Now that you’ve got an operating system in mind, let’s talk about the computer hardware features you should consider in your device.
Another easy way to narrow down your computer choices? Decide if you’d prefer to use a desktop computer or laptop computer for business.
You probably already have a strong preference for one or the other. (And lucky for you, you can get laptops and desktops for both Windows and macOS.)
But in case you need help deciding, we’ve got some more decision-making criteria you can use.
Get a laptop if . . .
Get a desktop if . . .
|You like to take your computer to meetings||You need a more powerful computer|
|You work from more than one location||You prefer a customizable solution|
|You can upgrade your computer semi-regularly||You plan on upgrading features|
|You can spend more||You’re on a tighter budget|
Just remember that―generally speaking―desktop computers offer more customizability. You can swap components in and out (or pay someone to do it) to add more power or simply to keep your computer from becoming obsolete in a few years. Plus, as an added bonus, desktops usually cost less than laptops that have similar specs. You just have to be fine with a stationary workstation.
Of course, desktops can’t compete with laptops when it comes to portability. If you need something that works from home, the office, Starbucks, and everywhere else, you’ll definitely want a laptop. Remember, though, that you won’t be able to upgrade your laptop much, so you may end up replacing it sooner than you would a desktop.
Either way, you still need to think about the following features.
Your hard drive gives your computer storage. It’s where your computer stores all its files (including files necessary to run your OS).
You need to consider two things when looking at a hard drive: how much storage you need and whether you prefer a solid state drive (SSD) or a hard disk drive (HDD).
You definitely don’t want to run out of storage space (imagine taking the time to comb through files finding ones you can delete), so make sure you get a large enough hard drive for your needs.
Now, if your business uses cloud storage (like Google Drive), you may not need a large hard drive. And you can always expand your storage by getting an external hard drive (that plugs into a USB port). But if you’re mostly saving files to your desktop, you’ll want more storage.
And remember, the file type matters too. If you’re dealing with simple text documents and spreadsheets, you don't need much space. You might never fill up even a 120 GB hard drive. But if you routinely handle photos or especially video, you’ll want a lot more space.
Aside from size, you’ll also need to figure out what type of hard drive you want: a traditional hard disk drive, or HDD (which uses a spinning disk) or a fancier solid state drive, or SSD (which relies on flash memory).
The big differences? SSDs tend to be faster (like your computer can boot up in seconds faster) and more durable (in case you drop your laptop), but they cost more. HDDs offer a cheaper storage solution, though they’re slower and more breakable.
For most computer work, a cheaper HDD will work just fine. But if you need your computer to run large programs without a hitch, a faster SSD will give you the better experience.
Best Website Builders for Small Business
Learn more about our top brands.
RAM (Random Access Memory)
Random access memory, more commonly called RAM, gives you a different kind of storage than a hard drive. Think of it like short-term storage that applications use, rather than long-term storage for files.
RAM can affect things like how quickly computer programs run and how many tabs you can have open in your web browser at once.
Very light computer users (think basic web browsing and document editing) can get away with as little as 4 GB of RAM, while heavy users (like video editors) will need closer to 32 GB.
Most users will fall somewhere in between, with 8 GB to 16 GB of RAM giving you enough for more extensive web usage, large spreadsheets, and other typical computer uses.
Most of us use computers to connect to the internet, so you’ll want to make sure your computer has a way (or two) to do that.
An ethernet port will let you hardwire your computer with a cable, while a wireless card (or an external wireless dongle) can let both laptop and desktop computers connect wirelessly to your Wi-Fi network.
For the most flexibility, we recommend looking for a computer that has both an ethernet port and a wireless card.
The last hardware feature most users need to think about is the number of ports, or places where you plug in cables.
Most people will use USB ports the most. They let you plug in anything from an external hard drive to your iPhone to a keyboard. If you know you’ll have lots of accessories to plug in, then get enough USB ports to support them all.
Likewise, think about your monitor situation (which we’ll talk more about in just a moment). If you plan to use more than one monitor, you’ll want enough monitor ports to let you plug them in. You can think about port type too. For the best display experience, you’ll want HDMI ports. But for typical office work DVI and VGA ports will work fine too.
If you’re not doing graphics-heavy work (like game programming or photo and video editing), you don’t need to think much (or at all) about a graphics card. Pretty much all computers come with a super basic graphics processing unit (GPU), which will work fine for most business computer uses.
If you do graphics-heavy tasks, then you may want to consider getting a separate graphics card to improve your display quality. But honestly, we don’t have specific suggestions here. Your graphics card needs will depend on the specific tasks you’re doing, so we’d encourage you to find a graphics card guide for your type of computer usage.
CPU (Central processing unit)
As with a graphics card, most business owners don’t need to think too hard about a computer processor (aka central processing unit, aka CPU). Even a basic CPU has enough power for typical business tasks.
In certain fields (again, things like video editing, game programming, or math modeling) you will want a higher-end processor. But at that point, you probably know your processor needs better than we do.
So while we can throw out a generic suggestion (like a Core i7), we suggest you look for field-specific processor recommendations.