Expert Expert advice on upgrading computer systems for a department with 20 users..

Hi all I need some expert advice on upgrading the computers on a medium office department. Currently we are using computers with P-II 233-433 Mhz Processors with 128 MB RAM on some computers and 198 on some other computers. Operating system we are running is windows 98. All the systems are Novell clients and need to connect to domain. Users work on Microsoft Office products like word, access applications, powerpoint and Corel products. Another important application they need to use is Groupwise email client. Problems are mainly frequent lock ups, slow booting, Giving win 98 error messages like missing files or corrupted files. I can say all the users are so frustrated with the slow computers and frequent freezing. I thought of upgrading the OS from 98 to XP but I guess if I do that systems may become too slow as alll the computers have minimum configuration. And most of the network cards are outdated and dlink stopped support for them. My question is when can a small department like this can upgrade or buy new systems.  And do you think  the above mentionend reasons are good enough to suggest the boss to spare some budget to upgrade the systems and give the users better working environment. Please post your comments on this...
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If you want to spend the least amount of money, you may be able to stretch those machines that you have with the addition of a little hardware - more RAM, preferably to 512MB.  Upgrade to WinXP and you should have a much more stable environment.  Office applications and email should still work with those machines, albeit not as fast as they could be.

If you want to spend a little more, there are $500 machines out there that will give you a significant boost up to the 2GHz cpu range, and you will have two generations of cpu advancements in addition.  The hard disks will be larger and probably be faster as well, and you will get USB device support.
Given the age of the systems, RAM upgrades may actually be relatively expensive proposition - while RAM upgrades for PCs of 1 to 3 years are typically not very expensive (10-20% of the cost of the system) for older systems, in many cases RAM for them is not manufactured in quantity, and the cost can be 2x higher (or more) than the cost of RAM for newer systems.   Since you should be able to reinstall/migrate applications from older PCs to new, I would recommend reusing equipment such as monitors and printers, while buying new system units such as this Dell Dimension, which can be configured with additional applications if needed.

Dimension 3000 - Celeron

Intel® Celeron® D Processor 320 (2.40 GHz, 533 FSB)             
Microsoft® Windows® XP Home Edition             WHXP             
512MB Dual Channel DDR SDRAM at 400MHz             
Dell Quietkey® Keyboard             
Dell 2-button scroll mouse             
WordPerfect®, Powerful Word Processing             
Security Software Pre Installed:  No Security Subscription             
Financial Software:  QuickBooks® Simple Start Special Edition (limited to 50 contacts)             
Adobe® Acrobat® Reader 6.0             
40GB Ultra ATA/100 7200RPM Hard Drive             
FREE! Single Drive: 48x CD-RW Drive             
3.5 in Floppy Drive             
No Monitor             
Integrated Intel® Extreme Graphics 2             
Integrated Audio             
No Speaker Option             
Dell Jukebox - easy-to-use music player and CD burning software             
Paint Shop™ Pro® Studio trial, Photo Album™ Starter Edition             
Integrated 10/100 Ethernet             
No Modem Requested             
Dimension 3000 Celeron             
2 Years On-site Business Standard Plan ($50 Mail in Rebate)             
The way it's described, it sounds like your department just waits for everything to crap out before it replaces machines.

What I would suggest is buying new PC's but not all of them at once.  at my previous company we had a 3 year life cycle.  first year we bought 1/3 of the department new pcs.  their existing machines became the workstations of another 1/3 of the population and THOSE workstations became the low end of the totem pole's workstations where the bottom of the line computers were either auctioned off for charity, sold to employees, or just plain canibalized or junked out.  The next year, the same thing goes on.  buy 1/3 of the people new workstations, and give them to the top employees which demonstrate need for it, i.e. managers, supervisors, power users, IT department, real number crunchers... again, give their existing pc's to people who need it on average... those who perform well, but dont necessarily need upgrades all the time... then their pcs are given to the low people on the totem pole.  employees who are underproductive, those who are not in front of a terminal all day, and kiosk/shared workstations work well for the third category of people.  If someone has a specific example that they need more, then order them more memory, give them an extra hard drive, or more space, or a zip drive.

