Device refreshes make me so nervous! In our school system, we rarely have funding to replace in bulk or to replace devices often. Choosing a computer today means working with it for 5+ years. This choice is never easy. You have to balance future proofing what you are getting with the equipment that you already have. All of that still has to fit within your budget.
Starting out, define the minimum specs required. Something like 8GB of RAM, 128 GB M.2 SSD, no optical drive, 6+ rear USB, etc. Talk to vendors about your refresh plans and request sample units for any quotes that they provide.
Next, start comparing apples to apples. To help make that choice in your environment, you can use a weighted matrix and a battery of tests. Here is a very generic template that you can use to compare three different models.
Decide what is most important to you, others supporting this equipment, and the people using it everyday. Apply your own weights to this template. For example, price might be less important to you than a better warranty. You also might never need to use 3 monitors but require wireless networking.
Now – start testing and making comparisons. If wireless networking is important to you, search for differences. One model might have an integrated wireless NIC that can’t be modified and another might have one with included antennas. If range is important, the second option might be better. The only way to know for sure is to test it.
Even computers with similar hardware specs can behave differently in the field. Use benchmark tools to compare performance (Windows still has the built-in winsat tool for this). For boot times and logon times, you can use the Windows Performance Toolkit to capture data and repeatably test a machine to get average start/logon times.
Take your sample computers (or at least your highest rated one) and put it in it’s future environment. You might discover a flaw in the design, incompatibility with existing hardware, or that a small add-on can improve the overall setup.
Hopefully, this quick write-up and template will help you make a better device decision on your refresh. If you have any tips or suggestions for a device refresh, I would love to read about them in the comments!