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Choosing a computer (UK)
Thread poster: Denise Baldry
Denise Baldry
Local time: 15:29
French to English
+ ...
Oct 11

I've been a freelance translator for decades - but I still seem to be unable to buy a machine which fits the bill. This latest laptop is fast for handling big files and for researching (but it cost me nearly £1000), however the keyboard started to give up at about 9 months in. The keyboard has just been replaced under warranty, so not so bad.
But it has to be said that most outlets (PCWorld, John Lewis) sell machines for family/general use.
How do most freelancers buy their machines - and does anyone have a guide to buying one for heavy-duty keyboard bashing plus fast processing?
I'd love to know for next time...


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Tony M  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:29
Member
French to English
+ ...
External keyboard Oct 11

I have never bought a PC in the UK, so can't comment on that point.

For historical reasons, I have for some years now run both an office and a laptop computer; the laptop was actually a very basic, cheap one that I bought over here in France in the hypermarket, but has served me well; its lack of speed is frankly not an issue for me, though the lack of memory sadly is, with the programmes today being increasingly memory-hungry — to the extent that I can no longer run the latest, bulkiest version of Skyp when running several other programmes at the same time.

For the keyboard issue, I have always found the laptop's built-in keyboard unsatisfactory; for one thing, it places the screen at the wrong distance for my eyesight; and for another, it makes it very difficult to use the Alt Num codes, which I often use for a range of foreign accents etc.

So I always use an external keyboard and mouse; originally, on the advice of a friend, I bought a wireless set, but after getting through 2 of thse with various problems, not to mention battery life, I reverted to a USB wired version, and have been much happier with that. Cheap as chips, and I treat it as disposable if it breaks down; though that said, since I stopped using big-name brands and went for a cheap unknown brand, I've not had any problems of unreliability!

I also run an external USB hard drive with all my important data on it, backed up to two other hard drives for security purposes. So there is no sensitive, confidential, or vulnerable data on the actual laptop itself.


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Mervyn Henderson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:29
Member
Spanish to English
+ ...
Ask the man who knows Oct 11

A chap occasionally does some techyness stuff for me, and when it's time to buy a computer, I ask him to have a look at the website of the local store (it's FNAC) and tell me the best bet. He knows what I need it for, and more importantly, what I don't need it for (games and films and good pixelity or whatever it's called), so he usually picks out the second or third least expensive, and these days he goes for the Asus brand. I put in a lot of time on this keyboard, and it seems to hold up well under bashing. He used to go for HP, but there was something silly about them that prompted him to change, can't remember what it was now.


But, like Tony, I've never bought one in the UK either ...

[Edited at 2017-10-11 07:07 GMT]


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Jean Dimitriadis
France
Local time: 16:29
Member (2015)
English to French
+ ...
Thinkpads/IdeaPads Oct 11

Hello Denise,

I suggest a ThinkPad or a higher-end IdeaPad by Lenovo. This is what I use.

They all boast excellent keyboards and features. Be sure to test the keyboard yourself in a physical store to make sure it fits you, even if you end up ordering online.

Of course, you can always use an external keyboard if you prefer doing so. And a warranty extension is not an unwelcome investment for professionals.

Jean

[Edited at 2017-10-11 07:18 GMT]


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:29
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
External keyboard, SSD, i7 Oct 11

Tony M wrote:
So I always use an external keyboard and mouse

Unless you are always moving around and never in one place, I think Tony's suggestion is an excellent one. You might want to try an external keyboard that puts less strain on hands, wrists, arms and shoulders than a standard rectilinear layout. A Microsoft Sculpt or Natural Ergonomic 4000 is a good place to start. I would add that an external monitor will lessen the strain on your eyes.

However, if you want an excellent internal keyboard, for me (and many others) Lenovo ThinkPad machines have the ne plus ultra of laptop keyboards. I like the look of the T470 in the current lineup.

The other positive about ThinkPads is that they have a modular construction which means that individual parts can be swapped out for upgrade or replacement. I use a Microsoft Surface Pro and I like it a lot, but if a major part fails I will be in trouble, whereas with a ThinkPad I would in many cases be able to replace just the faulty part.

In general, keyboard switches are typically rated for millions of presses for each individual key, so if your keyboard has problems after 9 months it is probably a result of failure (i.e. poor quality) rather than simply "wearing out".

