All Computers Are Not Created Equal

When it comes time to purchase computers, businesses may be tempted to go to their local technology retail store or favorite online retailer and buy whatever seems to be a good deal. This is a mistake that many businesses make, and one that most soon regret. It may not be common knowledge, but there is a very clear and intentional difference between a residential grade (aka “consumer grade”) computer and a business grade (aka “enterprise grade”) computer. This difference becomes more apparent once you understand the intent.

Intended Use

The simplest way to explain the different between residential and business grade computers is to consider their intended uses. A residential computer is intended for someone to use at home for 2-3 hours per day with light to medium duty workloads. Some specialized residential computers, such as those intended for gaming, can handle more demanding workloads, but are still only intended for a few hours per day of usage. They are also designed to be used in very small networks where there may only be a couple other computers in the household.

Business grade computers, however, are designed to be used in office environments for 8-12 hours per day with medium to heavy duty workloads. They are also designed to work alongside many other computers on a corporate network. By understanding this difference in intended use, it’s easy to see why residential computers used in a business environment only last about 1-2 years compared to 3-5 years of their business grade counterparts.

Imagine you have a very large camper trailer you’d like to tow across the country. If you own a mid-size truck or SUV, it may be able to tow the trailer, but it was not built for that heavy of a load. After a couple thousand miles of excessive strain on the truck, you’ll likely encounter a breakdown due to a transmission failure. Had you towed the trailer with a full-size truck, it would have been able to tow your trailer around the country several times over without issue.

Apples to Oranges

When shopping for a computer for your business, it’s easy to lean towards a residential grade system because it appears to be a few hundred dollars cheaper for the same specifications. This is an apples to oranges comparison because most of the differences between residential and business grade computers are not detailed in typical specifications. Below is a table highlighting some of the core differences between these two classes of computers.

Residential Grade Business Grade
Intended daily use 2-3 hours 8-12 hours
Manufacturer support/warranty 90 days (up to 1 year) 3 years (up to 5 years)
Can connect to corporate network No (requires extra license) Yes
Can be managed by IT department Limited capabilities Yes
Dedicated cybersecurity components No Yes
Can detect potential hardware failure No Yes
More robust components for reliability No Yes
Overall build quality Budget-focused Durability-focused

Cost Benefit

With additional investments in licensing, and with some sacrifices in reliability, cybersecurity, and management capabilities, residential grade computers can be made to work in business environments. It is rarely cost advantageous, though. Considering the reduced lifespan, additional licensing costs, and work interruption that comes from using a computer beyond its intended purpose, a residential grade computer needs to cost at least half that of a business grade computer to break-even over time. Since most business grade computers only cost a 20-30% premium over their residential grade equivalents, it rarely makes financial sense for a business to purchase residential grade computers.

Where To Buy

Unfortunately, you can’t walk into your local retailer and buy a business grade computer. These types of computers can only be purchased directly from the manufacturer or through a certified partner. Many partners, such as Digital Boardwalk, whose primary line of business is providing service rather than equipment sales, do not charge a markup over retail pricing. This often allows businesses to get a better price on equipment than if they were to purchase directly from the manufacturer. It also tends to be a better overall experience since the team responsible for setting up the equipment for the business is the same team who evaluated the business’s needs and designed the solution.