The Perfect IT Setup for Home Business – Part 1 of 3: HardwareSeptember 30th, 2006 3 Comments
When you run a home office or home business, you’re pretty much on your own when it comes to IT. Without the luxury of an ‘IT budget’, you have to choose, install, test, configure, maintain and troubleshoot all of your own computer hardware and software – all by yourself – not to mention your website.
Yes, the Internet is a great source of information, but there’s precious little out there that covers everything you want to know. Most articles stick to one particular technology, so getting guidance on your entire office IT suite is next to impossible.
At least, that’s how I found it. I run a copywriting company from home, and it took me five years to get my computer technologies just the way I want them. And now that I’m there, I figured I’d share my setup, so that others don’t have to spend as long figuring things out as I did!s
This series of articles describes a combination of computer hardware and peripherals that will maximise the efficiency of your workplace (whether you’re in copywriting or any other field). It also discusses how to secure your computer and recover from disasters. And, finally, it takes a look at a few of the vast array of miscellaneous software applications and service providers that will help you in your day-to-day operations.
First, your IT hardware…
I’m not going to delve into the intricacies of what kind of computer to buy or which operating system to install. I’m a mere copywriter, so I’m not qualified to offer that sort of advice; and I suspect most people reading this article will be well beyond that point, anyway. Instead, I’ll assume you have a decent PC with a fairly new version of Windows (like Windows XP), and I’ll focus on some technologies that will allow you to do more with the PC you already have.
If you own a Mac, some of the below may still apply, but I can’t say for sure, as I’ve never worked with a Mac.
Internet Connectivity (ADSL only)
If you’re on ADSL1 (in Australia), one of the best modems you can own is the Thomson SpeedTouch 546v6. This is especially true if you’re quite a distance from the telephone exchange. The SpeedTouch 546 deals well with high attenuation (which is a side-effect of living a long way from the exchange). Apparently it uses the same brand of hardware that Telstra uses in its telephone exchanges.
The other benefit of the 546 is that you can use it to connect multiple computers to the Internet (it’s got 4 network ports on the back).
Note that the 546 is optimised for ADSL2+. Some people have found the older SpeedTouch 530 delivers faster speeds because it’s optimised for ADSL1. Read a detailed discussion. Note that I own both, and this is not the case for me. My 546 is faster than my 530.
TIP: If you’re after a good Internet Service Provider (ISP) for a copywriter or any other home business, I recommend Axiom Information Technology (they guarantee to beat any other advertised price in Australia!).
Whether you use a multi-port modem or a switch, it’s really just a case of plugging everything in and turning it on. (Unless you’re using firewall software, in which case you’ll also have to configure your firewall to allow your computers and modem to talk to each other. To do this, you’ll have to know the IP addresses of each.)
No matter how big your computer’s hard drive, it’s only a matter of time until you run out of space. External USB hard drives are a quick and easy way to increase your storage capacity without having to upgrade your computer’s internal hard drive (or your computer).
What’s more, they’re portable, which makes them great if you sometimes work on a client-site or you simply want to back up your computer’s hard drive and store the backup somewhere safe (see Part 2 of this series for a detailed discussion of backup and restore).
Assuming you buy one that’s already formatted and comes with a case and cables, Windows will recognise it as soon as you plug it into a USB port. TIP: Make sure you buy a powered USB hard drive (i.e. one that has its own power cord). In my experience, the ones that run off the computer’s power are never as reliable. If you’re in Australia, you can get a 320GB USB drive + case for around AUD $150 at Axiom Information Technology. Actually, these little beauties are coming down in price so quickly that by the time you read this, they’ll be a lot cheaper!
Printer & fax – Every office needs a printer and fax, and no explanation is really required as to why. There’s a lot of fancy stuff out there, but I’ve always found that it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money unless you have very specific needs. The only advice I can offer in this regard is to ensure you don’t buy a really cheap printer that requires really expensive ink cartridges. (If you’re in Australia, go to Choice and see if there are any comparisons that include lifespan cost. This is how I made my most recent choice.)
Scanner – It’s surprising how many times a scanner comes in handy – even for a copywriter, like me, who doesn’t deal in graphics very often. I’ve used mine to scan invoices because clients couldn’t open the original PDF, to scan and send photos or articles, to scan printed samples of my work and post it on my online portfolio, and for a host of other things. It’s nothing fancy, just an old HP flat-bed scanner. A bit slow to warm up, but does the job.
Powered USB hubs – Most devices these days are USB. Unfortunately, most computers only come with a few USB ports. Especially laptops. Mine’s only got 3 USB ports, and I’ve got about 10 USB devices! (Long gone are the days when a copywriter could get by with just a word-processor!) Fortunately, if you run out of ports, there’s no need to buy a new computer; you can simply buy a USB hub. I’ve got a 7 port USB hub and a 4 port. I plug the 7 port one into one of my computer’s USB ports, and voila! I’ve got another 7 USB ports. Then I plug the 4 port one into one of the ports on the 7 port hub! Now my computer has not 3, but 10 USB ports! Oh, and it’s also advisable to buy powered USB hubs (i.e. ones that have their own power cord). This way, you can plug things like USB hard drives into them without any problems.
USB adapters for laptops – Now that everything’s USB, you may find that you’re a little short on the old types of connectors on your laptop (for traditional printers and old keyboards and mice, etc.). Fortunately, you can get a whole range of nifty adapters that will allow you to plug your older devices into a USB port on your computer. If you’re in Australia, check out Mittoni – they have a good range of affordable goodies.
By incorporating the above collection of hardware devices into your office IT setup, you’ll be able to do much more with your existing computer, and you’ll be able to do it efficiently.
For information on how to secure your computer against external threats and ensure you can bounce back from disaster, please see part 2 of this series. For information on a few of the vast array of miscellaneous software applications and service providers that will help you in your day-to-day operations, please see part 3 of this series.
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