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New Workstation Computer Purchases

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#1
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I need 6 new workstations before next tax season. Does anyone have any suggestions on specs?

I need one workhorse (mine) that does everything an accountant needs very fast, with no issues.

I need three for my preparers/bookkeepers that get the job done.

I need two light duty PCs for reception.

I know where I want to be with RAM and I want all SSDs, but I don't know much about the more technical stuff and I want to be educated before I get quotes from some IT guys. I love my ASUS personal laptops but I don't see any recommendations for using ASUS for business. I've always had DELL for business and DELL always seems to underperform its specs. I have not had good experience with HP or Lenovo. So for brand I'm open to anything but Mac.

I am also interested in recommendations for reliable and economical small printers, three black and whites and one that can do color.

If y'all will help me out, I'll come back with a report of what I did and how it turned out. Thanks for your help.
 

#2
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Want the truth few in IT will tell you? All the major brands suck, with a tendency to overheat, using inferior components, and bloatware (and possibly other, more malicious) software installed. HP, Dell, Lenovo...they're commonly used in enterprise and small businesses because they are inexpensive, readily available, and decent in handling repairs under warranty. But, the quality is, typically, awful.

ASUS is good, but they are more geared toward the gaming spectrum. Still, they know how to build solid computers. So did Sony, so I was saddened when Sony exited the PC and laptop business. The Microsoft Surface Pros are great, too, and can actually be desktop replacements if you use the docks. I would definitely suggest that as an option for workstations.

I highly suggest custom built. There are a few sites online that build custom PCs using QUALITY components. Or, if you have a competent and reliable IT company in your area that can provide rapid service, utilize them for it. Of the past 40 or so PCs/servers/hosts I have used, only a few were off-the-shelf from major brands--I built the rest, and they have a history of being problem free. My failures over 12 years have been a couple of HDDs, one SSD, a stick of RAM, and one motherboard, all of which I was able to replace as quickly, if not quicker, than under warranty by the big name brands.
 

#3
ATSMAN  
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Unless you are using a reputable system fabricator with local support stay away from custom built PC for mission critical business applications.

I have had 3 or 4 system builders as clients over the years and all of them are out of that business because they could not match Dell/HP/Lenovo on the warranty and service dept.

You can get rid of 99% of the bloat ware. I am using Dell and the only Dell application that I retained was "System Support"

It is one thing to get a souped up gaming PC built by a wiz kid and another thing to run a business that needs timely maintenance/warranty support.
 

#4
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I've had good luck with Lenovo and get AICPA discounts making them super cheap. Generally the quality parts the custom builders use can be available with the big guys. Maybe the overclocked CPU might not be an option but you don't need one for your tax program.

The only difference in using one brand over the other is support, the case that holds the parts in place, and the motherboard. Dells motherboards aren't good IME so I stopped buying them. A custom computer will likely opt for a better mobo. Don't see the need for a GPU if the CPU has onboad graphics. Don't really see the need for anything better than an intel i3 since hyperthreading isn't used by tax and accounting software. Fast RAM and SSD are going to be the things to opt for.
 

#5
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basisschedule wrote:I need one workhorse (mine) that does everything an accountant needs very fast, with no issues.

I need three for my preparers/bookkeepers that get the job done.


My advice: get four workhorses. Your preparers/bookkeepers probably deserve it. Also, make sure your staff have great chairs, and make sure you have a great one as well.

For the printer, I use an HP LaserJet M401 series, but it's been replaced with the M402. The main thing I hate about it is that it only holds half a ream of paper. But I don't print as much as others do, under 10 reams during busy season.
 

#6
ATSMAN  
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Computer prices have come down so much that it makes no sense buying anything less than a i5 or equivalent with at least 8GB memory! I prefer printers that can hold a full ream of paper. I have one with 2 cassettes.
 

#7
makbo  
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I have had very good experience with HP desktops, my current one is (gasp!) 7 years old (runs latest Win 10) and I plan to replace it this off-season. And the HP desktop I had before that was pretty darn reliable too, it actually still boots up Win XP just fine, I have "Atari 80s Classic Arcade" software that still runs there. 8-)

But, what about SSDs? I understand their life expectancy is significantly less than traditional spinning hard disks. I've got hard disks that seem to be 100% reliable even after many years, but I hear tell that SSDs actually wear out after a certain number of disk accesses -- true?
 

