Electronic Home Office Equipment - How to Make the Right Choices
by Lloyd Burrell
Whether you are planning a large or small home office... or even renting a "micro-office"... any space you use for your daily work should be properly and efficiently equipped. After all, the real value of a well-planned office is found in both (1) how much work you can do there and (2) how little work you have to pay others to do.
Outsourcing simple office tasks, such as faxing and copying, can be very expensive unless you are purchasing volume. There are fuel costs, the cost of labor and supplies at the copy/fax place, and time spent getting there, waiting, then coming back. And how often has your neat stack of copies fell right onto the floor of your car because someone pulled out in front of you suddenly and you had to brake?
Choices in Office Equipment
Costs of electronic office equipment... printers, scanners, computers, routers, etc. ... as with consumer entertainment products, have gone way down in recent years. As new models come out, the older ones' prices are lowered or they go on sale. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this functional and modern equipment. What is someone else's "old news" is your bonus find! My philosophy has always been to purchase a step or two below "state of the art". You are getting great equipment but not paying first-adopter prices!!
If you are looking to really pinch pennies, great used equipment can be found at online auctions and sites, but check shipping costs and compare them to new or "open box" equipment available from resellers such as Amazon.com. You may find that repackaged or returned products offer greater value and less risk than used!
Maintenance and Repair Costs
Most electronic office equipment shows it's spots right away, with failures occurring very quickly. Once up and running, you should get years of service. Look to these costs as well as the cost of toners and inkjet cartridges and supplies and service and warranties. You just want to make sure that these don't outweigh the cost of a more expensive model of something that's easier to maintain and buy cheap supplies for.
With the exception of high end printer/copiers, service contracts are not worth the money based on studies from Consumer Reports and other sources. Also, because the technology improves so quickly, repairing equipment is usually a waste of money since the next generation often offers features, reliability and conveniences unavailable in the older models.
Most people have one or more now, just like they have more than one TV set in their homes. A good desktop that suits your needs is vital to the smooth running of most any business. Look for a larger than average hard drive if you us a lot of graphics (or play a lot of video games in your spare time). You can go for an Apple or a PC, whatever you like. A laptop, netbook or iPad are useful when you travel. Floor model PCs and Macs can be a bargain, but check that it can run your apps or programs properly.
Old thinking had people building their own computers and adding on to their systems, but that was before prices on new computers became so reasonable. New thinking is that you just get what you want right off the bat and then recycle your old computer or give it to the grandkids or charity (for the latter, be sure and wipe off all of your personal data). Using the old school way, a lot of us ended up with a computer which looked like it came off the set of that great movie, Brazil.
Separate Printer, Scanner and Copier or All-In-One Unit?
All-in-ones save on space and overall cost less than stand-alone units. The main downside to the all-in-ones is, should one function fail, you'll have to replace but if you have it, go with a couple of separate units. All-in-ones sometimes get all confused and each function can suffer. Scanners have become more compact and faxes have too, and printers have really come down in price. If you've gone wireless, then tuck everything away (within reach) on a shelf in your closet.
Printer ink and toners are very expensive. Some models use cheaper inks, or separate-for-each-color ones. Always look at ink and toner prices before you buy. Try and avoid used and refilled ones as they can void warranties, as well as getting messy if they leak.
External Computer Storage and Memory
There are many types of external storage devices available, from small USB drives that plug in to complete hard drives you can take with you. CDs and DVDs (for data storage -- not copying movies or photos or video) and floppies have gone into extinction for most all computer users in the Western world as the cost and size of hard drives have grown. For the most complete on-site storage and backup solution, consider a multi-drive NAS (network attached storage). The NAS uses multiple hard drives configured to protect your data by sharing and duplicating it over multiple drives to minimize the chance of data loss. These are not fully functional servers, meant to store data only.
Even with a local external drive system, backing up your data on a regular basis is essential. Having multiple copies of important files is critical should one of your drives fail. A computer crash, whether caused by mechanical problem, user error or a lightning strike, can cause irretrievable data loss, or if you're lucky you can pay $100 an hour or more for a service to extract it from your drive. Most computers nowadays do this automatically for you and you can just zap the backup on to your external hard drive.
Some Important Office Equipment Points
1) Buy extended service warranties on high-end equipment
only, and be careful not to overpay!
2) Over rather than under-buy your office equipment so you grow into it, technologically speaking.
3) Purchasing used equipment can be okay, but be sure to compare to "open box" warrantied equipment from online reselllers.
4) Research office equipment on the Internet before buying, and compare costs and weigh all factors. Online reviews can be a valuable resource, as well as sites such as www.ConsumerReports.org.