Get What You Pay For.
Nine times out of ten, I don’t believe that cost has anything to do with quality. That one time out of ten, I’m shopping for computer parts. We court report, which means we do word processing really fast, which means that we generally don’t need the fastest computers available. That said, many a reporter has lost a file or two to a poorly-made computer. I figure it’s worth having a brief rundown on the bare basics of technology and computer specifications, and what all the numbers mean. First thing first, a co-conspirator and friend of mine says that the Dell XPS 13 is good, so I guess I will recommend that.
My personal preferences? Much too much money for a laptop, especially if I’m not going to be gaming on that laptop, so you’d probably catch me buying something similar to this HP laptop with the pretty big screen.
Now that all that’s out of the way, let’s get down to some easy basics so every court reporter can have an idea of what to look for. If you’re feeling lucky, read about how to speed up your computer with MSCONFIG. If you already know the basics of computer parts, stop reading, you’ll be bored. Check out the specifications page of just about any reputable laptop seller, and it’ll have:
BRAND – That’s the manufacturer. I find this generally unimportant. Do a Google search and see if there’s any glaring reviews that might steer you away from a brand.
SERIES/MODEL/PART NUMBER – Again, run a Google search and make sure there’s no large scale recalls/refunds/problems.
OPERATING SYSTEM – You must ensure that the operating system you are getting is compatible with your CAT or transcription software. Check with the CAT or transcription software creator.
SCREEN – Size of your screen. This comes down to personal preference. Balance your need to see the words against the weight of the laptop you feel comfortable carrying.
CPU – The processor in the computer. Most processors these days are going to do just fine at processing words on a screen.
CPU SPEED – Usually a number like 2.00 GHz. Look up the CPU, see how many “cores” it has. Generally, the 2.00 GHz is multiplied by the number of cores it has. Computing evolved in the early 2000s. Originally, processor speeds were getting faster and faster and the GHz were getting to be more and more. Nowadays, there are usually more cores running at a lower speed. At least, this is my layman’s understanding. Again, generally, modern processors will always be fast enough for words on a screen.
MEMORY / RAM – This number is usually expressed in sets like 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB. Bottom line is the more RAM, the more your computer can run at one time. 4GB or 8GB generally means less chance of your computer freezing. In my opinion, you should be able to get along just fine with a 2GB laptop, but there is more potential for freezing if you open webpages or have other things running on the computer at the same time your CAT software is running.
STORAGE / HARD DRIVE – This is how much stuff you can have on the computer, plain and simple. This number is usually expressed in numbers like 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB. If you are working only with text files, you can get away with a really tiny hard drive. If you store audio, you are going to need a very large hard drive, or a large external hard drive to store audio files on. As an example, I think that the SD Card in my Diamante writer is 4GB or 8GB. If I store audio files on it, it’s full within weeks. If I store text files on it, it takes about a year to fill, and that’s only because the Steno X-Ray files are huge. If I didn’t store Steno X-Ray files on it, I could probably store my entire career on an SD card. My recommendation for a hard drive? Make it huge. 512GB or 1TB if you can afford it. It’s much easier to never run out of space than to run out of space and have to decide what to delete, especially if you are not currently computer literate.
GRAPHICS – Again, because we are working primarily with words on a screen, your graphics card should never be an issue. What you can do is check the minimum specifications of your CAT software, see if there is a graphics card recommendation or requirement, and check the graphics card you plan to buy against that recommendation.
Remember, if your CAT software uses a CD to install itself, you will need a CD drive or an external CD drive. Also, if some terrible fate should befall your computer, as long as it is not the click of death, remember that you can usually open up your system, retrieve the hard drive, and connect it to a new system so that you can save all your files. Keep magnets and liquids away from your work space and equipment. That’s all, folks.