#8
ATSMAN  
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but I hear tell that SSDs actually wear out after a certain number of disk accesses -- true?


On average the mean time between failure of SSD is much higher than traditional spinning platter HD. You will have to look at the specs of your SSD.
 

#9
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ATSMAN wrote:Computer prices have come down so much that it makes no sense buying anything less than a i5 or equivalent with at least 8GB memory! I prefer printers that can hold a full ream of paper. I have one with 2 cassettes.


For tax software, spreadsheets, word, outlook etc even watching movies you will get near zero performance boosts on an i5 i7 or i9 over an i3. The processor is rarely the bottleneck in anything other than programs that are GPU intensive. Since OP is looking for a couple of lightweight computers he definitely can save money sticking an i3 in those and not have to worry about staff complaining about slow conputers. SSD and low latency RAM will give better performance boosts over expensive processors. Agree on printers that can hold at least 500 sheets.
 

#10
ATSMAN  
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The price delta between i3 and i5 CPU with the same amount of RAM is less than $50 in many ads that I have seen. As a matter of fact most of the i3 computers are factory refurbishes or sold at Walmart!

My son picked up a HP (factory refurbished) i3 with 8GB RAM, 500GB HD for $129
 

#11
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Compare the model and generation. Those i5s may be several years old. A generation 8 i3 8100 is about $70 less than the i5 8400. You generally see the i3s with steeper discounts too. Saving $350 on five computers could matter to OP without making any difference to performance. Either save money or use that $70 per PC savings and get more and faster RAM with higher clock speeds which unlike the i5, would improve performance. The i3 is a quad core and the i5 has six cores. Tax and accounting programs will not see any benefit from the additional cores.
 

#12
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I want a top of the line workstation so thoughts on...

Intel I series vs Xeon?
 

#13
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I hope you're joking with that one
 

#14
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Going to replace my work laptop this summer.

Decided on Dell mainly because of the price and on-site support.

Will get a docking station and going with an SSD for performance. My 5 year old laptop was starting to struggle towards the end this season.
 

#15
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ATSMAN wrote:
It is one thing to get a souped up gaming PC built by a wiz kid and another thing to run a business that needs timely maintenance/warranty support.


It is feasible if you have IT staff or reliable outsourced IT. I have been fortunate to be in both positions. I agree the warranty and service from Dell can be difficult to match. The missed point? A high quality PC is far less likely to need support covered by such warranties, and most issues (which are actually employee caused, not hardware failures) are generally NOT covered by those warranties and you are still paying an IT person to address.

I disagree with comments about not buying more powerful PCs for use as workstations. WIth how inexpensive computers are, there is absolutely no reason to not have every workstation a minimum of an i5, 8 GB RAM, and at least a 256 GB SSD. I have been using SSDs for years, same with standard HDDs, and my rate of failure with HDDs has been far higher than SSDs. Older SSDs diminished (or "exhausted" their ability to write to free space), but that has basically been resolved with all modern SSDs. If you are not running an SSD, that is the biggest performance improvement you can make in conjunction with no less than 8 GB RAM.
 

#16
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What are you running as far as processor, RAM, and SSD capacity on your work computer Cornerstone?

Just curious as you seem pretty experienced on the matter.
 

#17
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ManVsTax wrote:What are you running as far as processor, RAM, and SSD capacity on your work computer Cornerstone?

Just curious as you seem pretty experienced on the matter.


It is a custom PC (I build them) from 2016. Still incredibly fast and cost me a less than half of what a comparable would have cost from Dell, HP, at the time.

