Tactical Advice

Make Your HP Smart Buy Smarter

Here are some upgrades to the HP dc5800 that will make your power users more productive.
This story appears in the March 2009 issue of BizTech Magazine.

The HP dc5800 Smart Buy desktop packs a lot of power for most business users. At my company, I am always on the lookout for well-priced systems. With the savings, I can purchase numerous upgrades and accessories to get even more power out of the computer and deliver more value to my end users.

Let’s start with the most notable options your end users will want to heighten system performance:

ONE DISPLAY

Users with older LCD or CRT monitors will appreciate a new widescreen LCD monitor to go with their new computer. The wide aspect ratio, typically 16:10 compared with the standard 4:3, works naturally with users’ tendencies to place multiple windows horizontally across the screen. Price differences between widescreen and standard displays are all but gone. 

The widescreen LG W1934S 19-inch monitor (CDW# 1453038) combines solid performance at a bargain price and is backed by a three-year warranty.

The ViewSonic Optiquest Q19wb-2 19-inch LCD (CDW# 1108199) adds integrated speakers to reduce desktop clutter but comes with only a one-year warranty.

More demanding users will appreciate the Samsung 2033SW (CDW# 1673803), an attractive 20-inch widescreen LCD that provides 10 percent more desktop area compared with the 19-inch displays. 

Another strong 19-inch option is HP’s 1440 x 9000 resolution LCD (CDW # 1329948) with a 1000:1 contrast ratio.

If your user wants a wider screen, then consider the HP’s Smart Buy 22-inch LCD display with 1680 x 1050 resolution (CDW# 1421583), which features a fast 5 minute response time.

WIDESCREEN MONITORS

Widescreen monitors have become increasingly popular because they provide greater horizontal viewing area than comparably sized standard monitors. They provide users more room to place toolbars, application windows and other stuff in more naturally accessible areas of the desktop.  
 
It is important to note that widescreen resolutions require more video memory than standard resolutions, and widescreen monitors must be paired with graphics display adapters that support their native resolution. Intel claims that its GMA3100 and Q33 chipset combo can handle widescreen resolutions. I have experienced problems with 3000 series and other onboard graphics chips trying to set the most common widescreen resolutions of 1920x1200, 1680x1050 and 1440x900. Even assuming that there were no problems displaying a monitor’s native resolution, you lose system memory to the video display. I generally recommend an upgrade to a discrete graphics card for all but the most basic display requirements, and even these requirements will vary depending on the operating system.

DOWNGRADE OR UPGRADE TO VISTA?

There are many arguments, pro and con, for taking the Windows XP Professional downgrade option over the Windows Vista Business operating system. There is one general point of agreement: Vista’s Aero graphical user interface (GUI) is a big pro and a significant improvement over XP’s user interface, which is showing its age. Aero is one of Vista’s most striking features, but more powerful hardware is needed for Aero to run smoothly.

The Vista GUI differs from XP because Aero itself is a 3D application that requires graphics processing resources. Intel says that the integrated GMA3100 graphics chip meets the requirements of the Aero interface, but at the expense of 250MB of system memory. Of less concern, but still notable, is that the integrated graphics chip was not designed to support DX10, Vista’s API for multimedia. The integrated graphics will be fine most Windows XP users, but you should consider discrete graphics for Vista and XP power users.
 
The PNY NVIDIA GeForce 8400 GS (CDW# 1548023) with 512MB of video RAM, or the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2400 XT (CDW# 1547620) will bring Vista’s Aero interface to life and free up system resources without the expense of a high-end gaming graphics card. And here’s a bonus: Both cards support dual monitors.

DUAL MONITORS

Dual monitors allow power end-users to have more information in their field of view.  The integrated graphics of the HP dc5800 can support dual monitors with the addition of an HP ADD2 expansion card (CDW Part# 675356).

The dual-monitor option certainly merits a discrete graphics card, and while the cards mentioned earlier can support dual monitors, you should consider cards that tailor to the power user’s requirements and provide better management of multiple displays. 

For numbers crunchers, the NVIDIA Quadro NVS 290 (CDW# 1377447)
is a low-profile and low-power graphics adapter specifically designed to deliver crisp and stable 2-D performance for dual displays. 

For designers and engineers, consider the ATI FireGL V3600 (CDW# 1335341) or the PNY NVIDIA Quadro FX 570 (CDW# 1324271), entry-level workstation graphics accelerators that deliver solid 3-D performance.

All of the discrete graphics adapters recommended can handle widescreen resolutions, and those designed for dual displays can deliver at least 1920x1200 to each display.
 
Users with displays 30 inches or larger will need more powerful machines and graphics adapters. But you can add more graphics power for higher-end programmers or designers.  Consider the ATI FireGL V5600 for a powerful midrange workstation graphics card (CDW# 1364358).

