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10 essential ingredients of a killer Windows 8 business PC

To get the most out of Windows 8, you need hardware designed to take full advantage of the unique capabilities the new OS has to offer.

Windows 8 is here. In form and functionality, the new flagship operating system is the most dramatic makeover of Windows since its inception. Windows 8 was developed from the ground up with a touch-enabled interface that works best when tapped and swiped. Under the hood, the same old Windows is still present, but the Modern UI and the Windows Store shift the focus to mobile.

A survey conducted by the tech support services provider iYogi found that one-third of small businesses are considering switching to Windows 8. iYogi also learned that 38 percent of the respondents currently using iPads for business are exploring Windows 8 tablet options.

The launch of Windows 8 will bring an avalanche of new hardware, too. A number of diverse models have already become available, including traditional desktops and laptops, all-in-one touchscreen PCs, Ultrabooks (with and without touchscreens), tablets, and hybrid tablet/ultraportable products. For some small businesses, the options can be confusing and overwhelming.

Is it time to invest in new PC hardware for your company? Regardless of whether you wish to move to Windows 8 right now, it makes sense to begin purchasing hardware that's at least Windows 8 compatible.

Look for the following features and capabilities in any new hardware you buy for your business, so that you can get the most out of Windows 8 when the time comes to install the OS on legacy machines.

1. Touch support

Microsoft built Windows 8 with touch in mind. The Modern UI (formerly known as Metro) is a colorful collection of tiles and apps designed to be tapped and swiped. You can interact with Windows 8 using a traditional keyboard and mouse, but that isn't ideal. Any new hardware you buy should support ten-point multitouch gesture control if you want to use Windows 8 to its fullest potential.

That said, some people find using touchscreens on notebooks and desktop displays to be awkward and unnatural. If you fall in this camp, a laptop with a touchpad, or a touchpad peripheral combined with a desktop or laptop, will allow you to interact with Windows 8 as intended.

2. Horsepower

Hardware specs are always a prime consideration when you're buying a new computer. The number of processor cores, the speed of the processor, the amount of RAM, and whether the machine carries a discrete graphics processor all play important roles in the overall performance of a PC.

Here's some good news for the performance-deprived: According to Microsoft, the Windows 8 hardware requirements are exceptionally meager. You can get by with a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and a graphics card compatible with DirectX 9. So you can run Windows 8 smoothly on existing Windows 7 hardware, or put together a snappy Windows 8 system on a shoestring budget.

For most average users, pretty much any PC that meets Microsofts Windows Hardware Certification requirements (and bears a "certified for Windows 8" logo) will suffice. But if you will use your business PC for more processor- or memory-intensive tasks, such as video editing or 3D modeling, dont skimp on horsepowerchoose a system with a more powerful processor, such as a quad-core Intel Core i7.

3. Storage

Although the on-board storage capacity of your Windows 8 machine might become less important if you routinely keep data on SkyDrive, storage needs still vary widely from business to business. It all boils down to how you plan to use your hardware on a day-to-day basis.

Most users will probably be fine with the standard-issue 500GB hard drive that comes in most baseline Windows 8 desktop PCs. However, if your workflow involves content-creation tasks such as video production and photo editing, that 500GB might fill up quickly with massive files. If you need to store data locally to present and share files with customers, your PC should have a drive capable of accommodating thator youll require an additional drive.

This consideration is extremely important, given SkyDrive's native limitations: Free storage for new users tops out at 7GB (though you can always purchase more capacity), and file-size limits could affect how you use the service. Microsoft limits you to a 300MB maximum file size for drag-and-drop browser uploads, and to a 2GB maximum file size when you use the SkyDrive desktop app.

4. Battery

So much of Windows 8 focuses on mobility, so the battery life of the devices you purchase will be key. As a rule, users who travel or work remotely should be able to work through the day on a single charge, or close to it.

Vendors often overstate battery life, claiming 9 hours or more. With real-world useconnecting to the Internet, surfing the Web, checking email, and getting stuff donemost leading Ultrabooks are good for about 6 to 7 hours.

Intel says laptops and tablets running its new Clover Trail processors for Windows 8 will get up to 10 hours of battery life. ARM-based tablets running Windows RT are said to offer about the same. Bottom line: Pay close attention to PCWorld's battery-rundown tests if battery life is a paramount concern for your Windows 8 business PC. Also be on the lookout for devices with user-replaceable batteries, such as the Dell Latitude 10.