-AMD FX-8370E 8 Core 3.58 GHz CPU (I go back and forth between AMD and Intel, no preference other than Intels are typically more energy efficient)
-ASUS motherboard
-32 GB RAM (Crucial brand)
-Intel 475 GB SSD for operating system and software installs
-2 TB RAID 10, hardware controller with one spare HDD with automatic rollover in event of drive failure (this is where all data, including UT data and system files, resides)

Failures in over three years? Two HDDs in the RAID 10, never interfered with work due to spare and auto rollover drive. The original SSD was only 256 GB, had to upgrade to current SSD. Every other issue has been from Windows updates. That is the reality of working with a quality computer, and why I place so little value on Dell or HP's warranties and expedited services.

Another point not mentioned, so far: hardware failures almost always occur either very early (first 72-96 hours) or very late in the life of PCs. It is why decent system builders do a burn-in period, to catch hardware components that prematurely fail before the PC ends up in the hands of a customer. Many issues can be resolved by wiping the OS drive clean and reinstalling everything--entirely too many PCs are prematurely discarded for poor performance that is attributed to obsolete hardware, when realistically it is bloatware and corrupted OS/registry. That is, unless you have a PC that overheats due to insufficient cooling (passive and active), in which case you'll have hardware failures somewhere in the middle...think HP, in particular, for a brand that has a long history of poor ventilation and early deaths due to overheating. I have actually seen melted soldering that short circuited components, or blown capacitors, due to overheating. Overheating is worsened by the fact that few people rarely actually clean their systems and ventilation.
 

#18
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That's quite the powerhouse.

Building will be out of the question for me as I don't have the time or energy to learn, and I don't want to take a gamble on a local PC builder. And as you previously mentioned, the warranty and next-day on-site support from Dell are tough to beat, even if I'm paying extra for it.

Final question: Would there really be a huge difference for a laptop with 16 GB of RAM and an i7 vs one with 8GB of RAM and an i5? Enough to justify $700 worth of price difference? The most straining thing on my current laptop seems to be very large excel files and Caseware files (helps with the latter to make a sync copy, CW files are stored on the NAS). No gaming of any kind or data processing. I plan to use this as my workhorse laptop for the next 3-5 years. Old one will become the backup.

Already made up my mind on a 256 GB SSD.
 

#19
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Let me put it this way...other than upfront cost, I have never regretted buying a more powerful vehicle or boat. Similarly, I have never thought "this computer just has too much processing power and capabilities" because, without question, I always end up pushing my computers harder than I think I will. I often have 10-15 applications running simultaneously, who knows how many Office files open at one or large PDFs, so it all adds up quickly. Not to mention how much RAM is required just to run background services and applications, including the OS itself. And I am NOT a gamer--this is simply what I need to work.

If you are willing to give up some battery life, my opinion would be go to for 16GB RAM and i7. I'd also bump up SSD unless your applications and data are in the cloud (and you do not sync local copies to your PC), or you can access your NAS through a VPN or other means of accessing network. 256 GB fills up quickly, especially when installing software.

The absolute bare bones workstation, in my mind, would be an i5 with 8 GB RAM and 256 GB storage. Even more critical with laptops (laptops are a different matter entirely, since they are now basically 100% proprietary or not able to be repaired by user when hardware fails). There is nothing more frustrating than trying to do work on a PC that is slow. By upgrading on specs now, you can also further future proof yourself.
 

#20
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Very helpful, thank you.
 

#21
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You've convinced me to buy a Gulfstream G650 instead of a Honda Accord next year. ;)
 

#22
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CreditMyDebit wrote:I hope you're joking with that one


Actually, I wasn't. I've never had anything Xeon. Any info you can provide would be much appreciated.
 

#23
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Xeon has been around a long time (20+ years), and is a CPU intended for workstation and servers. You still mostly see them in server configs. They're based on standard Intel CPUs but have some enhancements for Enterprise environments.
 

#24
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I told a fib. Actually the server I bought last year is Xeon.
 

#25
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Any thoughts on using a Microsoft surface pro like cornerstone noted above? Would it connect to the server similar to any other work station? Or would there be issues to work through? Can it be connected to the server wirelessly?
 

#26
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basisschedule wrote:Any thoughts on using a Microsoft surface pro like cornerstone noted above? Would it connect to the server similar to any other work station? Or would there be issues to work through? Can it be connected to the server wirelessly?


