If you want to learn about parts for a new system, read the beginning. If you want to troubleshoot your current system, scroll down to “But I want to troubleshoot on my current system.”
TLDR: RAM is extremely important for our work.
Windows users, in today’s world of remote reporting and computing confusion it can help a little bit to have a simple guide on what you’re looking at when you’re buying a computer. If you’ve got a system you’re comfortable with, this one is NOT FOR YOU. For everybody else, let’s break things down into simple. If you’ve got a friend who has trouble with computers, this might help them with their shopping choices.
When you go to buy a computer, you’ll probably end up on a screen like this:
And then you’re probably going to end up clicking one of these and ending up on a screen like this. Remember, when buying a computer, the specifications tab is YOUR FRIEND.
In this particular listing, we luck out, because a lot of the specifications are also posted right at the top. Sometimes this is not the case. In this particular listing, we are also allowed to customize our specifications (specs) a little bit. Please note, this is being given as an example and not an endorsement of any site, product, or company. One of the first things you want to answer: Does the operating system fit the programs I want on the computer? This can include things like your printer. As an example, if a printer has been made to work specifically with Windows and has no Chrome driver, it might be extremely difficult or impossible to make it work with Chrome. In computers, a driver is computer code or software that helps the computer know what to do with hardware. Software is the code, apps, and programs on your computer. Hardware is the physical equipment. This is why you need to install the driver for your steno machine every time you get a new system. The driver is software teaching the computer what to do with the steno machine’s stuff. Some examples: Your steno machine is hardware. Your mouse is hardware. Your keyboard is hardware. Your operating system is software.
For figuring out whether a computer is going to work with the program you want, you should always pull up the program’s minimum specifications. Let’s pull up the minimum specifications for CaseCAT in this example. In this image are a bunch of red arrows and red text. I’m going to repeat everything below the image for easier reading.
Operating System. Also called OS. This is the foundation of the computer and what everything else is running from or on. Some common operating systems are Windows, Linux, Mac, and Chrome. Most stenographic tech is made to run off of Windows. It is possible to partition computers and run two operating systems, but we’re here to keep it simple.
Processor. Also called CPU. How fast your computer figures out stuff. We’re taking down words and that doesn’t require very fast processing speeds normally. If you’re concerned about processing speeds, get a “dual core.” This allows the computer to process multiple things at once. Note that Zoom’s minimum requirement is a dual core 2 GHZ requirement. If you want to run Zoom and stenographic tech on the same system, you probably want a dual core processor with more than 2 GHZ or a quad core processor.
RAM, also referred to as memory. Random Access Memory. This is where the computer stores information about programs you have open. This should not be confused with hard drive “memory.” It is always a smaller number like 2GB, 4GB, 8 GB, or 16 GB. If your computer is freezing, it’s probably because it’s out of RAM! Note that the minimum for Zoom is 4 GB, so if you want to run stenographic tech and Zoom on the same system, you probably want 8GB or 16 GB of RAM.
Hard Drive, sometimes referred to as memory. Almost always a big number like 256 GB, 512 GB, or 1 TB (~1000GB). This is how much stuff your computer can save. Many people believe that having too much stuff saved on the computer slows it down. This is usually not true. People get confused between hard drive memory and RAM memory. Most of the time your computer is slow because it’s having RAM issues. If the hard drive is almost completely full and you continue trying to save things, you might lose data. Try not to let your hard drive get completely full. Please note that despite all I just wrote, hard drives inside the computer (connected by something called SATA, SSD, etc.) are always faster than hard drives that are plugged in by USB. Programs you run often or files you open often should be installed on the hard drive inside your computer and not a USB hard drive or flash drive.
Video Card. Often referred to as GPU or graphics processing unit. Stenographic tech works on very old video cards. This is probably low on your priority list. Same for audio and your monitor. If you intend to use a computer for gaming or rendering graphics, you want a good video card.
When you’re looking at getting a new system, your biggest considerations are the operating system, the RAM, and the hard drive space. If you are going to be using the computer to run Zoom, you also want to check those minimum requirements. If you are going to be running Zoom and your stenographic software on the same computer, you want to be better than minimum requirements.
To wrap things up, this $399 desktop computer in this example appears to be a great work computer. Correct operating system, 8 GB RAM, good processor, lots of hard drive space. When you buy a laptop it’s often more expensive because you’re paying for the convenience of mobility. If you are looking for value and do most of your work from one location a desktop is usually superior value; you will often get better computer parts for a lower price as compared to a laptop. Be cautious with regard to netbooks. Some of them have very low RAM or processing power, and may or may not be suitable for our work.
My personal feelings? Brand hardly matters. It’s all about those numbers. You want lots of RAM and a dual or quad core processor.
“But I want to troubleshoot problems on my current system.“
I’ve got something for you. In Windows there are a few ways to check what’s going on in your computer. You can pull your system information by using your search bar. Using everything we just talked about, let’s see if we can identify the important parts.
Remember, Operating System, Processor, RAM. By knowing what system you’re running on today, you can figure out where your problem is. This computer has 32 GB of RAM. That means I can have a lot of stuff open before it freezes on me. If you’re having freezing problems, what can you do?
First, open your task manager. You can do this by using CTRL + ALT + DELETE and opening the task manager, or going to “run” and opening taskmgr.
CTRL ALT DELETE:
Whatever you do, you end up at a screen that looks kind of like this:
This screen is very important because it can tell you what is taking up all your RAM or Memory. Remember, this computer is running 32 GB RAM and 20 percent of it is in use while I’m working on Microsoft Teams without CaseCAT open. That’s almost 7 GB of RAM. If I had an 8 GB RAM computer, it would be incredibly close to freezing!
What can we learn from this? If you are working and you have Chrome or an internet browser open, you might be using RAM that your computer needs to run CaseCAT, Zoom, etc.
Facebooking taking up your RAM? Right click and end task! Don’t let online shopping bust your zepo/depo/court/CART/comp!
Final note. Computers, printers, and other devices generally work by running electricity through the parts on and off to produce the result we want. If you are having a problem with your computer or another device and cannot figure out the reason, power it down completely. Unplug it if you have to. Sometimes these electrical charges get caught in a “bad loop” and cause glitches or errors that simply cannot be troubleshooted. When you power down your device, you stop the electricity running through it, and break the “bad loop.” This is why the first line of tech support is always “did you try turning it off and then on again?”
Nobody is born knowing about computers, so if you don’t know something, ask. It’s a lot better than buying something that doesn’t work for you.
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