If you’re going to be working online, you’re obviously going to need hardware to get online yourself. Of course, if you’re looking to start a business with a minimal budget, hardware could be a significant expense.
Hopefully you’ve already got access to a laptop or desktop computer, but if not, let’s consider the options available with a limited budget.
Let’s get the worst option out of the way first. Assuming you’ve got a smartphone, you could use that alone.
Everything you do using a phone will be less convenient, but it is possible. A few years ago I set up an ecommerce website using an iPhone 4. Using a phone with a 3.5” screen wasn’t a lot of fun, but it was possible.
I also know a successful jewelry designer who runs the online aspects of their business using just their phone.
If it really is your only option, you can do most, if not all, things you need using just a phone. It’ll take longer though and you may find some things just don’t work with a touch screen interface, but if it’s the only way to get going, it’s just about viable.
Old computers are one of those things that often end up in a cupboard just in case, rather than being thrown out.
You may get lucky just by asking around friends and come across an unused old laptop or desktop computer. Alternatively, you could check out eBay, Craigslist or similar sites and find low cost older computers.
Obviously the term obsolete hardware doesn’t sound great, so you may be thinking this is a stupid idea. However, people often consider hardware obsolete long before it’s really reached the end of the line.
I’ve got a 20 year old HP laptop with Windows ME in the attic. Out of interest I booted it up a year or so ago and was astonished by how zippy if felt.
Now I’m not suggesting you look out two decades old equipment, but you may be surprised by how useful older equipment can be.
Most old computers will have some version of Windows installed. Windows computers tend to slow down over time.
If you can get a low cost five to ten year old computer, you can install an operating system that is specifically designed for use with older equipment.
There are a few free Linux operating systems that fill this role, but I’m going to point you to Zorin OS Lite (https://zorinos.com/download/). Zorin OS is a relatively young Linux operating system, that’s growing in popularity and the Lite version is designed for older machines, even up to 15 years old.
Zorin also has Windows like feel to it which should make most users feel quite comfortable with it. There are some aspects of using a Linux operating system that can require some getting used to, but chances are you’ll be doing little more than using a web browser, email and word processing. You shouldn’t have too much trouble getting used to these on Linux.
Low powered PC
There’s quite a selection of low powered PCs at the moment. While their specs are pretty low compared to normal computers, their performance is better than you might expect.
These generally use processors designed for mobile devices, like tablets and phones. They also tend to have small Solid State Drives (SSD) that run a lot faster than traditional Hard Disk Drives that are found in most consumer level computers. Some of these are as small as 32GB which gives you very little storage space. You can supplement this with an external hard drive or save to the cloud.
Note that if you use too much space on the PC, you may find you’re unable to install operating system updates. For that reason, I recommend looking for at least a 64GB SSD.
You can choose between laptop style and small desktop machines. Many of the laptops will be Chromebooks that run ChromeOS, an operating system created by Google. These rely on web apps, but you can use most offline too.
Another laptop style option is to look at PINE64 (https://store.pine64.org/) and their PINEBOOKs. These use a Linux operating system and may take a bit more getting used to, but with products at just under $100 at the time of writing, it’s almost certainly the lowest cost option available.
You can also find Windows powered laptops at a similar price point to the Chromebooks, though Windows is more commonly used in small desktop computers. These are generally cheaper, though you also need to source a monitor, keyboard and mouse to use them. That said, you should be able to plug a small PC into a TV, though it may require an adapter to convert between HDMI and DVI depending on the TV and PC.
Low powered PCs will allow you to browse online and use software such as a word processor or drawing app, but you may find the experience suffers from short delays. A machine like this is not going to be suitable for gaming, but one advantage is that they usually don’t require a fan for cooling, making them silent in use.
Before committing to this route though, do try searching for cheap laptops on Google and Amazon. Sometimes you can find a deal on an older model with a rather better spec that a seller wants to clear from stock that may be competitively priced against a low power PC.