Equipping Your Home Office - Part 2

by : Vishal P. Rao

In Part 1 of this article we discussed how to select office furnishings and why making the right choices were crucial to your comfort and ability to remain organized. In Part 2 we will take a look at your basic home office equipment needs.

1. Computers

The type of computer that's best for you depends upon the type of work that you do, and whether you spend all of your time in your home office, or go out on the road to meet clients. While there are a seemingly endless choice of makes and models, there are essentially only three basic choices.

For most home office situations, the desktop computer reigns supreme. However, if you are on the road a lot then you can find notebook computers with nearly the same horsepower as the best desktop. If you do choose a notebook, the consider one that has an available docking station. That way, when you are in your home office, you can easily use a standard keyboard, mouse, and monitor.

Even if you have a desktop or notebook, you might have room in your life for a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). PDAs, such as those from Palm Computing, can be a very valuable personal productivity tool especially if you need real-time access to your appointments, to-do lists, and phone numbers. With the growing popularity of wireless Internet access you can even use your PDA to connect to your home office computer no matter where you are.

2. Printers

Your first decision is what type of technology to go with --laser or ink jet. Laser printers use a toner cartridge/drum assembly while ink jets accept ink tank cartridges. Lasers are generally better for high-volume printing and have higher duty cycles--the manufacturer's rating for the unit's recommended monthly workload. Lasers also produce better-quality black text than most ink jets, though some ink-jet models rival low-end lasers.

Lasers are also faster than ink jets, but ink jets offer a lower cost model if you need to print in color. Color laser printers are still very expensive. Since the prices for laser and ink jets are so low, you could consider buying one of each.

Another important item to consider is resolution. A printer's resolution determines the overall print quality of your documents. Resolution means the number of dots per inch that appear on the page as a horizontal and vertical measurement such as 600 x 600 dots-per-inch or dpi. A 600 x 600 dpi resolution produces adequate quality for most projects.

Your final deciding factor is speed. While printers rarely perform up to the manufacturer's claims, you should still use the printer's posted performance specifications as a guideline. An acceptable speed for personal laser printers is around 6 to 10 pages per minute. An acceptable range for ink jet printers is 4 ppm or above.

There are printers that do double, triple, or even quadruple duty as a fax, copier, and scanner as well. You should consider buying one of these models if you have a need for all of this equipment.

3. Internet access

Today you have a wide choice of Internet access protocols. If you access the Internet only to check your email, and browse the web a bit, then you might be able to get by with an inexpensive dial-up account. This type of access generally runs around $9.95 per month and up.

If constant, high-speed Internet access is a requirement for your home office business, then you need to step up to either Digital subscriber lines (DSL), or a cable modem. Both provide sufficient speed for any type of business that you are likely to run out of a home office.

DSL utilizes unused bandwidth on your existing telephone lines to provide a constant connection, while cable modems use your existing cable television network. DSL may not be available in your area. It depends upon your telephone company's technology and how far you are from a DSL access point.

Cable, on the other hand, is available in all but the most remote markets. Still, if you can't get either, then there is always the possibility of a satellite uplink. While this was considered extravagant only a few years ago, it's affordable and no more trouble than installing a small dish antenna on your home and signing up for the service.

4. Telephones

No matter how high-tech your home office is, the telephone is still the most basic and essential of your business tools. Available features are at an all-time high and prices are at an all time low. Almost any home office phone on the market comes equipped with programmable speed-dial numbers, multiple-line capability, speakerphone operation, conference call capability, and headset jacks. In addition, your local phone company offers a wide array of add-on services such as called id, voice mail, flat-rate long distance and more.

If your work keeps you up and around your home office, or if you like to take business calls while out on your patio or while walking around your home, then a cordless phone is a joy to have. There are so many makes and models to choose from that it almost seems like you need a consultant to help you make the right choice. It's not really that hard. Just keep the following in mind:

a) Choose the right technology

Avoid analog phones at all costs. Analog phones are susceptible to interference from other devices and range is very limited. Also, analog phones permit eavesdropping through baby monitors and other cordless phones.

Digital phones have greater range than analog phones plus they offer better call privacy through the use of random codes that scramble communications between handset and base unit.

Digital Spread Spectrum (DSS) is the best of breed for right now. The Spread Spectrum technology uses multiple channels and frequency hopping to thoroughly scramble communicate between the handset and base unit. You also get increased range due to decreased electrical interference, plus DSS phones are permitted to use more powerful transmitters.

b) Frequency

The range of your cordless phone also depends upon its assigned radio frequency. Most home office phones fall into three frequencies.

900 MHz: This is by far the worst choice. This frequency is crowded with devices such as baby monitors, pagers, and cell phones, and is subject to maximum interference. A 900-MHz phone has a range of around 1,500 feet and prices start at $20.

2.4 GHz: While once the best choice available, the 2.4-GHz spectrum is overrun with wireless networking, microwaves, and other devices. A 2.4-GHz phone has a range of 2,200 feet and pricing starts around $50.

5.8 GHz: This is the latest unlicensed spectrum available for wireless devices. Very few devices operate in this spectrum so there is a marked reduction in interference. A 5.8-GHz phone also boasts a range of around 2,200 feet and start at about $150.

c) Other considerations

Make sure that any phone you select has a headset jack, and then invest in a headset. There is nothing worse than cradling your phone on your shoulder while you consult your files or try to type something on your keyboard. A headset frees both hands while you talk.

Don't forget to take a look at your potential phone's battery life as well. Most cordless phones offer at least four hours of talk time and seven days of standby. Make sure that your phone uses replaceable battery packs, and that the battery packs are widely available.

One last thought. Cordless phones are useless without power, so always keep a regular corded phone handy for blackout emergencies.

In Summary

There is a lot more to equipping an efficient home office than first meets the eye. Hopefully this two-part series gets you going in the right direction. Chances are everything that you buy for your home office is tax deductible. Check with your accountant to be sure.

? Vishal P. Rao