5. Portability 

A difference of a pound or two doesnt sound like much on a spec sheet, but that extra weight makes a big difference to your back after you've lugged a laptop around all day. If you plan to transport your Windows 8 PC from work to home and back again, or if you frequently work at 35,000 feet, the size and weight really matter.

There's a trade-off as well, though. An 11-inch Ultrabook is lighter and more travel-friendly than a 17-inch laptop, but the 11-incher has a substantially smaller display, and probably less local storage capacity, not to mention fewer ports and a lack of peripherals such as optical drives. You need to choose the most portable PC that still provides the features and capabilities you need.

Ultrabooks range in weight from about 2.5 pounds to more than 4 pounds. Most fall somewhere in the middle, at around 3 pounds. Of course, if you want a truly lightweight mobile computing device, you can use a Windows 8 tablet. The Surface RT weighs a feathery 1.5 pounds and is a serviceable machine for Microsoft Office, but it doesn't have the screen size and flexibility for serious content-creation work.

6. Connections

Do you use devices that connect via FireWire? Do you need an SD memory card slot to transfer images from your camera to your PC? Does your monitor connect through a standard VGA cable or via HDMI? Do you have USB 3.0 peripherals? The available ports vary from one device to the next, so you need to consider all of the devices you might want to connect to the PC, and then choose hardware with the ports that meet your needs.

Windows 8 tablet models, such as Microsoft's Surface RT, generally have more standard ports and connectivity options than Android tablets do, and certainly more than the iPad does. The Surface RT boasts a standard USB port, a Micro HDMI port, and a MicroSD slot. Pay attention, though, to details such as USB 2.0 versus USB 3.0. While USB 2.0 has a maximum data transfer rate of 480 mbps, USB 3.0 is more than 10 times faster, with maximum data throughput of 5 gbps.

7. Networking

Before buying any hardware, consider how you wish to connect to your network or the Internet. For wired connections, you might need a gigabit ethernet adapter; for wireless networks, you may want 802.11n or even 802.11ac capabilities.

Part of the unique appeal of Windows 8 lies in Ultrabooks and tablets that are designed to be used from virtually anywhere. Mobile professionals may need to be able to access information while they're out and about, in which case 3G or 4G broadband access will come in handy. Tablets and Ultrabooks that offer 3G or 4G connectivity as an option, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad 2, do exist, but they are much less common than Wi-Fi-only devices. Of course, mobile hotspots and USB dongles are available to connect Windows 8 devices, so its not imperative that a wireless radio be built in.

8. Durability

When youre carrying around a mobile PC for mission-critical business tasks, you need it to survive a bump or two. You dont necessarily need a tank (like something from the Panasonic Toughbook line), but you should consider the conditions you'll use your PC in, and avoid choosing hardware thats prone to cracking or breaking.

Microsoft went out of its way to engineer the Surface RT tablet for durability, and company representatives like to drop them on the ground to prove that point every chance they get. That said, we don't think the Surface RT's kickstand, however durable it may seem, will survive much abuse. Like all moving parts, it's susceptible to a certain degree of failure.

Aside from the physical device itself, another factor to consider is the durability of the storage in your Windows 8 machine. Traditional hard drives can be irrevocably damaged from a sudden fall, while the flash memory in tablets, or the solid-state drive storage commonly found in Ultrabooks, is much more resilient.

9. Security

Security is a big issue for business PCsespecially portable ones. Your hardware should be equipped with UEFI to take advantage of Windows 8 Secure Boot, as well as a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip for effective use of the BitLocker drive encryption in Windows 8.

You also might want a fingerprint scanner or some other biometric feature built in to the PC for stronger, two-factor authentication. This arrangement can prevent unauthorized access and protect sensitive data on the PC.

Dell's new Latitude 10 Windows 8 tablet goes one step further by incorporating a slot for a removable security card. The tablet will display your (potentially sensitive) business data only after reading your personal user card.

10. Flexibility

One thing thats new to the world of Windows 8 is the concept of the hybrid. Since Windows 8 is engineered for touch, a slew of Windows 8 tablet models are on the horizon. Many of them, however, combine the benefits of a tablet and an ultraportable, giving users the flexibility to use Windows 8 more effectively in assorted scenarios.

I asked Onuora Amobi, editor of Windows8Update, for his opinion on these unique Windows 8 hardware options. I think that hybrid PCs and hybrid Ultrabooks will do very well, Amobi says. Being able to sit down with a PC keyboard in your office, and then being able to detach the screen (as a tablet) and take that to a meeting, will be very tough for Apple to respond to.


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