In terms of general performance, I would go for a machine with at least an i5 processor, and an i7 if you can afford it. It should have a solid state drive (SSD) rather than a conventional "spinning" hard disk. SSDs are significantly faster, but for the same money it will have less capacity.

Finally, my advice would be to spend wisely but to bear in mind that this is your primary tool for generating revenue, so it's best not to skimp. £1,500 or £2,000 may sound like a lot of money, but compared to the earnings you intend to generate with it over the next 3 years, it is not so much.

Dan


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:29
Member (2008)
Italian to English
And anyway Oct 11

Dan Lucas wrote:

....bear in mind that this is your primary tool for generating revenue, so it's best not to skimp.


That's a very important observation. And if you use the computer, software, and peripherals *exclusively* for work you can deduct 100% of the cost from your taxable income. If not, you can deduct a significant percentage.

Your computer should be the best that money can buy, i.e. a computer that is never going to give you any problems, will run smoothly all the time, and will NEVER require the intervention of a "computer guy".

[Edited at 2017-10-11 08:11 GMT]


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Olly Pekelharing  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 16:29
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
Custom built Oct 11

I am on my second custom-built laptop (the first is still working fine but I skimped too much on the specs) and am really impressed by the quality, including the keyboard, which I use full time (although increasingly less due to speech recognition). You could have a look at https://www.pcspecialist.co.uk/custom-built-laptops/ or similar (I have no experience with this company, I bought mine from a Dutch business).

Regards,

Olly


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Nathan Russell
Spain
Local time: 16:29
Member (Apr 2017)
Spanish to English
The Dell XPS 13 does the job for me... Oct 11

I bought a Dell XPS 13 a year ago and it's been the best machine I've ever used. It has 8GB of RAM and an i7 processor, which means it's super fast. I've also never had any problems with the keyboard and can type very quickly on it. It's also easy to travel with should you ever need to do so. My only criticism of it is the placement of the webcam (it's awkwardly placed at the side to facilitate the computer's small frame), but I use an external webcam in any case. I'd suggest looking into Dell machines for their build quality and durability.

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Andrzej Mierzejewski  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 16:29
Polish to English
+ ...
Go for external keybord and mouse Oct 11

I can only repeat Tony's advice: use an external keyboard and mouse, both wired. I've worked on a laptop computer for 8 years and still can't get used to its in-built keybord - firstly, it's too small, secondly, the black plastic consumes light, and thirdly, the display is too close to my eyes. So, I work on a standard office-size keyboard from the lowest shelf in a supermarket, and at a low-end price (in my country: equivalent of approx. GBP 5 at today's exchange rate). My previous keyboard from such source gave up after 5 years, which was longer than expected. Knowing that I always hit the keys too strong, I touch the laptop keyboard as seldom as possible.

Besides, an external keyboard allows for using an external monitor (22" in my case) as the main display for e.g. working with CAT software, while the laptop's 15" monitor serves for auxiliary tasks: viewing the original document, googling etc. I sit approx. 1 metre from both displays - that's the comfort setting for my eyes.

HTH

[Zmieniono 2017-10-11 15:04 GMT]


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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
French to Danish
+ ...
HP Oct 11

Mervyn Henderson wrote:

He used to go for HP, but there was something silly about them that prompted him to change, can't remember what it was now.


HP refuses to sell you spare parts, instead forcing you to pay for shipping the computer to them, wait for them to change the part, and pay them for doing what a techie guy could have done himself. You get longer downtime for more money.

If you are able to follow a service manual, you can change a part on a Lenovo yourself, as they willingly sell the parts (some of which are overpriced, but I once managed to find a compatible screen on a Canadian site for something like one-half to one-third of what Lenovo wanted, and it was a Samsung screen, just like the old one from the factory).


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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 23:29
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Keyboard Oct 11

I have the opposite experience - I have to use the keyboard on the laptop, because adding an external keyboard puts me too far away from the screen. I could use an external monitor, but that means I would have to use an external monitor. And laptop keyboards, well, let's just say your mileage will differ and it's always a risk buying online without being able to try it out.

The keyboard on my old Dell 10 years ago, which has long since passed into the great beyond, was horrible. The Toshiba I used after that was better, but the laptop itself was awful. I wasn't working at that time though.