Hope this helps, it did for our organization of more than 2500 users.  3 years might also be a little aggressive for a small business/department, but I use it because 3 years is standard warranty for most computers.  if you can, extend the warranty to 5 years, then go with a 1/5 x 5 plan instead of a 1/3 x 3.  this way all workstaitons are under warranty (if you are under contract from dell or whatnot), and everyone gets a new pc EVERY year... though not NEW, everyone will see an increase in performance, and hardware will rarely be your business's bottleneck.
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I should also mention that this increases load on your IT staff to roll them out.  you're moving every workstation in the department every year.  depending on what your goal is (yes some people put more stress in their IT field so they have more budget for the next year), you may want to consider this inyour end suggestion.

another problem that it does point out is that when you do this, you're creating an environment where you have different hardware floating around.  this isnt necessarily a bad thing, but it can complicate software reimaging, and the like.  To combat this, keep fresh ghost images (or RIS if you take that route), and you shouldnt have more then 5-7 images at any one time.  Delete old non used images of the workstations, and by ALL means, buy volume licensing so that cd keys are easy to keep track of for the comptuers.
I agree.  The work involved in maintaining the systems and upgrading can be costly, given that SIMM/DIMM prices for older machines has gone up (less demand, less inventory, so they can charge whatever they want!).

I agree with the basic eval that Dell's are a decent way to go.  However, that's an expensive config above.  You can get the Base Dimension 3000, 2.4G cel, 512MB, 40GB, down to $399 starting with basic 90-day on-site service warranty.  From there, you can add as needed:

1. Right now you can get a choice between the free upgrade to CDRW drive or a DVD drive, depending on your needs.  You could mix and match. ;)

2. Also, for an extra $100, you can get a Dell 153FP flat panel, or $149 for the 173FP.  (15" vs 17" LCD).

3. Depending on your needs, current warranty options are:
            3 Years On-site Business Standard Plan ($75 Mail in Rebate) [add $204 or $5/month1] Dell Recommended
            3 Year On-site Basic Plan [add $99 or $2/month1]
            2 Years On-site Business Standard Plan ($50 Mail in Rebate) [add $138 or $3/month1]
            2 Year On-site Basic Plan [add $49 or $1/month1]
            1 Year On-site Basic Plan [add $19]
Dealing with rebates on something like this is a pain, especially on the order of 20 machines.  Unless you need the more advanced support options, the 2 or 3 year On-site Basic plan -- at $49 or $99 respectively -- are decent deals.

So, the Dimension 3000 config, let's say with the Dell 153FP (if you need monitor upgrades), plus the 2 Year Basic plan, is only $548.  Good deal.  Not worth IMHO saving more by dropping to the 1 Year, the 2 year Basic is a good deal.

Plus, my guess is if you are buying 20 machines, they MIGHT even be able to drop you a little discount further on top of that -- talk to a smallbiz sales guy on the phone, see what they can do.


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A question, what are these computers being used for?

If they are being used as typewriters and email machines, then i would suggest to your boss that you simply do a format/reinstall of the Windows machines.I have found that Win machines do need a format/reinstall at least once a year to keep them running smooth. you might be able to keep theses machines(barring breakdown) for 4-5 years.

If your machines are used for things such as the above and are also used to store and sort data(database) performer moderate mathematical operations(spreadsheets) or use a variety of "office" applications. then your might be able to hold off for at least another 2 years.

If your machines are used for advanced mathematical calculations, Chemical/Civil/Electrical Engineering, Physics, Numerical methods, Software programming, statical analysis, Informational servers(web pages, parole, or any data base that will be used often), Video/Audio editing, Then the upgrade would be warranted.

