IT Hardware budgets – where to get the best return on your investments?

So over the last thirty years we’ve all got used to the idea that our personal computers (PCs) double in power every couple of years and so replacing them on a regular basis drives up productivity.  But is that still true these days? Where should we be spending our IT hardware budgets to get the best returns?

For years the mantra, in relation to hardware, was buy a decent machine and it will last a few years. £1,000 used to be the standard figure to spend on a laptop/PC as that got you an up-to-date processor, a decent amount of memory, a fast network adaptor and a larger screen with good
graphics. Now £400 gets you that same good package but it just doesn’t seem that much faster than one from three years ago.  

Why is that? Well there are two factors. Firstly Intel, who make the processors, has failed to keep innovating at the same rate of progress as previously.

However the bigger factor is that the software is no longer pushing the boundaries of power as it did in the early days. Running Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office, which is the majority of work most machines process these days, does not test its speed any more.

That doesn’t mean you don’t ever wait for your computer!  It’s rare your machine operates on its own any more, it’s just the interface to a whole network of machines that the information is passing through – and that’s what often slows things down.

Even if you are operating just locally, look closely and you’ll see that it’s not the processing of calculations that holds things up. The little hard drive light flickers on while the programs and data are retrieved.

So what is our advice now most machines have fast processors and plenty of memory (4Gb+)? Where should you spend your hardware money?

Here’s Technology Management’s top 3 hardware investments tips to help make you more productive;

Solid State Disks or SSDs. Instead of spinning up a mechanical hard drive, spinning up a drive made of chips is much faster – reducing start-up and programme load times to just a few seconds. And it removes the flickering hard drive light wait described above.

Solid State Disk
It gives the processor the information it needs to process much faster. We’ve already seen clients fitting these and seen dramatic speed improvements – like we were used to in the nineties. From just £125 to purchase they are typically smaller in capacity than traditional drives but don’t let that worry you – when was the last time you ran out of space on your local PC?

Multiple, large & high resolution screens. So we all have a complex about being seen as NASA mission control but the about of time we waste scrolling across screens, or flicking from our
email back to our order processing and then back to our email, need to be measured to be believed.

Large, high resolution screens
A study at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the US (not sponsored by a screen manufacturer either, I’m just as cynical as you are!) showed that productivity increases are 50% of the increase in the screen size.

So that means that going from a 17” screen to 22” which is a 30% increase in size gives a 15% increase in productivity. Adding a second 22” screen gives a 25% increase in productivity over a single 22” screen.  However it’s not just the pure size that’s the secret, it’s the resolution i.e. the amount of information that can be fitted on a  screen at once and seen without any mouse movement.

So buy the biggest, highest resolution screens you can and as many as you can. Remember screens have a typical 10 year life, much longer than the rest of the PC, so it’s a much more cost-effective payback over the long term.

Faster connectivity – link your machine to a fast network. Install intelligent gigabit network switches to connect to the local network. Then get the fastest internet connection you can possibly
justify – as once it’s implemented you’ll find so many uses for it that you’ll never question it again.

Look to see if fibre is available and, if it is, get it. And make sure you have great upload speed as well as download speed (unlike normal broadband) because with more and more services going online you’ll need to upload a lot more data going forward.

So there you go, that’s where we’re spending our IT hardware budgets.  

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