How to Buy Computer Hardware For Your Design and Engineering Team

Jim Mitchell

I often hear the same question from clients looking to buy new computers for their design and manufacturing software: what should I buy? Rather than point to a specific machine or brand, I find it useful to share the most important considerations to help guide the conversation with your IT consultant. It also helps to demystify some key computer jargon to help you determine your priorities.

When purchasing computer hardware for your business, I recommend considering four things: your budget, your portability needs, the number of workstations, and any other applications you’ll be running.

Considerations

Budget: When it comes to price, it’s a good idea to avoid the lowest price bracket. While there are many variables, expect to pay $1500 –$3500 on an upgrade. It can be tempting to opt for last year’s computer model, but I don’t recommend it. The price difference between the older generation and the latest is often only $200-$300 – but that investment will keep you current longer.

Portability: Over the last decade, laptops have become significantly more powerful and very capable workstations when compared to your typical desktop computer – making them the standard for primary workstations.

Number of workstations: If you have more than just one or two users, consider sticking with a similar model line of workstations to simplify support. Troubleshooting can be challenging and very time-consuming when, for example, one user is on a Mac, the other has an Asus with Windows 10, while another uses a Dell with Windows 7. Standardizing your equipment and software versions helps ease updates and manage potential driver issues.

Other Applications: Don’t forget to consider the system requirements for any other business-dependent applications in your day-to-day.

Jargon

Hardware is ever advancing and just as subject to supply chain issues as everything else. When shopping for a suitable computer workstation, it’s best to consult with an IT Specialist on which options are best for you. Here are some keywords to inform your discussion: RAM, Hard Drive, HDD, SSD, and Graphics Card.

RAM – Random Access Memory is the component in your computer in which applications are stored while they’re running. When you launch an application, it’s loaded into the RAM from your hard drive to work with your CPU (Central Processing Unit). When you shut down your computer, the application is removed from RAM until it’s is relaunched. Not having enough RAM can slow performance from an otherwise healthy system. At the time of writing, the current generation is DDR4, and a suitable amount is 16GB or more.

Hard Drive – Hard drives are where applications are stored even when the workstation is off. Hard drives typically have two main consumer types: HDD and SDD.

HDD – Hard Disk Drives are mechanical devices with circular platters that spin at a whopping 5400-7200RPM while a head, much like the one on your old record player, comes along to read and write data.

SSD – Solid State Drives have become increasingly standard because they are non-mechanical, utilizing technology much like portable flash drives. These are the best option as they offer faster read and write speeds than HDD and have almost become comparable in cost.

Graphics Cards – Graphics cards, Video cards, and GPUs are terms referring to the same component. Sourcing a graphics card for your workstation can be challenging these days. Manufacturing has been limited, and there is competing demand from other industries, such as automotive manufacturing. As a result, there has been an 80% increase in the MSRP of GPUs, which is why many IT Professionals have opted to use portable solutions (laptops) when making recommendations.

I also often get asked about the life of a computer investment: how long will it last? Given the ever-growing demands and advancements of technology, it’s inevitable that upgrades will be necessary over time. If purchasing a current generation of computer hardware – you can typically expect a good three to five years before you need to upgrade.

Jim Mitchell is a Service Technician at Planit Canada.

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