With broadband allowing streaming of videos, the capability of playing mp3 files (for music as well as lectures and information-rich podcasts), being able to play DVDs on most computers and to take advantage of Voice over IP (VoIP) technology, it is a good idea to make sure your PC has a sound card.
Most PCs will come with a sound card built in to the motherboard and for 99% of users this should be sufficient. If your computer does not come with a built in sound card then a separate PCI sound card can be purchased for as little as £5.00!
A sound card will usually give you a line in, line out and mic in ports to allow you to connect up speakers and also route sound into your PC to allow you to talk using applications such as Skype or other VoIP packages or record external sounds in digital format onto your PC.
USB and FireWire ports
A huge amount of gadgets are available to plug into your PC, printers, scanners, portable storage devices, your mobile phone / PDA can synchronise with your e-mail and calendar set up, digital cameras, graphics tablets, portable audio devices and a lot more! All of these need to connect to your PC and the vast majority of them use USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports.
With the ever growing range of devices available to you it is a good idea to make sure your PC has several USB ports, preferably one port for each device you intend to use with the PC to make sure you do not have to keep crawling under your desk to unplug and plug in devices.
If you find you are running out of USB ports then USB hubs can be purchased to turn one port into many but if you run many data hungry devices through one hub you will find that the speed of data transfer will be affected.
If you are looking to use video cameras or copy large amounts of any type of data from a portable device to your PC it could be worth looking into using FireWire rather than USB where possible. FireWire, also known as IEEE 1394, can provide data transfer rates above the capabilities of USB.
FireWire ports are less common on PCs so if you have a device capable of connecting using this protocol then the best option may be to purchase a FireWire PCI card and fit this into your motherboard.
If you are working from home then at some point or other you will need a printer and the level of choice in this department is staggering. The best choice for you will depend on how often you print, the number of pages in the documents you print and also whether some of the bundled extras on today’s printers will be of use to you.
If you only intend to print off invoices and receipts then a simple Inkjet printer should be fine. Simple printers can be purchased for £20 upwards. When buying a printer, take the following into consideration:
• Speed – PPM indicates pages per minute, often there is a value for black and white and colour.
• Replacement cartridges. The cost can vary greatly between models and manufacturers so check out the cost of new cartridges before committing to a purchase.
• The make – unheard of brands may be cheap but how easily can you get replacement cartridges and what support can you get in the event of technical failure?
• Noise. If possible ask to try some test pages before buying, some printers are terribly noisy and if your offices are near children’s bedrooms then a quieter printer can be of huge benefit!
If you are printing out large documents or intend to use your printer for direct mail marketing or larger jobs of any kind then you will need to look into purchasing a laser printer. The main points above are still valid so use these variables to narrow down your decision.
Multi function printers have made a big impact in the market over the last few years, printers combining scanners, fax machines, photo printers and more can be found and can come in very handy. A multi function printer may allow you to use it like a photocopier if a scanner is attached and having a scanner and printer in one box can save valuable office space.
Network interfaces and Modems
You will more than likely need to connect your PC to the Internet, this is either done by connecting a single PC using a modem or by joining the PC to a network where an Internet connection is shared with more than one PC in your office.
If you have a single PC then the chances are that your ADSL or cable broadband provider will supply a USB modem or cable modem to enable you to connect to the Internet. Nothing more than a spare USB port on your PC will be needed.
If you plan to have more than one PC using your Internet connection then make sure your PC comes with a network interface (known as an RJ45 port) or if you want to have a tidy office with no cables then you will need to buy a wireless network adapter. These usually come as PCI cards but USB adapters are also available but may not have the range or performance of PCI versions.
Also consider buying an old style dial up modem if you really need your Internet connection to always be there. It is rare that broadband services fail but without an old-style modem you will have no way of connecting to the Internet. Please see out article on choosing an ISP for more information on making sure you have a backup connection.
CD / DVD Drives
Your PC should come with either a CD or DVD drive, at the cost of these devices you would be foolish not to get a drive that was not capable of also creating (known as “burning”) discs. A good DVD burner (capable of reading and creating DVD format discs) can be purchased for less than £30. A DVD drive will allow you to watch DVDs at your PC, good for training and promotional items as well as leisure, and also to create your own discs for backup purposes which we will discuss in greater detail in a forthcoming article.
Choosing a PC Part 1
Choosing a PC Part 2
Working from home - Choosing a PC part 3 – Other peripherals