If your work involves traveling to client locations or other places away from your home base, you should probably consider buying a laptop computer rather than a desktop system.
With a laptop you will always have your files with you and won't have any of those embarrassing moments when you leave an important document at your office, because...well, your office is with you. While a laptop may seem a bit cumbersome to always travel with, there are many lightweight models out there that are very powerful. Just make sure you get a good carrying case that has a shoulder strap and room for your hard copy documents.
If always working from the keyboard and small screen of a laptop doesn't appeal to you, there are other solutions. Yes, they've thought of everything! To make using your laptop more efficient in your home office, a docking station can be set up that you can simply plug your laptop into. Docking stations make it easy to have a standard monitor, keyboard and mouse, printer, fax machine, scanner, and other peripherals always hooked and ready to use. If you plug your laptop into the docking station, you can use it just like a standard desktop system, and you won't have to worry about transferring or synching files to another computer.
If you do not travel, or if you do not need access to all of your files while you travel, you can just get the traditional desktop computer system. Make sure you have plenty of hard drive space, memory for running several programs at once, and a moderately fast processor. If you're doing graphics work (anything involving photo images, illustrations or animations), you'll need a much faster processor and as much hard drive space and RAM as you can afford.
Other equipment and hardware options you might consider include:
- A black and white 600-1200 dpi laser printer if your final documents require crisp, high quality black and white output. Laser printers also provide the fastest output, so if you know your volume will be high you should also consider a laser printer.
- A color laser printer if your documents need high quality color illustrations, photos, or charts. These are quite expensive so make sure you compare the print quality with a less expensive ink jet printer.
- An inkjet printer if you need good quality text, color charts and graphs, or photos. With inkjet printers, the paper that is used often makes the biggest difference in the print quality. Get paper that is best suited for the job you are doing. Also, try to get a test print from different models to compare quality before you buy. Inkjets can provide very good quality but are not as fast printing as laser printers.
- A fax machine if you will need to fax paper documents often. There is also the option of online faxing services such as E-Fax.
- A scanner if you will need to scan documents or photos. You can also use a scanner along with e-mail or fax software in place of a regular fax machine.
- A CD burner if you need to provide clients with large files electronically, or if you want to back up your files on CD. There are many business uses for a CD burner, not to mention the ability to make your own music CDs.
- A DVD writer (DVD-RAM) if you need to provide clients with extremely large files, such as video.
- A removable media storage device. Iomega™ offers the most common drive of this type, called the Zip™ drive, but there are many others like it. Data is written to the disk just like it would be to a floppy diskette. The difference is the amount of data that can be written. Currently, there are 100 Mb and 250 Mb disks available for the ZIP drive. Iomega also manufactures Jaz™ drives that use disks that can hold up to 2 Gb of data.
- A modem for accessing the Internet, faxing electronically, and e-mail. This can be either a standard modem that you use with your existing phone lines for dial up access, a DSL modem that also uses your phone line but does not tie up your line, or a cable modem that uses the same cable your cable television is hooked up to. DSL and cable modems are for broadband Internet access and require special connections.
- A digital camera if your work requires photos for presentations, reports, a Web site, or other documents. While you can also use a regular camera and scanner to get digital photos for documents, you may find the immediate access you get with a digital camera more efficient than waiting for film to be processed and printed. The quality of the digital image is still somewhat better with actually photos that are scanned, but for most business applications digital cameras produce sharp enough images. Images for use in marketing materials may need to be of higher quality.
- A multi-purpose scanner, fax machine, copier, printer if your space is limited and quality not as critical. Keep in mind with this type of equipment, however, if one part of it stops working you'll be without the other functions until it can be repaired!
For obvious reasons, mainly because equipment in the technology world changes more often than some people change underwear, we'll not go into the technical specifications for the computer equipment you'll need in your office.
In addition to computer equipment, you'll also need a good telephone. Caller ID helps by allowing you to screen out telemarketers or other calls you can't take at the moment. A second telephone line for your business phone, fax, and Internet access is also a plus.
There are work-arounds if you don't want to shell out the extra money for the additional phone line. For example, if you have a cell phone, which is recommended, you can use that number as your business line. Or, if you have dial-up Internet access that uses your home phone line, you can have calls forwarded to your cell phone when you're online. There is usually only a dollar per month charge from the phone company to forward calls when the line is busy. You just have to make sure you turn off call-waiting when you go online by adding ,*70 before the number you dial. The limitations here are, of course, the signal strength you get on your cell phone. If you work from your basement there may be problems getting a good enough signal to actually carry on a conversation. If your cell phone service offers voice mail, you at least have the chance of getting a message left even if you can't actually talk with the person at the time.
There are also services that answer calls while you are online and play the message immediately from your computer. If you want to return the call you can disconnect and do so. Callwave and Pagoo are two of the most popular services. They charge about $5 per month for the service.
A surge protector is necessary, not just to give you additional outlets for your computer and its peripherals, but to protect your equipment.
You may also need a personal digital assistant (aka PDA, Palm Pilot, Handspring, etc.). These are quite handy if you travel and need access to contact information, e-mail, or the web.