Don't Get Burned by Hot Deals
Mr. Brian Calverley
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 Is it an outdated system the vendor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
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.
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.