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4/18/2006
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How To: Building The Extreme Home Office

Selecting and installing the best products and technologies for the home office can be challenging. To help in that quest, Digital Connect Lab engineers set out to build the best--and most cost-effective--home office infrastructure. See what they came up with.

Many digital integrators today are building home offices. But, as with any sophisticated undertaking, they face many obstacles along the way to creating the ultimate solution. First off, what defines the ultimate office? Should integrators aim for getting the biggest bang for the buck or leverage the latest technology? What about the difficulty of weighing functionality against cost? As a way to address these issues, Digital ConnectLab engineers set out on our own to build the best--and most cost-effective--home office infrastructure.

We started out with a couple of prerequisites: a reliable broadband connection and a strong network backbone. For our ultimate home office, we took the approach of building a solution suitable for a home-based professional, with the typical needs of Internet access, customer management, accounting, intrahouse access and graphical processing needs. For our example, let's say this system would be for an architect or building engineer.

Of course, the primary element is the PC, which should be a workstation-class machine with the typical suite of software used in an engineering-based practice, where speed and graphical capabilities are a must. DC engineers chose a dual-core processor-based system, which balances value against speed. Those considerations drove engineers to build a system based upon an Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) dual-core Athlon 64 FX-60 ($1,253), which will work with the latest socket 939 motherboards, in this case an A8N-SLI motherboard from Asus ($199). Engineers loaded the system with Windows XP Professional OS.

Two Gbytes of Kingston RAM and a Hitachi 250-Gbyte SATA drive rounded out the basic desktop system components. An Nvidia e-GeForce 7800 GT Video Card (256 Mbytes, PCI Express x16, Dual DVI, VIVO, $399) was selected for affordable video performance. The assembled PC was housed in an Antec TX1050B black SOHO tower case ($149.95). Other components included the normal accessories, such as a keyboard/mouse combo, CD/DVD burner and so on.

For a display, a DoubleSight 19-inch dual LCD setup ($1,399) was selected. DoubleSight pairs monitors on a single stand to create a wide view or a dual-independent view of a user's desktop applications. The monitors are mounted on a specialized stand that allows swiveling, tilting and angling. When mounted, the displays appear as a cohesive unit, allowing users to extend their desktops over an enormous amount of screen real estate.

While the home office has quickly moved into the digital age, there is still a need for printed output. Whether it's faxes, photos, reports or diagrams, most users still require, and find comfort in, the ability to produce physical documents. Luckily, convergence has made selecting a device for handling printed material a snap.

DC engineers chose an all-in-one (AIO) Color LaserJet 2840 ($899) color laser from Hewlett-Packard, which combines a color photo copier, color scanner, fax machine and color laser printer into a single desktop unit. The 2840 also offers integrated networking and a host of utilities to scan, copy and print across the network. The 2840 doesn't offer the performance found on dedicated color laser printers, but the output speed and quality should be more than adequate for a small office, especially at such an affordable price.

With a PC and AIO selected, its time to move on to some more specialized options that no small office should be without: storage. The typical small office stores all of its critical data on individual PCs, with sharing and backing up data as an afterthought. Integrators should strive to change that practice and help their customers implement a centralized storage methodology, which offers simple file sharing and data backup. There is no better choice today than network-attached storage (NAS) to accomplish this goal. For a small office, a NAS unit must combine simplicity, security and affordability into a single package.

DC engineers selected the ReadyNAS NV ($1,199) from Infrant Technologies. The unit offers Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, SATA drive performance, easy management and capacities as high as 2 Tbytes for an affordable price. The unit's integrated file sharing allows users to quickly set up secure shared folders, and the Gigabit Ethernet speeds make the unit ideal for Disk to Disk (D2D) backups.

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