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What's the best computer for a translator?
Thread poster: Carolingua

Carolingua  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:17
Spanish to English
+ ...
Aug 1, 2007

I need to buy a new computer, hopefully a significant upgrade from my existing one, and I'm completely stumped by all the choices and new technology available (I have a no-name desktop PC running on Windows ME that I purchased in 2000).

PC vs. Mac: I haven't decided whether I should get a desktop or a laptop, or a PC or a Mac. I am a freelance translator (English to Spanish and French) and most of my clients use PCs and send me work in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Notepad or html applications. I have been using PCs for my entire professional life, however, most of my friends rave about their Macs and I'm considering this as an option as well.

Desktop vs. laptop: I like desktops because I do most of my work is from a home office and I have the space, however I can see the appeal of a laptop which would allow me to work from anywhere in the house (I have two small children and can see the appeal of this) or take it on vacation (it wouldn't really be a vacation at that point, but I don't like to turn away any work!). Can you still generate accents on laptops? Are they powerful enough? Can you work on them for a long time without getting fatigued? Ideally I would get a desktop and a laptop...but my budget will probably not allow me to do so.

Translation software: I haven't used any so far but I'm also open to suggestions about the best translation memory out there and what types of computers it's compatible with. Again, budget considerations make it difficult for me to justify buying something new if it costs a lot...so less expensive options or phenomenal performance is what I'm looking for.

I am very curious to hear from fellow translators about which technologies has worked best for them and if they have any recommendations for me. I welcome specific suggestions (i.e. such and such brand and model of computer). There are so many choices out there...I just don't know where to begin. Thank you in advance!


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 09:17
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Laptop Aug 1, 2007

I would never buy another desktop machine. Probably Windows laptop is the best choice, you can use also Linux on it.
Better buy a machine witch is optimized for work, not for gaming (energy saving processor and quiet fan).
If you're lucky you still find one with XP, otherwise you have to play with Vista.
Cheers
Heinrich


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Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 08:17
English to Norwegian
+ ...
Laptop Aug 1, 2007

is definitely the thing to go for (in my opinion). They hardly cost much more than desktops these days, and are as powerful. At least as long as you do not have very specific needs of advanced graphics and the like.
If you really miss the big screen and keyboard, get a screen and plug it into the laptop, and a wireless keyboard (and mouse, if you use it). Then you have two for the price of one
And the freedom to work in the garden when the weather is good enough, or on the sofa with one eye on the kids.

I have no idea about macs, but they tend to be a little more expensive than PCs, and it is usually people who do a lot of picture manipulation who rave about those? Or those who just want to be different? Sounds to me like you have fairly basic needs, and should get whatever gives you most value for money?

Since I have such short experience (since coming back to translation after many years) I won't advise you on translation software -other than to say that you can usually download free trial software, so you can find out what suits your working habits. I ended up buying Trados from the group buy here.
Good luck!


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 07:17
Dutch to English
+ ...
Laptop Aug 1, 2007

You can use it with a docking station and usual peripherals (keyboard, mouse, etc) at home and, as others have stated, you have the mobility and flexibility you need/want otherwise.

I have 2 PC laptops (Toshiba and HP) and a Mac laptop. I love the Mac, but not all software runs on it and/or it runs slower if you are able to run that software with Virtual PC.


Here are some images of docking stations: http://images.google.co.uk/images?svnum=10&hl=en&q=laptop%20docking%20station

Happy shopping!
Debs

[Edited at 2007-08-01 16:42]


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Tony M  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:17
Member
French to English
+ ...
Laptop convert! Aug 1, 2007

I vowed I would never buy a laptop, but was obliged to do so a couple of years ago, and now I wouldn't be without it!

I can't get on with the keyboard though — it keeps missing keystrokes (do I type funny?), and the embedded numeric pad is a nightmare for doing Alt + num accents etc. So I bought an external keyboard; I've had 2 wireless ones, but am very dissapointed with their quirky performance, so will soon be buying a wired one.

The one thing I find a real boon is having a second screen connected; and if I could, I'd even have a third one! I don't know how I ever managed to work without one before.