I would also suggest you go around at these "computer stores"(NOT: bestbuy,circuit city,Fry's) and see what kind of deals they would offer. In my neck of the woods i can get a 2.5 GZ (P4)machine(case, 512MB Ram, 80GB HDD) for $280. If your current monitors aren't all that bad then you can keep them.

As for selling it to your boss, i would suggest you come up with several plans, their costs, their benefits, their cost, how happy it will make the employees, their cost, how much longer the new computers will last compared to the old computers, the cost of each plan, The Maintenance for the old computer, the price, how useful the computers will be when they are not giving errors or causing downtime and the cost of the new machines.
i would suggest following,
list configs of your machines in descending order of their speed.
now remove ram from the lower speed machines and put those into higher speed machines. this may not work always hence the person doing it should be well aware of ram speed type and mixing those together.
now once you have upgraded machines with you, you will have some better speed machines. you can give these to the people who dont want hi speed boxes but need faster running OSs - word processing emails etc.
now about the rest of the machines, you an keep the re-usable components like hdds and monitors, keyboards mouse etc. infact you can also swap hdds like rams and upgrade the machines we sorted out earlier.

and now you can dump the remaining boxes and upgrade those now. later you can upgrade the remaining machines as you get the budget

ideas here are
1. make most of your existing pcs and get few better working machines.
2. ram and hdd upgrade often impoves speed with windows.
3. you can minimise the cost required now.
The BEST config for you will be:

Intel Celeron 2.40 Ghz
Intel 845G Motherboard
Intel Extreme Graphics
256 or 512 MB RAM 266 Mhz
17" Monitor
56k internal modem
80 GB 7200 rpm drive.
52X32X52X Combo Drive
1.44 MB FDD
Microsoft Keyboard and mouse COMBO.
Desktop Speakers
Windows 2000 Pro or XP Pro

This Config won't burn a hole in your pocket and will work just fine as this ain't underpowered or overpowered for office work.
if around $10K up-front is too much, you can always go with dell small biz as outlined above, configure as needed, but do the machines on a bix lease.  it's all capex anyway and your boss can deal with it on taxes as biz capital expense.


Start over and buy all new systems.

These machines are ancient.  They use old types of memory (SDRAM), old types of storage devices (IDE not EIDE), and everything in them is so dated that upgrading is pretty much hopeless.  You are in a situation in which the best solution is all new comptuers all the way around.  Computers are cheap these days, and you can get reaonable machines for well under $1,000 (maybe closer to half that).

Use Windows XP Pro.  Not 98, and not 2000.
I think you're boss should get real and budget about $100,000.00 for a consultant, if you've got a lot of users.

From old machines, on Novell, to XP and what else, XP Server, Server 2003?  With all those Corel and other databases, he's taking a very big chance on losing all the company data.

If you really have something like 2,500 users, your company needs to hire somebody that knows what they're doing and has done this before.

How small is your department, and what is the data worth?

That's what he can afford to spend on getting it right the first time.

If you're currently on 98 and Novell, let's see, you're 7 years behind already.

I'd aim for something like Server 2007 and some Operating System and hardware that will work in 2007.

You use Lotus, Lotus Notes, SQL or MSSQL as well?  Excel, and others?  I think your boss is really about to drop the ball, and his boss above him, if they don't start to plan ahead a little.

Sounds like someone might have a fear of success problem there.  If they won't spend the money on a consultant, then tell them they had better spend it on new equipment and software because they are about to become "extinct."

"My question is when can a small department like this can upgrade or buy new systems."  "

As one of the experts above mentioned, a fairly standard computer upgrade cycle for a compnay is every three years, though if a firm or department isn't foing well financially, it's often possible to extend that for a year or two.  Extending the upgrade cycle beyond 5 years (which for most of the PCs is what's been done) is very problematic, as you run into hardware and software maintenance problems of the type you're encountering.   These can be allieviated to a small degree by having a schedule for backing up user data from PCs and reinstalling the OS and all the installed programs, which will reduce the chances of a software problem but do nothing about the increasing likelihood of deteriorating hardware.    

