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Turbo Realtime: Computer Recommendations


This is meant to be a general guideline to help you start to wade through the process of updating your equipment.  The good news here is that the TRAIN Committee has hundreds of excellent volunteers standing by in your state to help you through this process, so don't hesitate to contact your TRAIN Committee for a referral for someone to help you if you need it.  We can put you in touch with a very knowledgeable volunteer in your local area who will help you through the processes.  This is just meant to be a starting point for you. 

It can be a daunting task when it is time to buy a new computer.  There are lots of things to consider:  Processor speed, hard-drive size, touchpad, optical drives, USB ports, sound cards, speakers, screen size, laptop or tablet.  Where does one begin to make this decision that you'll have to live with for several years? 

Heading to a retailer to explore computers and tablets is a good start.  Find a retailer that allows you to explore and actually use the computer or tablet.  If you use an external USB microphone, take it with you to do a trial run of the sound system.  Find a clerk to explain what you do and that there are some unusual requirements for your job.  Explain that you need to do several "checks" to be able to choose the right computer for your needs. Then conduct some testing of the computer. 

Let's explore the important choices you need to make and how to make the best choice.

First, you need to decide how large a computer you want.  If you are an official and rarely move your computer from place to place, you may want to choose a larger screen size.  If you're a freelancer and travel with your computer, you may want to choose a smaller computer.

Many reporters, especially freelancers who are often transporting equipment, are opting to go with a tablet computer like the Microsoft Surface.  You need to be certain that you choose a tablet that runs the Windows 8 operating system in order to run your CAT system properly.  If you are considering going the tablet route, be sure to check with your CAT software vendor to be certain the tablet you're considering has the specs needed to run your software.  Keep in mind that you should read reviews if you're considering a tablet computer.  Some tend to be less sturdy than the laptops.  If the tablet comes with an attachable keyboard, try to go to a retailer that has the model you're interested in to try it out.  They vary greatly on how stable the tablet is when attached to the keyboard. 

The weight of your computer can be affected by the size of the external battery.  Many of the retailers don't insert the battery at all in their computer demos, so if you pick it up and it seems light as a feather, turn it over to see whether the battery is in or not.  It will affect the weight. 

The other thing that affects weight is whether a CD-Rom is included or not.  If you travel a great deal, you may decide you do not want a CD-Rom drive (now BluRay) at all.  Anything you want to load onto the computer can be done through downloading from a web site or through a thumb drive. 

Another option is to purchase an external portable CD-Rom drive.  This can be a good choice for you.  Many of us rarely use the CD-Rom except to load programs, so there's really no need to carry that weight daily.  You can purchase for about $60 or $70 an external portable CD-Rom that just sits in a drawer until you need to load something and not add that weight to your computer on a daily basis.  As little as it gets used, it should last many moons. 

If you need to get a rough to an attorney, an e-mail of the file works fine or a thumb drive, if needed immediately.  This is often a better option for the clients to receive the file quickly, too, because many of them choose not to have a CD-Rom drive.  Just be sure to carry a few extra thumb drives.  Make sure your virus protection is up-to-date and is checking your thumb drives, too, when you access the thumb drives. 

A very important factor when choosing a computer is the keyboard.  Open up Word Pad or Notepad on the potential computer and actually type on it a bit to get a feel for the keyboard.  There can be a vast difference in keyboards, and you want one that feels comfortable for you. 

Be sure to notice that on the larger-sized computers, they often now have a number keypad off to the right side of the keyboard.  If you haven't tried to type on one that has that keyboard, we suggest you do so.  It slightly distorts the usual location of the home keys to the point you might not want to even consider buying one with that feature. 

A feature that is also helpful to look for on a computer is the ability to quickly turn the touch pad on and off.  HP usually has a button to do it and many of the manufacturers are starting to build it into a corner of the actual touchpad itself. You double-tap it to toggle it off or on.  Some also use a function key combination to turn it off and on, but make sure you know how to do that before you buy.  It will save lots of frustration.  Reporters often report being frustrated that their CAT software when they're typing something has a "glitch" and jumps two or three lines up and messes something up.  However, it's usually that their sleeve or even static electricity is engaging the touchpad to move.  It's very easy to eliminate this problem by turning off the touchpad as soon as you enter your CAT program. 

Another very important feature is the internal sound card and speakers.  Here is another area that can vary greatly from computer to computer.  Toshibas that have the Harman/Kardon sound cards usually produce great sound.  Sonys also have a great reputation for sound quality, but check to make sure before you buy.  Some HPs have great sound, but that can vary greatly.  Currently HP has some models with the Beats audio and those are usually good audio systems.

Keep in mind, also, that when you're choosing your computer, you can test out the sound of the computer's internal microphone before you buy. 

There are many out there that have such good sound quality that you really don't need an external microphone.  If you want a short demo on how to test the computer's audio in the store, there is one available at: http://www.ncraonline/realtimehelp and click on "How to Choose Computer with Good Sound."

At this time, when it comes to a processor, look for at least an Intel Pentium I5 minimum, or I7, even better.  Don't even consider a Celeron processor. It's too slow. 

As for memory, they vary, but memory is rather inexpensive right now, so go with a minimum of 6 GB of RAM, or 8 GB would be even better.

When selecting your computer, you will want to decide how many USB ports you want and also look at the location.  Are they on the back?  The side?  Are they too close together?  You can always use a small USB hub to give you extra USB ports, too, if you need it.  Just look at what you're buying to see if you can live with what it offers. 

What operating system do you want?  There may be some bias here, but we would recommend to always go with the latest available, and currently that would be Windows 8.  It may take a little tweaking with your CAT software, but it's usually a minor thing or two that your vendor should be able to help you with, and there's comfort in knowing that your system is as up-to-date as possible.  Of course, if you're buying your computer very soon after a new operating system comes out, you should check with your CAT vendor to be sure your system is working in the new environment before you buy.

If you choose your computer and decide you still want the advantages that an external microphone can offer, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.  Choose one that does not depend on a battery.  There's nothing worse than coming home from a horrible expert witness day and then find that your microphone battery died in the middle of it with no warning.  Most of the USB microphones do not require a battery, so do consider that. 

Sound Professionals online has a section dedicated to court reporter microphones, so that's a good place to start.  They also provide tech support for the microphones, too.  You can find their web site at http:/