Buying computers? Demand RAM, value

Buying a bunch of computers for your organization? Don't pass up this advice from a Gartner analyst who recommends you buy RAM and service from your OEM.

Every network user wants a desktop rocket, flat-screen monitor, and more hard drive space than Captain Kirk and Spock could ever explore at the speed of light.

When your coworkers come to you and describe the desktop of their dreams, here’s what you should do: Just tell them “No!”

That's in line with some recent recommendations from Gartner analyst Kevin Knox.

At a recent Gartner seminar and in a subsequent interview, Knox discussed what you should do if you are facing a major purchase of computers for your organization. Among his recommendations:
  • Remember Moore’s Law, but question its benefits on performance choices.
  • Look at original equipment manufacturers as vendors and ask what services they can provide for you if you choose them.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse
One of the founders of Intel, Gordon Moore, predicted in 1965 that the transistor density of semiconductor chips would double roughly every 18 months. This prediction is known as Moore’s Law.

Knox said that has proven to be accurate over time, but its effect has diminished in recent years.

“The biggest [impact of the diminished effect] is that for the majority of mainstream users, IT can focus on the entry level of the Pentium III processor line, rather than buying up the curve for investment protection,” Knox said. “So while they might be buying 500 Mhz today, once that processor is no longer available, they can start buying the new lowest Pentium III available (i.e., 550 Mhz).

“This is a relatively safe way to significantly reduce capital expenditures for PCs without increasing risk.”

In other words, most users in your organization don't have software that benefits significantly from the fastest processors—so most organizations can save lots of money by buying for the 80 percent of their employees who don’t need the powerhouse chips.

This also means that, depending on your equipment financing and accounting and depreciation methods, the equipment could expand your replacement cycle from the typical 36 months to 48 for most systems, Knox said.

What about the bells and whistles?
Resist the urge—and your users' patent pleas—to get the fastest and biggest.

“Larger disk drives are rarely worth the additional capital expenditure,” he said, adding that most users are using less than half their hard drive capacity now. “Ride down the price curve.”

And forget the flat screens for now, the analyst said. They’ll be much more affordable in a few years.

However, one thing you should do when you buy your next batch of PCs: Get plenty of RAM installed from the start. Most applications benefit from additional RAM, Knox said, and it's best to get it when you buy the machines because opening the box after purchase for upgrades is more costly. RAM is cheap right now, at roughly $1 per megabyte.

Expect more from your OEM vendor
One dynamic in the computer-buying process is that many of the major OEMs are becoming direct vendors to companies, following the Dell and Gateway computers model, Knox said.

“The desktop is quickly moving toward commoditization,” he said. “Things like quality, reliability, and performance are the ante to get to the table.”

If you look in the box, many of the components are the same or feature only marginal performance differences.

“Manageability and services are the differentiation in today's market,” Knox said. “They are also the best way to reduce [total cost of ownership] within any desktop environment.”

Large companies can spend as much as 15 percent more on their PC purchases if they don’t take advantage of services such as system image burn-ins, asset tagging, and custom configurations, he said. Buyers should look at what manageability tools, installation, setup tools, and lifecycle services vendors are willing to provide.
Gartner is the world authority for IT research. Because of our relationship with Gartner (TechRepublic is a subsidiary of Gartner), we're your online resource for Gartner research and analysis. To see more Gartner research, click here.
Find the fit
One way to classify potential vendors in the marketplace is to relate them to where your company and their company fit into a tier system, according to Knox. The analyst describes a three-tier scenario:

The enterprise tier: Includes companies like Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM for desktop machines. These companies can handle large-volume purchases and multinational distributions and support, and all have mature major account programs.

The middle tier: Includes companies for desktop purchases like Acer, Fujitsu-Siemens, Gateway, Micron, and NEC. According to Knox, they're fine for national, regional, or country-specific deployments more limited in geographic or segment breadth than the enterprise tier.

The specialty or segment-focused tier: Includes vendors that have products with market- or application-specific deployments. An example would be Panasonic, which might be a great vendor for a company that needs rugged notebooks in an industrial situation, but which he wouldn’t recommend for a company looking to buy 500 notebooks for its mainstream users, Knox said.
Have you had to buy a large number of desktop computers lately? Did you find a good deal? What was the best thing about your vendor? Post a comment below or send us a note.

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