"And do you think  the above mentionend reasons are good enough to suggest the boss to spare some budget to upgrade the systems and give the users better working environment."

Definitely.   Given that upgrades have been postponed for so long (your PCs are all at least 5-7 years old), my recommendation would be to budget for replacing all of the PCs no later than the end of this calendar year/fiscal year, whichever comes sooner.   If that is not possible within the budget for this year, then I would recommend at a minimum budgeting for replacing the oldest half of the PCs in the current fiscal year, with the balance of the systems replaced in the following fiscal year.   I've worked (actually, curently am working in) a firm where upgrades were of necessity postponed to what was effectively five years for most personnel, but once we began upgrading some users, management saw that it made sense to upgrade everyone, as the productivity gains dramatically exceeded the costs of working on legacy PCs.
I wouldn't do a piecemeal upgrade if you can at all help it.  It's an IT NIGHTMARE.  You are best off with ONE consistant box for every desktop -- means you can store ghost/et al backup images of a source drive, all use the same drivers, same antivir, etc.  Same hard drives, same network cards...  Just makes things easier.

Plus, trying to manage old and new machines just makes things that much hairier.  Best to have only one, static equation to solve, one box-type to work with.  The ROI for leasing a bunch of new boxes should be seen pretty quickly, in overall productivity, in general support (with a 2year support plan, dell fixes the boxes...), plus you could even have a 'hot backup' box around that someone could be marginally productive on while awaiting repair of their real machine.  Take advantage of storing stuff on servers, or nightly backups to servers of key files.

A small department that hasn't made an investment in technology in a while can find a way to budget in a lease of new machines (or capex the whole thing in one fell swoop). The technology will easily last you another 3-5 years before you get back to the same Q again.

Faster machines == more productive workers.
Better machines == happier workers.
New technologies == happier workers.
Less downtime == more productive workers.
Paid 2year support == less IT headaches, less IT costs...

You could, as well, get the last seven years of the budget and compare it to the growth or decline of your computer department; there is a relationship here, which is what everyone is trying to tell you.  I'll bet the profit margin declined as an after effect of equipment decline, if it has declined.  If it hasn't declined, there should be no problem in refitting, but if it has, it's a sure indication that it is time to refit.

The IT manager for this city makes $190,000.00 a year!  Can you imagine!  Just about 20% shy of the President of the United States.

She wouldn't think twice about buying all new equipment, even though the city is broke and in debt up to its ears!

Whatever you do, don't let the boss talk you into XP Home, it ain't gonna work!  XP Pro, I know it's like two hundred more per box, but it works on a network.

You should be able to get some good deals right now on boxes aimed for 2007.  You do have to think ahead in purchasing; a department outfitted for 2005 will be out of date before 2007.  It's about all of your jobs, right, not just the people at the workstations.  I think that would sell your boss.
Ummm, XP Pro only costs an additional $79/unit in the dell box I outlined above.  That's not cheap, but it's not 'two hundred more' either.

And whether Home will work for a given department is really hard to say -- worth having an IT pro work with you for even an hour to determine that.  In case anyone cares, here's three good links for comparing the differences between Home and Pro:

detailed descriptions:

Price must've gone down.  So XP Pro is worth the extra, davebytes.  Good links.

I don't like Home because of the extra work in configuring it for a domain.  On the Windows servers, it gave a lot of hassles; the Linux servers brought XP Home right online.

Just in case you were wondering why I preferred XP Pro.
I gave a lot of relevant material, plus remained involved in further discussion of the topic.
There does need to be a better policy on this.  I don't have a problem with davebytes getting points.
I should have said, there were a lot of good thoughts here (including gineric and davidis99, not to exclude others, just to name two... ;) )... but there's no good policy for when questioners don't come back.  I've been happy to date with the admins closing Qs.
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