But I do find the laptop has given me much greater freedom, meaning I can travel around and still be available (with all my files and refs.) in case a client has a query, or if I haven't quite finished a job, I can take it with me to finish on the train...

From having been totally anti, I am now a 100% convert!


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:17
English to Spanish
+ ...
My experience Aug 1, 2007

I have always used a PC because it is what all my clients use. I just recently acquired a laptop and really like it; sometimes I take trips and it goes with me. I use WiFi with it. However, unlike many other translators I still have to translate quite a few paper documents, for which the physical setup of my old desktop is superior. So I use both.

To use the laptop with paper documents I would need a separate monitor and keyboard so I can place the monitor high and the source documents below it. That is how I like to work.

I use no CAT tools so that is not a consideration for me.

A lot of people love Macs and they are great for graphics, etc., but are costly and do not appear to offer any advantages for a translator.


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Mikael Adolfsson  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 08:17
English to Swedish
+ ...
Hard to say, but here´s something to think about ... Aug 1, 2007

I think a laptop will be fine. I´ve worked with computers for several years (before I became a translator), so here´s some tips:
If you are a little bit like me, there´s 4-10 programs open at the same time. So at least 1 GB RAM is nescessary, more is not so bad if you plan on using Windows Vista.
I often get rather big PDF-files; if your computer should be able to scroll fast through the file you should go for a laptop with a separate graphicsboard (not integrated circuits like for instance Intel GMA 950).
I don´t know how you do, but I don´t save every job for a long time, so harddrivespace shouldn´t be a problem. But since it´s not that expensive nowadays I wouldn´t go for less than 100 GB.
At the moment PC seems to be the best choice if you are using any CAT-tool - although it´s possible to run Win XP in a window on a Mac.
Well, some of my thoughts - I hope it helps!


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Anne Goff  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:17
French to English
+ ...
The Fiddly Bits Aug 1, 2007

They may not seem as important as speed and storage space, but when you use your computer a lot (as we all do) they become very important.

Keyboard:
I'm somewhat fanatical about my keyboard. I always find the computer I'm thinking of buying in a store (even if I end up buying it online) so that I can try out the keyboard. The way a keyboard should feel is a matter of personal preference; there is a wide variety (especially among laptops) and I think it's important to check before you buy the machine.

Screen:
I also can't stand dead pixels. If dead pixels bother you, make sure the company/store you buy from has a good dead pixel policy. A lot of stores won't accept returns for computers with less than 7 dead pixels or some such insane number.

Laptops:
Some laptops (perhaps not so many these days, it's been awhile since I bought a computer) have a weak connection where the monitor hinges open and shut. This can cause serious problems down the road. Make sure the connection is sound.

Ports and Such:
I like computers that have plenty of USB ports. I also like them to have ports on side and back, that way I can plug something like the printer into the back and forget about it, but I can easily plug memory sticks and such (things that I plug in and remove frequently) on the side. A friend bought a Sony Vaio and found that all the USB ports were on the right hand side and her cords get in the way of her mouse.

Just keep in mind how you use the computer and what you will want to plug into it.


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Carolingua  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:17
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
question about second screen... Aug 1, 2007

The one thing I find a real boon is having a second screen connected; and if I could, I'd even have a third one! I don't know how I ever managed to work without one before.




Thank you for your insight. Your comment about the screen caught my attention. I'm curious about how you mean that...is it a second screen instead of the laptop one (so you can have a larger view) or in addition to? If in addition to...how do you use it/what benefits does it provide? Can you open a different window on a separate screen?

Thanks to all so far for very helpful suggestions and ideas!!


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Gianni Pastore  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 08:17
Member (2007)
English to Italian
Please consider theft too Aug 1, 2007

One thing that still keeps me from switching to laptop is that these machines are one the most sought items thieves go after.
Sure enough, if you have a desktop AND a laptop and a burglar breaks into your house, you can kiss your laptop goodbye... he/she won't care about the desktop, even if it's the latest model and the laptop is a cheap one.