I have a colleague who connects his Surface to a docking station. He takes it with him in the conference room to talk with clients and it’s wirelessly connected.

He seems to like the setup.
 

#27
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Connecting to a server depends on if you are just using a data host or a domain. Different methods, same end result, wired vs. wireless connectivity is irrelevant as long as you are on same network or have VPN. Either way, a Surface Pro or any other full-fledged Windows 10 Pro tablet/laptop can work quite well. It is very simple with a docking station due to additional ports, which also allows more external monitors.

One of my computers is a Surface Pro 3. It has a docking station I rarely use, but I also have an aftermarket keyboard that attaches to the screen with cushioned hinges (not the crappy and flimsy ones typically sold), which makes it function like an ordinary laptop without having to use the "kickstand."

For the record, if you see a suggestion from me, it is because I have already actually implemented it in the past and know if it works well or not. I have put many Surface Pros into use as workstations, POS, etc. I will put a Surface Pro up against any of the typical workstations/desktops used in businesses, because they just typically have better specifications and afford a lot of flexibility in how they are used.
 

#28
migbike  
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CreditMyDebit wrote:
ATSMAN wrote:Computer prices have come down so much that it makes no sense buying anything less than a i5 or equivalent with at least 8GB memory! I prefer printers that can hold a full ream of paper. I have one with 2 cassettes.


For tax software, spreadsheets, word, outlook etc even watching movies you will get near zero performance boosts on an i5 i7 or i9 over an i3. The processor is rarely the bottleneck in anything other than programs that are GPU intensive. Since OP is looking for a couple of lightweight computers he definitely can save money sticking an i3 in those and not have to worry about staff complaining about slow conputers. SSD and low latency RAM will give better performance boosts over expensive processors. Agree on printers that can hold at least 500 sheets.


I agree with this. RAM is going to be the bottleneck for anything an accountant will be doing. I'd rather put money into more/bigger monitors than faster processors for this type of work. 2 or 3 per workstation if you aren't already doing that.

For printers, I've always had good luck with Brother laser printers. I prefer single-purpose printers and also third the comment about holding at least a ream of paper- no half reams floating around the office. I think I have the Brother HL-L5200DW
 

#29
makbo  
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migbike wrote:I agree with this. RAM is going to be the bottleneck for anything an accountant will be doing.

Do you mean speed of RAM or quantity? I find that disk speed is my bottleneck, and why I'll probably splurge for SSD for at least some of the disk on my next desktop, to be purchased later this year.

As previously mentioned I have a 7 year old HP desktop, with 8GB RAM and AMD A8-3850 processor (what is that equivalent to in Intel CPU families? i5?) and 1.5TB spinning hard disk.

As an "accountant" I typically have open 2 different versions (years) of Quickbooks desktop, my tax software (UT), Firefox (4 windows, 40-50 tabs), Thunderbird mail client, one or two MS Office applications, and Adobe Acrobat Pro. Oh yeah, and an anti-virus/spam/malware program.

Invariably, according to Window Task Manager, it is my disk that is the bottle neck when I notice a slowdown (i.e. disk at 100% usage when no other resource is). And I must admit sometimes that is because of scan/update tasks going on with my anti-virus/etc program, which I will sometimes halt until I'm away from the keyboard.

On rare occasions, Firefox gets carried away and RAM usage starts creeping up over 90%, at which point I need to kill Firefox and restart it -- this is almost always due to a specific web page I forget to close that is trying to bombard me with lots of useless stuff.
 

#30
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makbo wrote:
migbike wrote:I agree with this. RAM is going to be the bottleneck for anything an accountant will be doing.

As previously mentioned I have a 7 year old HP desktop, with 8GB RAM and AMD A8-3850 processor (what is that equivalent to in Intel CPU families? i5?) and 1.5TB spinning hard disk.

On rare occasions, Firefox gets carried away and RAM usage starts creeping up over 90%, at which point I need to kill Firefox and restart it -- this is almost always due to a specific web page I forget to close that is trying to bombard me with lots of useless stuff.


