SSDs – what are they and do I want one

So whilst browsing (or dreaming maybe!) for your next laptop, be it a Mac or a Windows machine, you might have noticed that (certainly at the upper end) many of them are coming with something called an SSD, usually in 128GB or 256GB capacities.

What are these mysterious SSDs, why are their sizes in funny numbers rather than the 500GB, 750GB or 1TB sizes of everything else, and most of all, why are they so expensive?

An SSD is a Solid State Drive – these are used in place of HDD (Hard Disk Drive). An HDD is a mechanical device with a spindle where one or more magnetic disk surfaces spin around with a small “head” to read and write data. An SSD has a bunch of memory chips in place of this disk and consequently no mechanical parts (much like your iPhone or newer iPod).

HDDs are great because they are cheap and can provide a lot of storage.

SSDs however are expensive and seem quite small in comparison.

What gives?

Because they are not mechanical they have two big advantages. One is speed. Even a low-end SSD will be significantly faster than an HHD as the act of reading and writing to memory is vastly faster than reading and writing to a disk. Second is reliability and robustness. As there are no moving parts, an SSD will not wear out (in the traditional sense at least) and will tolerate more bumps etc than a mechanical drive. Indeed most laptop failures are due to the hard drive failing.

And as you can imagine, this comes at a price. Compared to mechanical disks, memory chips are expensive – you can see this when you compare the prices of iPhones/iPods with differing memory sizes). This is why you only tend to see SSDs fitted to higher end Ultrabooks and Apple MacBook computers.

So are they worth it? In a nutshell, yes.

Intel SSD

The performance gain is amazing. OK, you lose some space, but then do you really need to store your entire iTunes library on your computer?

We did an experiment a while ago and replaced the hard drive in a old Windows 7 desktop. Prior to the upgrade, from the Windows splash screen appearing to the computer being logged in was about 90 seconds. With the SSD in place this fell to an almost unbelievable 4 seconds. And once booted the machine was snappier and more responsive to boot.

The only big catch is that unless you are a tinkerer, it’s not worth doing the upgrade yourself as it can be quite involved. However, if you are in the market for a new computer, it’s worth exploring especially if it’s a laptop. If you have someone like use helping you with your technology, then upgrading at the time of purchase is a far easier process and worthy of considering.

Want to know more about how SSDs can help in your business? Get in touch and we can see if we can help you.

What is my IT costing me? And how much should I be spending?

Today I want to explore how much you should be investing/budgeting on your businesses IT, and what the costs can be when you don’t.pounds-cash-mooney_142217

Typically, based on a 3 year lifetime, the cost of providing IT for a single member of staff is around £2100, or roughly £700 per year. This is the cost of the computer itself, a copy of Microsoft Office and the support associated with the machine, and a fraction of the costs providing infrastructure, such as internet, email and file and print services. These costs don’t factor in training on the basis that most people these days have enough knowledge to use Windows and Office.

Let’s assume that a member of typical London office staff commands an average salary of around £25K annually – the cost of the technology is less that 5% of their annual cost.

Now, for a small business £700 per year for supporting a single member of staff feels expensive. If you have 10 members of staff, you’re looking at £7000 per year. With this in mind, we see a lot of smaller companies scrimping on their IT spend as it is considered an intangible benefit and simply a cost.

In our experience, businesses that fail to invest appropriately generally lose efficiency through poor reliability, performance and a disproportionate amount of support. This means in years 4 and 5, the overall cost of the IT becomes significantly higher – this is mostly in productivity lost though maintenance, slowness and in some cases using outdated or aging software.

Another thing to consider is that by failing to improve and upgrade can lead to a crises situation where a complete system failure can lead to a member of staff being out of action for 1 or more days – the salary cost of this is roughly £100 per day, let alone the cost of lost business. If this turns out to be your server rather than a PC, this will hit £1000 per day salary costs (assuming 10 user business), plus the loss of any potential business (we’ll assume that your existing customers will forgive a day or two of being without your services), and the resultant increased workload which can hinder morale and add further cost if you find yourself having to pay overtime to make up a backlog of work. Added to this, last minute or panic IT purchases tend to be more expensive (typically increasing install cost by 50% and hardware by 25%) and the costs start to add up quite dramatically.

So, save yourself some heartache and grief. Plan and budget and appropriately. Failing to do this can lead to problems later that can cost you greatly. If you need some help with this, please come and talk to us. We can help.

How much should I spend on a PC?

This is not necessarily a question we get asked that much, but I do have some thoughts about this. This is going to sound slightly controversial, but most of the time, spending big money on a PC (or laptop for that matter) is often driven by ego (assuming the computer is for work rather than playing games). Not spending enough is driven by a poor notion of perceived value.

