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Don't Get Burned by Hot Deals

You’ve probably seen the Sunday newspaper ad inserts or received email offers for very low price PCs offered by big box stores and manufacturers. Will that $399 discount computer be a viable option for your future practice? When the time comes, how do you make sure you get the right equipment for your practice, at the right price, and avoid getting burned by “hot” deals? Let’s look at some of the potential pitfalls of under- or overpurchasing new computer equipment.

 

Understand the Price

To begin, make sure you know the “why” behind the rock-bottom price of a PC. Is it an outdated system the vendor is trying to clear out to make room for more powerful units? Is it a consumer- or business-quality computer?

Will the components, including the Windows operating system (OS), meet your computing power needs for digital dentistry? Can you get replacement parts and service?

Replacing a low-quality PC can be costly, not only in terms of the hardware, but also in terms of unexpected downtime and productivity loss. It pays to be an educated buyer when it comes to computer technology, and you should understand what you are buying in today’s crowded PC marketplace.

 

Know Your Windows Version

One way vendors lower their PC prices is to include only the basic version of Microsoft Windows, known as Windows Home Edition. Complications can arise when a practice attempts to use the Windows Home Edition to run their business applications in a networked environment.

Home Edition is tailored for basic personal use, not your future dental practice, and often does not support business software. On the other hand, Windows Ultimate edition, the OS designed for large networked systems, is overkill for most dental software. Stick with your software vendors’ recommendations for the right foundation. You’ll also avoid frustration when calling your software vendor for support. With Home Edition on your PC, you’ll run into support roadblocks because your vendors won’t guarantee their software will work with anything but their list of supported operating systems. Select Windows 7 Professional or, in the case of Windows 8, Pro Edition for the right mix of features, power, and the widest range of software compatibility. Before upgrading any computer systems to Windows 8, or any 64-bit version of Windows, ensure all your digital hardware and software are compatible, per the vendor, to avoid major problems and headaches.

 

Processors, Memory, and Ports

Processor speed and memory capacity are additional areas where retailers use razzle-dazzle to try to make products look more attractive. Don’t get caught up in the gigahertz speed comparisons of yesteryear. Today it is all about the number of cores in the processor. Intel is the reigning king with its “i” series of processors. Computers with Intel’s Core 2 duos can still be found in entry-level computers. However, if you plan on purchasing a machine with a three-year (or possibly longer) lifespan, invest in an i5 or i7 processor. These components have four processing cores and are much faster than their two-processor predecessors. Keep in mind that most software vendors only recommend Intel-based chipsets on their hardware requirements lists.

When it comes to system memory, known as RAM, 8 GB is the wise choice. Even though many applications cannot take advantage of more than 4 GB of RAM today, they will in the future. If you plan to use your computers for more than three years, investing now in RAM means you’ll be better prepared for future software upgrades. Also, 64-bit versions of Windows utilize the extra memory for faster overall computing.

It’s also important to count your ports. Take time to understand the number, locations, and types of ports a computer has to make sure you have enough of them to plug in your keyboard, mouse, printer, and all the peripheral dental devices you will need to use in your future practice.

 

Go For Business Class

The decision to purchase business class equipment comes down to both the computing power and the quality of the PCs you will trust to run your business. Just because two computers have similar technical specifications doesn't mean you’re getting the entire story. The quality of the components manufacturers use in their consumer-level and business grade computers differs greatly. Dell offers both consumer-class computers and business-class computers.

Typically, business-class equipment has higher mean times between failures and is more reliable. The Dell OptiPlex series, for example, is a line of PCs designed for reliable business use, not light home use. These PCs are designed and tested to last longer compared to low-end PCs. Dell maintains a minimum 18-month life cycle on their business class lines. This means that if you decide to add more PCs later on or replace your computers in phases, you have a higher chance of getting the same model of computer. Standardizing on one model of computer, or very few models, generally reduces your overall support costs and minimizes your headaches during software patching and upgrades.

While you may be hard pressed to find inexpensive, low-power Macs on sale, the same guidelines apply. The good news is that Apple generally offers only stable, powerful computers. As more practice management systems support Apple and its operating system (iOS), ensure you are meeting both software and dental hardware requirements when you consider such a purchase or use. It will be important for you to pay close attention to the compatibility of imaging devices for your Mac, as most dental devices still only support a Windows interface.

 

Conclusion

The phrase “too good to be true” is one that can be easily associated with some PC and computer deals found in today’s marketplace. When buying your first business computer, it is important to remember that, while some things may work for the computer you use in your home or classroom, they will not necessarily be the best options for your business. Getting the right version of Windows may seem like a no-brainer now, but when you rely on that processing power to run many facets of your future practice, it is critical that you make the right choices. Investing a little time to do the research, and investing a little more money to get the best possible assets can save you money, time, and future headaches when it comes to your practice PC system.

 

*Mr. Calverley has 15 years of experience assembling and supporting dental office networks and computer systems. Currently he is the National Field Operations for Henry Schein TechCentral, which provides business technology solutions for dental practices of all sizes.

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