Odds are, your company is relying on computers more than ever--to communicate with clients, suppliers, or your work-from-home staffers; maybe even to do business e-commerce style. And perhaps, you're painfully aware your decade-old device isn't up to it. Time to invest in new equipment. Since you have to be especially careful with expenditures these days, these tips will help you buy the right computer for your small business.

PC vs. Mac

One of the oldest and most partisan debates in the tech world is the one between PCs (which run on Microsoft's Windows software) and Macs (which run on Apple Inc's.). Both will serve your business well. Now, let's drill down a little more.

From my experience as an IT pro who services a lot of business environments, Macs cost more at the outset, but they will last longer than PCs and their resale value is higher. They tend to be more stable and less prone to viruses, malware, hacks, and other cyber-nasties, due to Apple's more strict stance on security. 

If you tend to attract younger employees, they will probably prefer a Mac because they grew up using other Apple devices: an iPod, iPhone, or iPad (which sync very efficiently with a Mac laptop or desktop, by the way). Creatives will also want Macs because the software tends to be more stable than that of PCs.

On the other hand, a lot of the computer applications people use--the functions they do--are now stored in the cloud, operating via the web, instead of actually being stored on an individual computer. It can be hard to make a case for spending considerably more on a Mac when a PC takes you to the same internet at oftentimes less cost.

PCs power the vast majority of offices and for good reason. Macs are harder to centrally manage. If you become large enough that you need an IT staff, it will cost you more to manage these devices than if you have PCs. Apple's core market remains residential, and its computers work best as standalone devices--unless you invest in third-party management systems that can be expensive.

Tablet Vs. Computer

Most of your employees are likely doing specific computing tasks and interacting with the internet in a basic way. Since tablets now have keyboards and even mice and trackpads, they can certainly be used in place of computers for some employees. 

However, you should only consider this for the most basic of users. And since tablets with all of the accessories needed will cost the same or more than a laptop, there's no financial advantage. While the market is quickly heading toward making tablets more capable, for the present, it's still advisable to stick with the computer.

Specs: Speed and Power

Ideally, look for a computer with at least an i5 processor at a speed of at least 2.5 GHz, 16Gb of Ram, a 250Gb SSD, and the pro edition of Windows (if you're going the PC route). Don't worry about the graphics card. For laptops, don't purchase one without first holding it. If the plastic feels cheap, it probably is--and will likely crack quickly. Business class laptops will cost more, but will hold up better as they're moved around, which of course is the point of having a laptop.

You can purchase new computers with much lesser specs. But the cardinal rule of computer buying is: Buy more power, speed, and memory than you currently need--because you'll eventually always want more. The better your device's specs, the longer it will work and be able to hand future software.

By the way, for creatives, accountants, and other power users, a desktop with a large monitor and a handy mouse hasn't gone out of style. Don't feel like you should have everybody operating on laptops.

Refurbished Computers

Don't dismiss the idea of a refurbished computer. The first question to ask is, what was refurbished? If the computer has a new solid state drive and upgraded memory, was thoroughly cleaned and tested, and has at least a 90-day warranty, that's a computer worth considering. You can get good quality PCs on the refurb market for $400 or a little more. For a laptop, make sure you can see pictures of all sides of the computer to check for cracks or other damage.

You can purchase second-hand Macs from a variety of sources, but check Apple's refurbished site. Apple's refurbs often come close to their new computers, but at a discounted price. They come with Apple's support and warranties, too.

Refurbs work really well for desktop computers because desktops don't generally move. Be more cautious when looking for laptops, because of the physical abuse they often take as they're carted around.

When To Buy

A decade ago, computers were getting more powerful every year. That's no longer the case. Under the hood, today's new computers aren't much different than than they were three and sometimes five years ago--at least, in ways that most basic users would be aware of. 

Even so, don't wait for employees to complain before replacing computers. By that time, you've lost countless hours of productivity as they wait for their slow computer to respond. Ideally, you should plan to replace all computers every five to seven years on a staggered schedule. Replacing 20% of your computers per year is ideal. 

What to do with the old equipment? Once they, employees will often buy their used computer for their children or to use at home. Once the devices are erased and the operating system reinstalled, you could might find selling them online works well, to get a little of your investment back. 

You could also consider donating the devices to local nonprofits. Not only is it a great way to support your community, you might get a favorable deduction when tax time rolls around.

Tim Parker is co-founder and president of The Web Group, an IT consulting firm based in Florida.