Well, where do we start?

The first thing to ask is what the computer is going to be used for. The amount of processing power in recent years has grown so much, that most PCs can run most business applications without breaking into a sweat. If you are doing typical office work, such as using Outlook (email), the other Office applications and surf the internet, then a good mainstream PC shouldn’t need to cost more than, say, £350. HP, Dell and a few others make good basic machines with an Intel Core i3 (Intel’s mainstream) processor, 4GBs of RAM, a decent sized hard drive and Windows 7 or 8 Professional. A good 13” laptop of a similar spec will weigh in at about £450.

HP Desktop

PCs costing less than this tend to be running “Home” versions of windows, or there are other areas scrimped on such as RAM (you don’t want to have less than 4GB these days), processor or the size of the hard drive (although not generally a concern unless you have a massive iTunes library!).

If you are more of a power user (and I’d say those in finance or graphic design fit into this category), then you should aim to spend around £500. At this price point you’ll get a really good bit of kit with an Intel Core i5 (think performance) processor, 4-6 GB of ram and possibly a  bigger hard drive.

Laptops are a slightly different equation as the more you spend (generally) the lighter, slimmer and sexier it is. Not necessarily more powerful but if you travel a lot, then the trade-off between weight and performance may well be worth it. These tend to be at the £800 upwards price point. These can also have features such as SSDs (solid state drive) which are essentially much faster hard drives with no moving parts and therefore  more robust if you travel a lot. HP Spectre Ultrabook

You may also need to budget about £180 for a copy of Office 2013 (and the really terrible licensing model Microsoft have adopted with this) plus a bit of time to get it set up and working smoothly. Generally there is a small amount of disruption with an upgrade such as this as some shuffling of data as well as the PC itself but good planning can avoid much of this.

Spending any more than this is generally not necessary. Core i7 sounds good – it is the top of the range after all, but unless you are using Adobe Creative Suite (and you may well be better off on a Mac in that case) or an Architect using Autocad 2013, these are best left to the gamers who can make the most of the performance.

The last thing is how long you should expect it to last? A later blog will explore the cost of technology in the workplace, but realistically you should be expecting a lifecycle of about 3 years – the machine will slow down over this time, the hard drive will be reaching the end of its reliable life (although they can fail at any time). Unless covered by warranty, it’s never cost effective to repair a PC over 18 months old either, as the cost of fixing almost always exceeds the replacement cost.

Suffering from a slow PC?

We frequently get asked about slow PC’s and in particular we’re asked to increase the performance or at least determine why a PC that seems to be relatively new is now the donkey of the office.

The main reason for this is of course the spec of the PC and in particular the amount of RAM (Random Access Memory) installed. The other bottleneck is the CPU (Central Processing Unit) but it’s not usually the main offender.

But why when the spec of the PC hasn’t changed is it now running slower than when you first got it? Well, the amount of programs that are running on the PC will have a dramatic effect on the performance of the machine. It should be said as well that programs can run silently in the background without the user being aware. Task Manager is a good way to see what is running on the machine as it will show up all of the processes that are currently active.

Another point to make about slow machines is the expectation of the user. As technology advances and we’re subjected to faster, cleaner machines, it’s quite easy to expect too much from your existing PC. A high-end PC a year ago is probably only a mid-range PC a year later and most likely a donkey of a box within 2-3 years. Users tend to forget that while their PC’s hardware hasn’t changed over this period, the applications and software that are being used on them is constantly changing. Most of the changes inevitably lead to more processing power or memory being consumed even if (to the user) they see no real change.

So, what can you do as a user who’s experiencing a slow PC? Well there are a few things that you can check to try and understand what the main cause of the issue is.

Check the Task Manager and look at the overall CPU and Memory figures, if these are high (60%+ usage) then close down anything that you’re not using such as a every email in Outlook or maybe those 15 tabs you have open in Internet Explorer.

Look at the Spec of the PC, if you’re running less than 4GB of RAM I wouldn’t expect too much from the machine. With the price of RAM these days an upgrade to 8GB can be achieved for under £50 on some machines – money well spent in my eyes!

Scan for any nasties, this subject will most likely be covered in more detail at a later stage, however, for now it’s worth a mini-mention. Scan for Viruses and in particular Malware, Microsoft Security Essentials is a great free Virus checker if you don’t already have one. Malwarebytes (again free) is a fine program that looks for malicious software on the PC and may help remove some items that take up valuable resources without the user necessarily being aware of them.

The above notes are the basics and instructions on all of these points are readily available on the internet for anyone feeling like they want to tackle a slow machine by themselves however we are also happy to look over a PC and give our own diagnosis on it.