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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Getting Started – Hardware Needed, Part 1

I had to replace my laptop this week because my old one is having an increasing number of issues that culminated with it shutting down on me six times in an hour while I was trying to meet a deadline last Thursday. While one of the benefits of transcription is the low cost to get started initially – if you’re surfing the Internet and able to run basic programs on your computer, chances are you’ll be able to transcribe – you may find that some upgrades are worth the additional cost when buying a new system.

I’m not a computer expert by any means, but I have a couple friends who are and who recommended HP laptops as a less expensive alternative to Sony Vaios, which I was initially looking at. All I knew was that I did not want a Dell this time around. I’ve been very happy with my eight-year-old Dell Optiplex desktop, which still serves as my backup computer, but my experiences with their laptops have not been as positive.

As I was ordering my new one, I based my decision on each feature on my previous experience, trying to weigh the benefits and cost of each one so that I wasn’t spending money unnecessarily without giving up important upgrades just for the sake of being cheap.

Here’s what I ended up with:

Windows Vista Home Premium – My friends, who work for Microsoft but are always honest with me when I ask for their advice, assure me that Service Pack 1 has fixed any of the existing issues with Vista but that they haven’t had any major issues in the year they’ve been running it anyway. While I’ll admit I’ve been afraid of Vista (I bought my first laptop with Windows Me on it however many years ago, and that was pretty much the worst experience ever, so I was hesitant to go with a new operating system when Vista came out), that's good enough for me, especially considering I didn’t have much choice left at this point!

Intel(R) Core(TM) 2 Duo Processor T5750 (2.0GHz) – Okay, here’s where I admit I really don’t know much about processors and gigahertz and all of that. I do know that the processor determines the speed that my computer is able to complete a given task, and a few Google searches seemed to indicate that a dual processor would provide all of the speed I would need. Since this is an upgrade from a slower single processor for me, I'm not expecting any issues.

15.4" diagonal WXGA High-Definition HP BrightView Widescreen Display (1280 x 800) – This is actually a downgrade for me, as I’ve loved having a 17” widescreen for the past 2.5 years. But the price between the two sizes is farily significant, and I’m actually looking forward to having a smaller, lighter computer at this point.

If I were purchasing a desktop or separate monitor, I would definitely go with the biggest screen in my budget. The flat-panel LCD monitors that are available save a ton of space compared with a classic CRT monitor, and I really do like having a larger screen so that I can have multiple windows up at once.

FREE Upgrade to 2GB DDR2 System Memory (2 Dimm) – This is double the memory I currently have, and I learned an important lesson while researching laptops. You can purchase memory much, much cheaper from reputable Internet sites than from the manufacturer, and the installation is a fairly simple process if you're at all comfortable with the workings of your computer. You do need to make sure you know how many slots are available as you decide which memory to purchase. For example, a laptop may have two slots with two 1 GB cards. If I buy a third 1 GB card, it won't do me any good. I would need to replace one or both of them with a 2 GB card to increase my memory. A Google search with your model name/number and "RAM" should give you all of the information you need to get started.

FREE Upgrade to 160GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive from 120GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive – A 160GB hard drive is double my current size, and since I'll no longer be storing all of my pictures on my computer, I'm confident it's enough. I probably would have even settled for the 120GB had it not been for the free upgrade.

An important sidenote: RAM refers to the temporary storage on your computer and affects your computer's performance because it stores information for programs that are currently running on your computer. However, pictures and files are stored on the hard drive, not in the RAM, and so if you have a lot of large files (and by this I mean thousands and thousands of pictures or hundreds of large audio files, which you should not be storing long term under most confidentiality agreements anyway), you'll want to upgrade your hard drive size as well.

When buying a new computer, it's always tempting to upgrade to the best of the best for each feature. However, this is my third laptop since I began transcribing because I work the poor things to death, and while I'm hopeful I might be able to make it last a little longer than my two Dell's, I find that the better option for me is to just get a good solid computer and plan on upgrading down the road. With the way prices drop by several hundred dollars every couple of years (even when upgrading to a better system), this just makes sense for me.

Any computer experts have anything to add?

1 Comment:

margi said...

I'm certainly no expert but I did want to comment that most of the folks that are having trouble with Vista are doing so because they're running in 64-bit mode, which apparently is troublesome because of the lack of drivers.

Nope, I haven't had a lick of trouble with 32-bit Vista since I was beta-testing it - the only problem was proprietary software required by a prior contract. Once I dropped them, I dropped the old, clunky XP machine I had, and went Vista on both desktop and laptop.

Enjoy your new baby!