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Black Friday: Tech Specs to Look For When Buying an Office Computer

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

If you're like most people who have friends and hobbies, terms like "Haswell" and Intel Atom Z3740D mean absolutely nothing to you. That's fair. Fortunately for you, I have neither friends nor hobbies, so I'll be your tech spec translator for this Black Friday.

And make no mistake about it: your tech choices are important -- buy the wrong computer and your paralegals will beat their heads against their monitors in frustration, or you'll end up "upgrading" yet again, next year.

Laptop and Desktop Specs

Processor: "Core" or "Atom"?

Six months ago, we would've recommended taking a close look at AMD's offerings, which were very competitive, price-wise, and semi-competitive, performance-wise. However, in the last six months, Intel has revamped its lineup, both on the high end (the Core i3, i5, and i7 "Haswell" chips) and the low end (the Atom "Bay Trail" chips). If you're considering buying a laptop or desktop, your safest bet for current performance and for future-proofing are to stick to computers with either of these new processor lines.

Look up the specifications of the computer you are considering, search Wikipedia for the name of the processor, and if you see either the "Haswell" or "Bay Trail" codenames, you can be reasonably certain that the computer will handle any office-related tasks you can throw at it. The Haswell i7 chips are the absolute high-end, and are a definitely overkill for most office work. The Bay Trail chips are the low-end, but have such good performance on day-to-day tasks (and are surprisingly capable graphics-wise) that we wrote an entire post celebrating their release.

Ram: 2GB is the bare minimum

Do not buy a computer with less than 2 gigabytes of RAM. In fact, 2 GB is the bare minimum -- 4 or 8 GB is recommended. Why? RAM is ultra-fast memory that your computer uses for temporary storage for running programs, but when you run short, it borrows space on the hard drive. Hard drive speeds, compared to RAM, is like racing a mule against a Ferrari, and your overall computer performance will suffer accordingly.

Hard Drive: Capacity is second to type of drive

Got a need for speed? If you see "SSD," that means the computer is equipped with a flash-based hard drive, which is infinitely speedier than older disc-based drives. However, SSDs are more expensive and have far less storage capacity. The limited capacity, however, can be alleviated with the use of a cloud-storage account, such as Box or Bitcasa.

Graphics: Office PC, so it's irrelevant

If you were planning on gaming, or producing feature-length films, your graphics card would  be the most important spec on your PC. However, for office PCs that handle routine lawyerly tasks, the graphics built in to Intel's newest processors will handle it with aplomb.

Screen Sizes: Dual displays, portability?

If you're buying desktop PCs for your office, consider buying two monitors per computer, as the dual display setup is great for having research on one screen, and your in-progress brief on the other. Studies have also shown that the dual display setup is great for productivity.

As for laptops, portability is probably your main concern. Bulky 15-inch screens, which are frequently found on the cheapest laptops, are great, until you have to carry them around, while 13-inch screens are a good compromise between portability and screen size. If you're feeling really adventurous, PC makers are beginning to make 2-in-1 devices that are 10 or 11-inch Windows-based hybrid devices, which are basically tablets, with detachable keyboards.

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