comes from an Uninterruptable Power Supply. As well as providing very good protection from power surges they also provide power for a short time during a blackout. Regardless of what protection you have it is a good idea to disconnect your computer equipment from the power, telephone and Internet equipment if a storm is approaching.

This is just a summary of the most common questions we hear from small businesses at PC Rescue. For a more comprehensive coverage of small business computer issues have a look at the Australian Small Business Guide to Computers. It could be the best IT investment a small business makes.

PC Rescue Pty Ltd
Suite 236, 4 Young Street Neutral Bay NSW 2089
ABN 082 635 765
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