MEMORY

Windows XP runs about as well as it can on 2 gigabytes of memory. Beyond 2GB, the performance boost is negligible. Windows Vista does a better overall job of managing memory, but it needs a lot of it — the operating system alone takes up several hundred megabytes and the integrated graphics can eat another 250MB. Basically, you use half the memory just starting the computer. The 2GB of DDR2-800 memory is sufficient for most users, who tend to have only a few office application windows open at a time. Power users will appreciate an additional 2GB of memory, which will cut down on disk swapping and improve performance. You can add a pair of HP’s 1GB memory modules (CDW# 1112498), or you can add memory from industry heavyweights Kingston (CDW# 1417423) or Crucial (CDW# 1269183). 

STORAGE

The 160GB Serial ATA 3.0 hard drive is fast, but is it big enough? With applications and data files growing ever larger, a desktop hard drive fills up quickly. There are pros and cons to simply upgrading to a 250GB or 500GB internal drive. It’s hard to beat the convenience of more than triple the capacity, but there’s still a matter of backing up what is, after all, a single point of failure for your data. Better to consider an external hard drive, the benefits of which start with providing the additional storage you need. Backing up to an external hard drive is fast and eliminates the need for multiple media, such as tapes.
 
Available in capacities of up to 1.5 terabytes (or more), external drives are usually a single hard drive in a separate enclosure that requires its own power source. Generally, external drives are about the size of a hard cover book and will stand vertically on your desk. External hard drives commonly connect to the computer via a USB 2.0 port, delivering very fast data transfer. 

Look for models with big, speedy 7200 RPM drives. Because external drives are easily removed and, consequently, are easily lost, data encryption is a must. Windows has long included its own backup utility, but you should still look for automated backup software. Low-cost 1TB models that meet these criteria include the Buffalo DriveStation HD-CEU2 (CDW# 1634310), the Maxtor OneTouch 4 (CDW# 1458065), and the Seagate FreeAgent Desk (CDW# 1541087). 

One big advantage of these external hard drives is that they can be taken offsite for secure storage of backed up data. However, the weight of these units (between 3 and 4 pounds) and the attendant power cord mean that most people are likely to leave the drives on their desks. That being the case, you might want to consider a portable external hard drive. 

Again, there are pros and cons. On the one hand, the small size of the external portable hard drive makes it a lot easier to lose. Because they are built to be lightweight, portables are relatively easy to damage. Also, they tend to run pretty hot on long transfers, so it’s important to keep their vents unobstructed. On the other hand, they are about the size of a small paperback and weigh less than eight ounces. Another plus is that these external drives are powered directly from a USB port, so no power cord is required. They are certainly easier to carry between locations, which means it’s more likely that backed-up data from your internal hard drive will be stored safely offsite.

Like their larger counterparts, external portable hard drives should be fast, have encryption capabilities and automated backup software. Western Digital’s “My Passport Essential” portable 500 GB hard drive (CDW# 1569708) meets these requirements in a sleek enclosure that comes in a variety of colors. Maxtor’s BlackArmor 320GB portable hard drive (CDW# 1444293) takes it a step further with 128-bit AES hardware encryption for greater security and faster performance.

POWER

When replacing a computer, be sure to check the power source. Surge protectors wear out over time, and it won’t take long in areas prone to variations in voltage and frequent spikes for your surge protector to become little more than an extension cord. Basic surge protection of over 700 joules is provided by the Tripp Lite Surge Suppressor (CDW# 1269577) or the Belkin Office Surge Protector, each with six outlets. 

It’s also a good time to consider an uninterrupted power supply. Though more expensive than a surge protector, a UPS does much more than protect against serious power spikes. UPS systems provide power during an outage, allowing you to continue working, and if the outage is extended you can save your work and safely shut your computer down. Some UPS systems also employ a voltage regulator to condition line voltage, which can vary by more than 10 percent, providing additional protection against brownouts. 

When considering a UPS unit, it is important to note the wattage (the total load that the UPS can support) and well as the volt/amp rating, which will give you an idea of how long the battery will run your computer. Also note that certain peripherals, such as printers, should not be run on the battery, and most UPS systems provide “surge-only” outlets to protect these devices. Consider the Tripp Lite Internet Office 550VA Standby UPS (CDW# 845465), which meets the likely load of the HP dc5800 and probably provides a 3-minute battery run; or the APC Back-UPS RS (CDW# 709642), which provides about twice the reserve. Remember that as you increase peripherals, you increase the electrical load. You may also want to consider the APC Back-UPS RS 1500 LCD (CDW# 1175773), an 865W unit with a separate voltage regulator and an LCD display.

Phil Leiter is IT manager for Cumberland Associates, a private investment advisory firm in New York City.

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