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Getting equipped

When setting up an office for the first time, whether for yourself or for 50 others, a good portion of your time will go toward making sure everyone is properly equipped.

When setting up an office for the first time, whether for yourself or for 50 others, a good portion of your time will go toward making sure everyone is properly equipped. Naturally, if your business has any kind of office component, computer equipment will be a must.

But, as one quickly learns during such an endeavor, the PC is only the beginning. Once that’s picked out, what then follows is a long shopping list of other stuff, aka peripherals. Some are necessary for virtually all set-ups (such as printers and monitors), while some will be necessary only for certain types of offices and certain types of folks.

But don’t let yourself get sweet-talked into buying extras you don’t need. Keeping in mind who and what certain peripherals are used for will keep you from overspending unnecessarily.

Monitors: You can easily spend hundreds on a luxury LCD monitor, but unless fine-tuned attention to color and detail are crucial to your work (say, if you work in graphic design), it’s not necessary to lay out that much cash. But of course, unless you’re running a fleet of laptops, you do need monitors.

Fortunately, decent LCD models (which take up less space and are easier on the eyes) don’t cost much more than a couple of hundred dollars each these days. If all you need from a monitor are the bare essentials, a good refurbished CRT model can be had for less than $50.

Scanners: This is an example of something that was once a luxury item, but is now within everyone’s price range. Baseline flatbed scanners seldom surpass the three-figure price range, and while it might seem like a frivolity at first, it won’t if you find yourself having to spend hours manually keying in a text document because no electronic version of it exists. As scanners have dropped in price, specialized types (such as sheet-fed scanners, handheld models, and business-card scanners) have cropped up. But even if it’s something you use only a few times a year, a basic scanner (such as HP’s Scanjet 3670, which runs about $80) quickly pays for itself.

Printers: No peripheral needs to be more exactly tailored to its owner than a printer. You might grind out one memo a week, or you might generate dozens of high-res photo prints each day, and where you fall on that spectrum might mean a budget difference of thousands of dollars–not even counting consumables. But printers are a category in which many offices tend to overreach, shelling out for a $1,400 color printer when all they need is a good, dependable laserjet model.

The typical office generates tons of plain old monochrome documents, and what they need is a sturdy laser model such as the Konica Minolta PagePro 1350W ($160 street). Laser printers are built for high-volume black-and-white jobs, while inkjet models are solid for low-cost, low-volume color printing. Many small businesses are taking advantage of pricing trends and springing for both.

Storage: Storage is a multi-tentacled beast, with a dozen different varieties and formats from which to pick, from 200GB portable hard drives on down. Fortunately, storage and storage media have never been cheaper, and so there’s no need to pick just one format. Flash drives have replaced floppies (and, in many cases, ZIP and JAZ drives) as the vehicle of choice when doing the sneaker-net routine of transferring files too big to e-mail, while in many offices, CD-R drives are taking over the back-up chores formerly held by complicated tape drives.

Carefully equip your office with only the storage tools you really need now, because when the time comes to upgrade, it’s almost certain that what’s needed then will be cheaper than it is today.

Projectors: For most business, projectors are dazzling but irrelevant (and expensive) toys. But prices are dropping; a decent SVGA projector (such as Sharp’s PG-B10S) can be had for less than $600. If you dazzle clients with PowerPoint presentations, or if you do any in-house video training, it’s no doubt worth it to splurge on a decent projector.

Speakers: Yeah, they’re cheap–usually no more than $30 for a decent pair. But unless audio is a part of your business (or unless you do some hardcore gaming after work), dedicated computer speakers are still a luxury. If speakers came bundled with your PC, odds are they’ll do just fine for everyday use.

Input devices: Of course, everyone on your staff needs the basics–mice and keyboards. But here’s a category on which few business owners splurge, and more should. Input devices are light-years beyond their rickety forefathers, and all that progress and innovation has barely caused a bump in prices.

When keyboard shopping, consider models that are antimicrobial and ergonomically sound. Think about an optical mouse to cut down on cord tangles. And if you’re in the idea business, look into a USB digital tablet that can transfer your handwritten notes and sketches to your PC. Wacom’s $200 Intuos3 tablet comes with its own pen and mouse, and is Photoshop-compatible.

Networking gear: If you’re running more than one PC, there’s no longer any excuse for not networking them. That’s how cheap and easy the process has gotten. If you want to keep things simple in a small office, look for an all-in-one networking device, such as WebPoint’s 500 four-port Broadband Sharing Gateway. An item like this should provide you with a built-in print server, COM ports for Internet connections, and a secure firewall, all for around a hundred bucks.

All-in-ones: Multifunction peripherals combine a print, scanning, copying, and fax functions. Conventional wisdom has long held that not many MFPs do each job as well as a dedicated peripheral does, but that’s not always the case anymore. And in the case where space or budget constraints are dictating your choices, they’re a nice option to have. Lexmark makes a specialty of MFPs, and offers models ranging in price from less than $100 to more than $10,000.

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