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POS versus standard desktops

01 Feb 12

When the time comes to provide a customer with a hardware solution for their lane of POS, the one component that sits at the heart of it all is a POS PC. Without this, a lane is incomplete, so why is it that at the time of choosing this mission critical component, retailers sometimes run desktops?
The market today has a number of PC manufacturers but only a handful build systems which are specific for point of sale or point of service. The instantly noticeable difference between a standard PC and a POS PC is price. The first mistake one can make is not understanding this price gap. A quick comparison of processor speed, Ram, hard disk drive capacity and OS will reveal that standard PCs outspec and outprice a unit built for POS. But the hidden truth is quite different.
At the POS the requirement is for a device that can withstand rough environments, run 24/7, provide a stable platform, have a three to five, or sometimes seven, year life, have better warranty coverage (being mission critical) and be super simple to support and manage. A standard desktop however is required to have the latest and greatest hardware to catch a consumer’s attention for gaming, application use and surfing the net, all in a clean home or office 8-10 hours a day.
The Real Cost
A standard desktop will get its specification refreshed every six to nine months with some commercial units lasting as long as 12 or 15 months. If chosen to be used in a POS rollout, an IT manager would need to manage different hardware specifications and bios as new models are deployed. This leads to extra time being spent on rebuilding and managing OS images requiring the management of multiple devices all with different internal and/or external hardware specifications. From an ongoing support perspective a crucial task is to ensure proper stock holdings of parts and machines for the life of the install. This is more complicated with multiple iterations of various specifications in a roll out.
Key points like legacy hardware compatibility also come into play since in the land of POS, the serial port is still king. A standard desktop would need additional expansion cards to ensure peripheral integration. A specific point of sale PC on the other hand has a stable four to five year lifecycle and after the unit is announced as ‘end of life’ it is provided with an additional five year parts availability. Very quickly the cheaper standard desktop isn’t as cheap as expected. The cost of extra time to configure the unit to suit a POS environment plus the cost of additional expansion cards on top of support costs to maintain the unit over a long period of its life may equate to double or triple the actual cost of a machine purpose built for a job that may easily last the full five to seven years.
A standard desktop at time of purchase may look like a cheaper option for customers, however understanding the true overall costs of deployment, total cost of ownership over the duration and valuable support resource management should all be taken into account before a hasty decision is made when choosing this key component. 

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