Low-cost PCs could offer path to the future

Analysts advise businesses to buy low-end PCs now and replace them later rather than investing in high-end machines in an attempt...

Analysts advise businesses to buy low-end PCs now and replace them later rather than investing in high-end machines in an attempt to future-proof hardware

Businesses have been urged to take advantage of falling PC prices to buy low-spec hardware , rather than paying a premium for "future-proof" machines.

Many PC manufacturers are offering business desktops with good specifications for less than £350. Analysts have said prices at these levels should prompt IT departments to consider whether it is worth buying high-end models with a longer life when PCs can be replaced so cheaply.

Analyst firm Forrester has recommended that users hold off purchasing the future-proof hardware needed to run the Longhorn version of Windows, which is still being developed by Microsoft and is not due to be launched until 2006.

Simon Yates, senior analyst at Forrester Research, said, "Despite the willingness of firms to upgrade hardware to Longhorn, this is not best practice. Instead, firms should buy PCs for the next 12 months with the idea they will be replaced by a new machine running Longhorn when the time comes."

The advice comes at a time when manufacturers are encouraging firms to prepare to move to platforms such as Microsoft’s Longhorn operating system, or processors that can address 64-bit memory (x64), even though the software to take full advantage of them does not exist yet.

IT service provider Computacenter is recommending that businesses that want some degree of future-proofing standardise on 2.5GHz Pentium 4 PCs with 512Mbytes of Ram and 40Gbyte hard drives.

"If you are looking to run Longhorn, the main thing it will need is a good graphics card with a minimum 128Mbyte Ram," said Peter McCartney, Microsoft business manager at Computacenter’s consultancy practice.

Companies will continue to buy high-end machines for certain users, said analysts. As well as power-users, IT staff and users of graphics-intensive applications, many secretarial staff are using high-spec machines, said Gartner analyst Brian Gammage.

"Power in the PC is no longer equated to power in the organisation," he said.

Are ‘disposable’ PCs the way ahead?

PCs priced at less than £350 are in demand by UK businesses and carry a specification that meets Microsoft’s basic requirements for running Windows XP and Microsoft Office.

This raises the question of whether PCs can be used as disposable pieces of equipment, which employees simply plug in, to reduce the workload of IT staff.

Several network and application management features exist which can allow a PC to be plugged into the network and run with minimum IT involvement.

Examples of these features include Wake-on-Lan, which can activate a PC over the network, network-based storage and automatic installation of a PC image (operating system and applications).

Cheap PC buys

  • Dell Optiplex 170L - £219

Intel Celeron D 2.4GHz-based PC, 128Mbytes of memory, 40Gbyte hard disc and CD-Rom (no monitor)

  • IBM Thinkcentre A50 - £240

Intel Celeron D 2.5GHz-based PC with 128Mbytes of memory and 40Gbyte hard disc (no monitor)

  • HP PE199ET - £303

TFT display, Celeron 325 processor, 256Mbytes of memory and 40Gbyte hard disc.

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