Merilee’s Tips & Tricks for Reporters: What Computer Should I Buy? Go!
By Merilee S. Johnson, RDR, CRR, CRC, RSA
There’s a growing trend where Facebook has become the one-stop shop to learn about court reporting trends, gather equipment recommendations, career advice, and industry news. Facebook is great for a lot of things, but maybe it’s worth asking ourselves: Is this the place we want to gather research for a purchase as important as our work computer?
There’s comfort in gathering recommendations from fellow colleagues, but are we confident their expertise is any better than our own? Once you buy said computer based off the recommendation of your Facebook “friend,” what do you do if something goes wrong, or you just end up greatly dissatisfied with their recommendation? And, how do you maintain your computer if you don’t understand how it works?
To help you get started with your research, below is a breakdown of terms you’ll want to be familiar with the next time you buy a computer. Hopefully these non-techy explanations will help deconstruct some basic computer components.
Say good-bye to blindly relying on salespeople or Facebook-maybe-experts and be confident the computer you’re buying is right for you! And if a new computer isn’t in your immediate future, file this away for reference when you’re ready.
When it comes to computers, your distributor would be stores like Best Buy, Micro Center, Office Depot, Walmart, Amazon, Target, etc.
The manufacturer is merely the brand you choose to buy; –i.e., Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Fujitsu, Lenovo, Microsoft, Toshiba, etc. Each manufacturer carries various models of their brand. Let’s take cars for example. Toyota is a manufacturer of cars, but they make more than one “model.”
Continuing the Toyota analogy, this is where you pick out which model car you want to buy. Once you’ve selected your manufacturer, next you decide the type of computer you want. Like cars, computer manufacturers make multiple iterations of laptops and computers.
OS (OPERATING SYSTEM)
The OS, or Operating System, is a name for the basic functions of a computer. Heard of “Windows 10”? This is the current operating system for Windows-based computers.
Tech Tip: Microsoft aims to release new feature updates twice a year; March and September.
The processor responds and processes basic computer functions. It’s also referred to as the CPU, the Central Processing Unit. Think of this as the engine of a car. The processor is as central to the function of your computer as an engine is to a car. Generally, the more powerful the processor, the faster your computer will run.
There are a few main processor brands, but the most popular processor is made by Intel. Most computers are running the i3, i5, i7, or, the most recent, i9. Again, the more recent the processor, the faster it will go.
Tech Tip: If the purpose of your computer is to run your CAT software, you can reduce your overall cost by going with a smaller processor. While big and shiny is always appealing, you won’t notice a difference between an i5 and an i7 when it comes to your software.
INSTALLED MEMORY (RAM)
RAM, or Random Access Memory, is your computer’s short-term memory. The more RAM you have, the more tasks your computer can perform at once and the faster it can complete those tasks. Think: Cut and paste.
Not to be mistaken with hard drive storage space, RAM is the space your CPU uses as it’s actively working on each task. Think of RAM as the delivery of information, not the primary storage.
HARD DRIVE – HDD vs. SSD
Your hard drive is your computer’s long-term storage. It’s where it holds files while you’re not using them. An HDD is the traditional spinning Hard Drive, which, up until recently, has been the standard in all computers. SSD stands for Solid State Drive.
What’s the difference? When you boot up your computer and you can hear spinning parts, that indicates you have an HDD. Now, think of the hard drive in your tablet or cell phone. You don’t hear anything because there are no spinning/moving parts. That’s because they have SSDs. The advantages of SSDs include lower risk of failure, faster performance, and cooler operating temperatures. Typical hard drive storage space comes in gigabytes. i.e. 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, etc. The bigger the number, the more storage you have.
System Type typically refers to a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system. This is how the computer processor handles information. A 32-bit limits the amount of RAM you can use; a 64-bit runs faster, as it allows you to install more RAM.
Tech Tip: Know if you’re running a 32-bit or 64-bit when installing and updating your CAT software.
What’s the difference between a 2.0, 3.0, or 3.1-powered USB (Universal Serial Bus) port? Power! The different numbers represent the amount of power provided to each port as well as speed-of-transfer rate. As a point of quick reference: 2.0 has a black box in the middle; 3.0 has a blue box in the middle; 3.1 has a red box in the middle.
Tech Tip: Inspect the location of your USB ports. Depending on what you’re plugging into the ports, if they’re too close together, you may not be able to use multiple ports at the same time.
HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface)
HDMI is the standard for connecting to high-definition video devices. These ports are not necessary for freelance reporters, but may be a feature CART providers and Captioners may want to add to ensure they can output their captions to an external TV, monitor, or projector.
When you invest in a new computer, look into tech support options. In addition to manufacturers, some distributors will provide free tech support, simply by purchasing from their store. Find out what tech support options are available to you. Some stores even offer free classes, so be sure to ask…and take advantage!
This is the hidden secret most reporters overlook when purchasing a new computer but is directly related to reporter satisfaction. Look.At.The.Keyboard! Does it match the type of keyboard you’re used to? Are the arrow keys where you like them? How about your Delete key or Page Up and Page Down keys? Do you want/need the “CTRL” key on both sides of your keyboard?
When selecting a computer, practice typing on the keyboard and see if the keys are where you like them. If not, maybe consider switching to a different manufacturer or buy an external keyboard that you can plug in.