Setting up your home office
13th Aug 2012 | 08:00
A quick guide to setting up your first home office
Setting up your home office from scratch is a great feeling, because it means you have a blank canvas on which to create your perfect setup. It's important to get the right hardware, software and peripherals, but budget and space limitations are the first major considerations.
When it comes to computers, there is a huge range of choice. Business machines are now available for around £350, although the more you pay, the better functionality you get.
Mac v's PC
Whether you go for an Apple Mac or Windows-based computer is down to personal choice, with both offering their own look and feel-in terms of both the machine and the operating system. Files tend to be compatible between both types of machine, and the apps that run on the two machines do much the same thing, in much the same way, so which one you decide on, really comes down to personal choice – eg are you a Mac or a PC person - and finance.
Choosing a processor
The majority of the price of the computer tends to go on the processor, whether it's an Intel or AMD chip, the more expensive the model the faster the processing capabilities. The processing power of the computer is determined by two things, the clock speed; and number of processor cores. A faster clock speed and more processor cores (dual or quad), will enable the computer to carry out more calculations simultaneously, and therefore give you better performance.
The larger the screen the better
Another large part of the cost of the system is the screen, and like television flat screens, there are different types and technologies available and the trend is for larger and larger screens. Going for a large screen does give you real productivity benefits as a larger screen, enables you to have lots of windows open at the same time, for example, so you can see your emails, a web browser, and Word document at the same time. If you add a decent pair of speakers to the large screen, you can also use the computer as a home entertainment system.
If you are going to watch video and use the screen as a home entertainment system, then you need to ensure that the screen can cope with the fast screen refreshes needed from video. Most computer monitors are designed for text and still pictures and hence don't cope too well with moving images. Additionally a larger screen also requires a graphics system or graphics card capable of high resolutions. Make sure your desktop is capable of working with your display or you'll end up having to pay for an upgrade on day one.
Choosing your memory needs
A key element of the computer is the hard drive. If you're just using your system to store emails and Microsoft Office files then the size of the hard drive probably won't be an issue, and you should be fine with the one supplied. However if you're going to be creating and storing video, and editing and creating high-definition images and audio then you'll need something more substantial and fast. Consider a 250Gb drive as the absolute minimum, and look for a system that will allow you to add further drives should you need them
The amount of memory you choose for your system depends on the type of applications you will be working with. More (and faster types of) RAM memory enables the processor to operate faster and run more applications simultaneously. Two Gb of RAM should be enough for most business users, but if you're creating or editing video/audio/graphics or running databases or Computer Aided Design (CAD) type applications, then it's a case of the more memory the better.
If you want to operate several PCs in your home office, you could consider installing a server as well, which is a computer that delivers data and software to multiple computers via a network. A server can also give you centralised data management, automatic backup capabilities, and additional processing power and storage, and the ability to share files from a central location.
Mobile or desktop?
If you are likely to be out of the office, but still want access to your data, you might like to consider a home office setup that centres on a laptop. A 'desktop replacement' notebook computer might be the solution, because it can be plugged into a monitor, but can also be taken on the road, out to external meetings, or used in a web cafe.
Alternatively, you might like to have a desktop computer and a portable device as well, in which case you could consider a tablet computer, sub-notebook or smart phone, with the latter enabling you to make calls as well as create and manage documents out of the office.
Tablet PCs like the iPad tend to be less expensive than laptops, and although they don't offer you the same functionality, they are useful for presentations, web access, and for reviewing documents whilst on the move, because of their clear, bright screens. Tablets, sub notebooks, and smart phones can all offer mobile and wireless Internet access, which means that you can carry on working whilst out of the office.
Creating a wireless network
If you plan to use multiple computing devices, it's a good idea to set up a wireless network so that you can share information and an Internet broadband connection. The main device for this is a wireless router, which is a peripheral that connects to the phone line and the main computer, and creates a local radio network that broadcasts data across the home office. Information can be encrypted so people in the surrounding buildings can't intercept it, and the beauty is that you can connect securely to a wireless network using laptops, smart phones, and tablets from anywhere inside your office, wherever you can pick up the signal.
Choosing a printer
You can also connect a printer to the wireless network, and the main choices of printer are laser and inkjet, with laser tending to be more expensive because of the cartridges. However, prices have come down over the last few years, making monochrome lasers relatively inexpensive. It might also be worth considering a multifunction device which can print, scan, copy and fax, because this can be a space saver as well as a cost saver.
When it comes to choosing the right software to create the perfect small business office, the sky is the limit. Essential business applications include office productivity software suites that incorporate word processor and spreadsheet applications, as well as e-mail, database and presentation tools.
Suites other than Microsoft are worth looking at, such as OpenOffice.org or Google Docs. These are compatible with Microsoft's applications and also carry a free or low-cost price tag.
Security software is essential for any home office, because it will keep your computers safe from viruses and spam, and hackers trying to penetrate your network from the outside. You may also want to have accounting and book-keeping software, which can either be desktop-based or available over the web.
Depending on your industry, you may want to consider imaging software, customer relationship management, for recording customer information and finding out trends in buying habits, sales force automation, which is helpful for organising and managing sales teams and leads, human resources software, and database management systems.
But once you have your Internet connection sorted out, you can access online versions of all of these, as well as online storage, and communications tools like groupware and collaboration, over the web.