An AMD A8 would be fall between Pentium and i3 of the same generation 7 years ago in performance. This is based strictly in benchmarks. AMDs were years behind Intel before Ryzen. But TBH even a budget processor like the A8 that lasted 7 years I'm sure served you well enough where it wasn't a problem. It's the point I'm making to OP that expensive processors will not noticeably boost performance especially with software processes being single threaded in most accounting applications.

Firefox always has a memory leak problem so it's more to do with Firefox being open too long and less to do with your hardware.
 

#31
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I recently went with a Lenovo ThinkPad T470 maxed out on specs. It's one model behind but super powerful being maxed out on the options. Spent about $1500 with 3 year (drop in pool) warranty. This thing works phenomenally!

My preference would be a tower since the components can be readily upgraded but with travel and client demands, a laptop is a must.

Good luck!
 

#32
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UPDATE:
Computers have been purchased as follows:


Reception - Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 256GB Core i5 8GB 12.3" M1796 Keyboard and Pen $765
Light Duty - 2 x Lenovo Refurb Core i5-4590 @ 2.30GHz 8GB DDR3 256GB SSD $660
Medium Duty - 2 x Dell OptiPlex 7060 SFF i5-8500 6-Core 3GHz 8GB DDR4 256GB SSD $1000
Heavy Duty- Dell XPS 8920 Special Edition Intel i7-7700K 16GB 2TB HDD 256 SSD GTX1070 $815

6 total PCs
Total Cost $3,240

Installation should cost $500-800.

Any advice on monitors that are good on the eyes? I think I want a new 34"+ widescreen (for tax input, internet, video conference, cpe, etc) and turn my current dual monitors vertical (tax return review, auditing, word processing, document viewing, etc).
 

#33
makbo  
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Hmm, that Dell XPS sounds a lot like what I am looking for, and at a price I had in mind. 256GB SSD for speed with running programs, but still plenty of HDD storage for everything else.

A friend was telling me yesterday I need bigger monitors. Maybe, but the two I have now are adequate, and they still work fine, and I don't feel like I am limited by desktop real estate, so it's hard to justify just throwing them out. There are very few programs that I run full screen.
Last edited by makbo on 19-May-2019 6:28pm, edited 1 time in total.
 

#34
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Just an FYI, last generation i3 (i3-8100) outperforms those 5 year old i5-4590 by a nice margin. Just getting the point across that saying "get at least an i3 i5 i7 etc" is almost irrelevant and you need to look at the generation and model of the components in any PC you get.
 

#35
makbo  
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makbo wrote:Hmm, that Dell XPS sounds a lot like what I am looking for, and at a price I had in mind. 256GB SSD for speed with running programs, but still plenty of HDD storage for everything else.

A friend was telling me yesterday I need bigger monitors.

I got a new HP desktop, spent a lot of time configuring some of my older but still valued software, have it about 93% complete at this time. Good thing I don't have to pay someone to spend all this time!

Dell, Lenovo, and HP seem to be the acknowledged top three vendors (perhaps in that order), so I'm still happy with HP product. It's an Intel whatever CPU, 12GB memory, and 125GB SSD plus 1TB spinning disk, for just about the same price I paid seven years ago for my prior HP desktop. It boots up real fast now, but Quickbooks can still be somewhat pokey to start even when both program and company file are on the SSD. Everything else runs great, after installation annoyances.

Here in the SF Bay Area, Fry's Electronics is legendary for its huge selection, but I have to say a visit to my local Fry's was quite disappointing, the selection and displays were crappy, and there was essentially no staff. It's like they're not even trying anymore, compared to years past when I was a satisfied customer. I ended up purchasing at Best Buy, and not only got a good deal on the desktop (which included keyboard and mouse), but got an HP 24-inch monitor with HDMI cable included for $99 on sale. It's nice to walk out the door with your purchase (although the monitor had to be delivered to my door the next day).

Updated to Win 10 Pro, of course (didn't want to struggle with transferring the license from my older machine). Already though, I've seen multiple Windows updates of HP hardware drivers on this machine (running Win 10 1809), so that's a little odd, but a good thing I guess.
 

#36
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I ended up going with dual HP monitors with some sort of eye strain reducing quality. I'm very happy so far with my whole set up.
 


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