My last laptop and my current laptop are both Acers, and they've been acceptable in terms of their keyboards. But the 0-key on the numpad - which is Ins when used with Shift - is far too close to the arrow keys and in a position where I will inevitably press it by error. I've kind of gotten used to it, and I've been sufficiently brainwashed by notebook keyboards now that as a very quick typist I'm actually rather used to the short travel distance. But then I've never had very high requirements for this sort of stuff...

On the other hand, I can't stand touchpads and I always have my external mouse.


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Christophe Delaunay  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 16:29
Member (2011)
Spanish to French
+ ...
Lenovo keyboard Oct 11

I have a Thinkpad Carbon X1. Just wonderful. Fantastic keyboard, as light as a feather, fast as a shark. The SSD is just another world from the "conventional "spinning" hard disk", as Dan said.
But Tony and Andrzej's solution is the best: this way you'll have your screens (provided you have two!) not too close to your eyes. Arms length is the correct distance I read somewhere.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 16:29
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Buy spares Oct 11

Denise Baldry wrote:
The keyboard started to give up at about 9 months in. The keyboard has just been replaced under warranty, so not so bad.


I would buy two or three extra keyboards for that laptop. You never know if the keyboards will still be available 5 or 10 years from now.

I recall having a similar problem with and old Dell laptop, but fortunately I was able to obtain a replacement keyboard from China that worked perfectly even though some keys had different text painted onto them. The replacement keyboard didn't have a track stick, but I don't use the track stick anyway, and the keyboard worked fine. It was a fine laptop until someone spilled orange juice on it two years later.

But it has to be said that most outlets (PCWorld, John Lewis) sell machines for family/general use.


There was a time when I recommended an "entry level" computer to new translators, but these days the entry-level computers are crap.


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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 23:29
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Entry level? Oct 11

There was a time when I recommended an "entry level" computer to new translators, but these days the entry-level computers are crap.

I beg to differ quite strongly.

15 years ago, an entry-level computer was a desktop with a bottom-pile Celeron or Duron and 128MB RAM, maybe 256MB if you're lucky, in the middle of the golden era of trash Taiwanese capacitors and no-brand power supplies. That computer could barely get into Windows XP or do basic word processing, and god help you if you try to play a DVD using a graphics chip that had no hardware acceleration to speak of. Good luck finding ANY laptop under $1K USD.

10 years ago you were looking at Semprons and Celerons and 512MB-1GB RAM that could get you moving a little on Windows Vista in everyday use, but any sort of multi-tasking or multimedia still brought it to its knees. Laptops were beginning to catch up, but any decent laptop was expensive.

Today, ~$500 USD - which wouldn't even buy you that bottom-end desktop 15 years ago - buys you a full-fledged laptop with a quad-core CPU, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD and all the accessories such as optical drive, card reader, webcam, and full HD display. It's fast enough to handle the pre-installed Windows 10 and everything a normal user can think of, even the occasional 3D game, some image processing or video encoding while surfing the web and working at the same time. The normal user just can't tell the difference between the $500 laptop and the $1000 machine, and $1000 can buy you either a plenty powerful laptop, or a mid-high end desktop.

10 to 15 years ago, I wouldn't be willing to spend less than $1000 on a desktop or $1500 on a laptop, because the cheaper machines just couldn't move. Today, if my $900 mid-range gaming laptop broke down, I could go out and buy a $500 laptop and be confident that I could do everything in my professional life pretty much the same.

Computing power has far outstripped demand in the last decade, and more and more users find entry-level computers perfectly adequate (or far more than adequate) for their needs. And it's not like build quality was any better back in the day; if anything, you can be more confident that what you have today is less likely to fizzle out or stop responding than the equivalent a decade ago.


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annagiuliam  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:29
German to Italian
+ ...
External keyboard and screen, SSD Oct 11

I have an external keyboard and a big external screen, so i basically only use my laptop keyboard when I'm away.

Last year I bought a new pc, it's a Dell and a friend suggested me to go for a PC with SSD. Well, it was a great advice.
It's much faster than conventional computers with HDD (to try the difference, go to a computer store and try to open MS Word with a HDD and a SSD, you'll notice the difference). I've had it for one year and it hasn't slown down a bit.
For the same price you get less memory space with an SSD in comparison to a HDD, but you can compensate with external hard discs.
Hope it helps!


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