As the use of computers has moved from competitive advantage to competitive requirement for any small business, the dependency upon everyday computing tools such as PCs, the Internet, the mobile phone, has grown to unprecedented levels. Think about what your business day would look like if you had no access to your computer, no access to the Internet, and no access to your mobile phone. Few small businesses would truly be able to operate under these circumstances.

It is absolutely paramount for all businesses to consider investments in technology at the same level of any other structural business investment, and rely upon “business grade” products rather than making do with consumer-oriented tools.

An area where the differences between consumer and business product lines are very remarkable is the PC market. Not all PCs, in fact, are equally suited for business purposes and the choice of hardware you make could mean the survival or demise of your business. In this two-part column, I will review the five essential areas of differentiation between consumer-oriented and business-oriented PCs, offering practical guidelines for your next business PC purchase.

Today’s PC are, in general, affordable and powerful. Software is becoming cheaper and the choices are incredible. What is not always evident, though, is that consumer PCs are designed with emphasis on entertainment and multimedia capabilities, but not necessarily built to guarantee the consistent levels of reliability, security, manageability, and computing power that businesses need.

Reliability is essential for business

A business PC must be as reliable as possible. Imagine if you were ready to make that key presentation to your investors and your laptop did not turn on.

The most delicate part of a PC, be it a laptop or a desktop, is still the hard disk drive (HDD). With its magnetic plates spinning sometimes at more than 10,000 revolutions per minute (rpm) and minuscule reading heads hovering at fractions of a millimeter above the disks, the likelihood of malfunction is actually quite high, making it the most common element of failure. In laptops, due to the shaking and small impacts they frequently have to absorb, HDDs are even more prone to stop working.

Replacing a failed HDD can be very time consuming and often comes with substantial loss of data. Imagine reinstalling the operating system, all the software, and restoring your data from the backup -- providing you do have a back up.

Business-grade PCs today offer a feature called “Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks” (better known as RAID) that provides great protection from HDD failures. RAID has been very common in servers for many years, and it is now affordable enough to be a must-have feature in PCs. In its most basic configuration -- called mirroring -- RAID allows the computer to write the same data concurrently and identically on two HDDs. If one of them fails at any time, the PC continues to operate seamlessly with only one drive. When the failed drive is replaced, the system automatically copies back the information on the new drive, restoring the original configuration. Simple, effective, inexpensive, fast.

Higher levels of security built in

It is a day just like any other: wake up early to get ready for the Wednesday conference call with the East Coast, brush your teeth while the familiar aroma of the brewing coffee is starting to pervade your pad. A glimpse at your desk, though, tells you that something is not how it should be: you’re quite sure you left your computer on last night, but now it’s off. Press the “ON” button and there it is, the blue screen of death and the iconic message of doom: “can’t find bootable media.”  Your heart sinks, and your day is magically gone.

You spend an hour trying to make sense of what has happened, calling the help desk, cancelling your appointments, only to realize that during the night a virus has entirely erased your hard disk and before doing that has sent itself to all addresses in your contact book. Double hit: lost all your data and made lots of people angry! The Seattle proposal, your contacts, the project plans, your clients information, even your kids pictures were all on your hard disk and now they are gone. Gone for good! What about the backup? Well, it never made it off the “to do list.”

To limit the chances for this doomsday scenario, it is of course paramount to have up to date anti-virus and anti-spam software installed, plus a good backup routine. The last generation of PCs designed for business, like the ones based on Intel’s vPro platform, can provide a higher level of security directly built into the hardware, capable to isolate malignant software code before it reaches even the operating system. This does not replace anti-virus software, but dramatically enhances the likelihood to catch malware before it strikes.

In the second part of this article, which will publish next week, I will review how PCs designed for business use offer overall more productive computer experience, better manageability. and simpler maintenance. I will also go over the newest features offered in more mobile business-oriented laptops.

Andrea Peiro is a recognized authority, author, analyst and speaker on high-tech marketing and use of information technology in small and mid-sized businesses. He has been frequently interviewed and featured in such media outlets as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Inc. He can be reached at