Imagine coming back home from a dinner out to find out the job you have to deliver in few hours is gone with the laptop (I got goosebumps only thinking of this...)


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Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:17
Member (2002)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Two (or more) screens Aug 1, 2007

I would support Tony M's comment about 2 screens. To my mind, the single most important hardware.

I believe there is a hardware that will enable you to run a second screen off a laptop, but it may be a bit inconvenient if you have to keep disconnecting.

I would recommend a desktop PC with two or more screens. The effect is to give you a desktop double the usual width.

When you move the mouse, it moves seamlessly between the two screens. You can have many programs open at the same time -- the text you are working on, electronic dictionaries, web browsers, e-mail etc. Having more desktop space means less switching between programmes, speeds up your work and makes it easier to concentrate.

For this, you need a special graphics card and of course two or more screens. I am currently using a Matrox Millenium 550, with excellent results. Easy to install, and has never gone wrong.




[Edited at 2007-08-01 18:29]


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Carolingua  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:17
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
keyboard question Aug 1, 2007

Anne Goff wrote:

I'm somewhat fanatical about my keyboard. I always find the computer I'm thinking of buying in a store (even if I end up buying it online) so that I can try out the keyboard. The way a keyboard should feel is a matter of personal preference; there is a wide variety (especially among laptops) and I think it's important to check before you buy the machine.



What do you look for in a keyboard? I know to a certain extent it's personal preference--but which company makes a good laptop keyboard in your opinion? It can be hard to try out all the keyboards in a realistic setting--and some are not even available to try (as in Dell computer which I don't think are available in stores). Also a very important/related question I have is how do you make accents on a laptop keyboard...I currently use the ALT+NUM technique, but this only works with the number pad on the right-hand side (not the numbers along the top); what technique works on a laptop?


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Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 08:17
English to Norwegian
+ ...
Get a computer for yourself, not the thieves... Aug 1, 2007

Gianni Pastore wrote:

One thing that still keeps me from switching to laptop is that these machines are one the most sought items thieves go after.
Sure enough, if you have a desktop AND a laptop and a burglar breaks into your house, you can kiss your laptop goodbye... he/she won't care about the desktop, even if it's the latest model and the laptop is a cheap one.

Imagine coming back home from a dinner out to find out the job you have to deliver in few hours is gone with the laptop (I got goosebumps only thinking of this...)


You could also be run over by a bus on your way back from that dinner- and that would also keep you from finishing your job on time.
The burglar could also smash your desktop computer for the pure h%#% of it.
Get a burglar alarm, and mind yourself in traffic
I do not agree that this should be your main concern when getting a new computer. Mine has travelled the world with me, and I have never had it stolen.
But of course, it could happen.
*touch wood*


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Carolingua  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:17
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
More thoughts on laptops... Aug 1, 2007

Granted, laptops are easier to steal. They might also be a bit more fragile (if bumped or dropped for example). This wouldn't be enough to keep me from purchasing a laptop though. I do have other questions/concerns though...Being new to laptops, I think I would want the option of connecting my laptop to external peripherals (like a regular keyboard and/or monitor), while keeping everything reasonably tidy while at my desk--is a docking station the answer to this? And, how easy/convenient is it to have wireless Internet access at home and/or out of town with laptop? (I've never used a wireless modem, so this is an important consideration. I currently have Internet access via cable, and am always connected).

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Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 08:17
English to Norwegian
+ ...
docking Aug 1, 2007

I do not have a docking station at home, I don't really feel the need for it. But I have one at work, and it is no problem. The laptop/docking station is no bigger than your average desktop cabinet, so if your desk is untidy, that is not the cause...
I have dropped and bumped my laptop several times. It has a few scratches on the cover, but works fine.

Wireless networks are great (but read the thread about security issues), and no more difficult to connect to than cabled networks.
I just got a new wireless router here today (with better security than the old one, and faster access). It took me an hour of cursing and swearing and calling the famous Norwegian
helpdesk
before getting it up and running, but once that is done, you are online all the time if you want, just like you are used to.

[Edited at 2007-08-01 19:36]


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