Technology changes so rapidly that this blog post will be unusably dated in a mere six months. That being said, if you’re reading this between 2/12/2009 and 8/12/2009, this may be useful advice as to what to look for in a new desktop computer.
This article focuses on PCs, not Macs. The Mac Lawyer is better qualified to speak about the merits of the Mac in the practice of law.
One general principle is this: don’t skimp on your computer. You’re going to be using it more than anything else in your practice for 1) producing documents, 2) performing research, and 3) communicating with electronically savvy clients. You don’t want to waste your valuable time waiting for programs to load, rebooting a slow PC, etc. Loading a computer up with big (some would call bloatware) software will make an average PC crawl at a snail’s pace.
Some lawyers wonder whether they should get a laptop in lieu of a desktop. I think that’s a bad idea. You want to keep your client data safe, in one place, and not easily lost or stolen. It’s too easy to drop, have stolen, or comprimise the data on a portable computer. I do think that a lawyer should have a laptop as a secondary computer, but not as a primary.
As of this date, quad-core CPUs are becoming much more common and affordable. 64-bit operating systems like Vista 64 will take advantage of these multi-core processors. I recently upgraded from a dual-core to a quad-core Intel CPU, and noticed a tremendous performance increase. Be aware, however, that several software packages and drivers are not yet compatible with 64 bit operating systems. For example, the Fujitsu ScanSnap requires you to obtain the 64 bit drivers directly from the manufacturer (Fujutsu).
Likewise, RAM is becoming much more affordable. It’s not cost prohibitive to get between 6 to 8 gigabytes of RAM. RAM helps your computer run quickly when you have a lot of big applications open, like Quickbooks and Microsoft Office. Note that you cannot exceed 4 GB of RAM unless you have a 64 bit operating system (discussed above).
Dual-monitors (or more than two!) can save you a lot of time. Many PCs have dual video-outputs, which can support more than one monitor. One practical use of two screens is that you can view one document on the right screen, while you edit another document on the left screen. Imagine having a deposition transcript open on the right as you write your motion for summary judgment on the left. It saves a lot of time, space, and headaches.
If you ever want to upgrade to 3+ monitors, make sure that you have room to add an extra video card inside the PC.
I have a secondary Dell monitor that rotates to portrait mode (taller than it is wide). This is great for viewing 8.5×11″ documents. HP makes an affordable portrait-mode monitor as well.
You’ll probably want to make sure your PC has a DVD burner. This will allow you to make CD or DVD backups of important data. Put an entire client’s file on one disk.
Most computers have at least a wired ethernet (network) port, but you may want to get a machine with built-in wifi (Wireless Networking). That way you’ll have less cables running around the office.
You need UPS battery backup. Suppose you’re in the middle of your 30 page motion and the power goes out. You just lost hours of work. Don’t let that happen. A UPS will keep your computer on and running in the event of a power shortage. I use the Tripp Lite UPS for this purpose, and it has worked great.
There’s a lot of choices out there. Now you should be better equipped to go get shopping: