Home Ch: 2 - Computers Purchasing a Portable
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Chapter 2 - Hardware and Software

Purchasing a Portable Computer – Features.

Compare, compare, and compare. Before buying a laptop, view, use, and compare the various portables at tradeshows, computer stores and so on. Read the latest comparisons of the portables in computer magazines. There are many choices available from many manufacturers. Their utility depends upon a number of factors including budget, uses, lugability, and service. For the practitioner, the choice of a laptop depends upon ones’ needs. Analyze your work needs and then buy accordingly. One of the threshold issues is the tradeoff between the weight and cost of a laptop and the peripherals that you need. For example:

  • If you only intend to use a laptop for word processing, then the weight, size and cost of a laptop are easy to determine.
  • If you need to research the law on a DVD/CD-ROM or playback video depositions on your laptop, then it is necessary to get a DVD/CD-ROM (internal or external) with the laptop. Also, since video requires significant computing power, at least one 512 megabytes of RAM memory and a powerful processor will be required. This will add to the weight and cost of a laptop.
  • If you need the laptop for presentation uses, without an external monitor or projector, for a client conference, then it is important to get one of the largest and brightest laptop screens.
  • If you will be exchanging data using floppies, then a floppy drive is essential.
  • If you will be traveling a lot, what weight is comfortable? Remember that the weight adds up with peripherals, computer case, floppies, CD-ROM drive, etc.

Type - Portable computers include laptops, notebooks, palmtops and handheld PCs.  Portables range in size, price and features. Laptops and notebooks generally weigh 5-10 lbs. and are small enough to fit into a briefcase. Subnotebooks are similar to notebooks and weigh an average of 3-4 lbs. A palmtop computer is about the size of your palm and weighs about a pound. A palmtop may have some applications, such as spreadsheets, built in but generally are used to organize addresses and appointments. Palmtops can be linked to your desktop or portable to upload or download data.

Prices - The prices have dropped to around $500 for a basic color laptop. Adding on accessories will increase the price.

Where to Buy - Portables and desktops can be purchased at local retail outlets that carry the major brands, as well as many large well established mail-order vendors. Portables cost approximately 1 ½ to 2 ½ as much as a desktop with the same specifications. The Computer Shopper™ magazine and other computer magazines, found at most newsstands, provide advertisements for large mail order computer companies. Some sites to visit include Dell (www.dell.com), Toshiba (www.toshiba.com), Insight Computer (www.insight.com), and Gateway (www.gateway.com). Also, check out the automatic pricing comparison sites at ZDNet (http://review.zdnet.com/) and CNet (www.cnet.com).

Warranties - Get a 30-day money-back guarantee. Determine the extent and terms of the long-term warranty and whether one has to send the computer into the manufacturer or whether it will be fixed at your location. Also, call the manufacturer’s help line before purchasing the computer to see if you can get through to a person. Are maintenance contracts available? How much are they and what period(s) of time can you purchase one? Carefully check out the stability and reputation of the vendor.

Screens - Laptop computer screens are getting brighter, larger, and increasing in resolution. Active matrix screens are preferable, but sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between active and the passive matrix screen. The trend is toward brighter, larger monitors with resolutions of 1024 x 768 DPI and higher. Since one will be staring at the screen for many hours, compare the screen quality of many laptops. Also, a regular flat screen monitor can be easily attached to a laptop computer.

Battery Life - Battery life is most important to those who must use a computer and are not near an AC outlet. If you are on a plane or in a courtroom, the length of time that the battery will last will be important. Consider purchasing extra batteries and a charger if you need the extra battery computing time. Most batteries last 4-6 hours.

Weight - Many machines are now available in the portable line from the 1 lb. handheld PCs, palmtops, and 3-pound subnotebooks to 10-pound multimedia portables. The average weight has dropped to 5.0 lbs.

Memory - At least 512 megabytes of memory should be purchased to run Windows programs. One or two gigabytes s ideal, and  may be needed to view video, to use voice recognition, and other programs. One can never have too much memory.

Connectors - There are generally three types of connectors that are used to connect to other peripherals - parallel, serial and USB ports. Parallel refers to processes that occur simultaneously. Scanners, printers and other devices are said to be either parallel or serial. Parallel means the device is capable of receiving more than one bit at a time. Serial data transfer transmits data one bit at a time. USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, a new external bus standard that supports data transfer rates of 12 Mbps (12 million bits per second). A single USB port can be used to connect up to 127 peripheral devices, such as a mouse, keyboard, etc. It is expected to completely replace serial and parallel ports. USB ports on your computer are a must buy.

Hard Drive - At least 20 gigabytes of storage should be purchased, since Windows applications take a significant amount of storage.

Speaker and Sound Card – should be built in.

AC Adapter - Does it have a built-in AC adapter, or does it have an external power unit?

Disk Drives - Does it have a  CD-ROM, DVD, and/or 3 1/2”  drive?

Portable Printers - Portable printers are small and weigh very little. They may weigh as little as 1.5 lbs. and print only 2 pages per minute. Some products to consider include the Citizen™ printer (www.citizen-america.com) and the Canon Bubblejet™ (www.canon.com).

Keyboards - Keyboards are smaller on a laptop and decrease in size for palmtops, etc. Before purchasing a laptop, use the keyboard to see if the location and touch of the keys are acceptable to you. Remember that you can also easily attach a regular size keyboard to a laptop computer.

Modem & Communication Software - A modem for a portable is a must buy. Normally, they are integrated into the laptop or are included as a PC modem card. They may come with remote communication software that allows an attorney to access all of his office resources from anywhere. See also, Chapter 3, Networking and Group Computing, Remote Access to the Network.

Pointing Devices - Portable computers use different pointing devices to substitute for a mouse. These include pointing devices located in the middle of the keyboard, touchpads, and trackballs mounted in different locations. Some are difficult to use, so try them out before purchasing a computer. You also can attach a regular mouse to the laptop.

Smart Cards - An intelligent smart card contains a CPU - central processing unit - which actually has the ability to store and secure information and make decisions as required by the card issuers specific applications, Smart cards offer a read/write capability, new info can be added and processed anytime. For example money can be added or subtracted as a particular application might require. Smart Cards store information on a small chip embedded in the card - called an integrated circuit chip. Their value will be used to cut administrative costs for a variety of applications. Smart cards can serve as a combined passport, payment for an airline ticket, storage of health information, and purchase method through the Internet.

PC Cards (PCMCIA) - PC cards, formerly called PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) cards, can be inserted into special slots on laptops. These slots, available on a number of the portables, permit plug and play for a number of products. Modems, network adapters, hard disks, sound cards, SCSI, cellular phone connectors, and flash memory are a few of the products that can be activated by plugging in a device the size of a credit card to your laptop. These provide the capability of adding new functions and features as your budget permits. Thus, your use of legal applications grows. It is suggested to buy a computer with two PC Cards slots. The cards are available in a Type I, II, and III format. All PC Cards are not created equal, nor are compatible with all computers. Check for compatibility before purchasing. They generally run from $100 to several hundred dollars, depending upon the type of card. Flash memory cards consist of circuitry on credit card size cards that can then be inserted into PC Card slots in a laptop or other portable computers.

Docking System - A docking system consists of a desktop station where one can insert a portable computer. Once inserted, the system acts as a desktop computer. It provides a quick connection without having to connect cables or other devices to a network, printer, etc. The docking station is generally connected to a regular size keyboard, monitor, speakers, and any other desktop peripherals, such as a CD-ROM/DVD. Also, since the body of the laptop becomes your desktop, it saves you time in transferring files between your laptop and desktop and having the appropriate software programs available. These stations should be seriously considered if you are a telecommuting legal practitioner. They provide ease of use, along with the important desktop features such as a large keyboard and monitor. The cost is approximately $200 - $500 per station, in addition to the cost of the laptop.

Synchronization and Replication - One of the problems with carrying notebook computers is that when you get back to the office, your files on the laptop need to upload to the network or your desktop computer to update the old files. This involves copying the files onto a floppy or connecting a cable between the two computers and transferring them to your office system. This is time consuming and not always accurate. There are a number of solutions to this problem.

  • One option is that you could use a docking station. The notebook is the primary computer that you use and when you get back to the office it "docks" into a docking station and becomes your desktop computer with a large monitor, full size keyboard, and other attachments.
  • A second option is to connect the desktop with your laptop computer by a cable and synchronize your files. The old files on your desktop can be updated with the new files that you worked on while you were away from the office.
  • A third option is to purchase an USB pen drive and transfer files between your computers with these 1 gigabyte or more devices.
  • A final option is to connect your computers using an infrared or radio wave device to transmit your files. You never have to physically connect to the network because all of the communication between the computers is done by radio waves.

Budget for a Portable Computer and Software. Below is an example of a portable computer setup for a legal professional:


Generally Included

Item Cost

  Portable Computer 

Intel or AMD processor  (upgraded processor will cost additional)  



  Memory: 512 Megabyte of RAM

 Generally comes with 256 megabytes.


 Hard drive: 20 gigabyte +


Additional Coverage

  Fax/Modem/ Voice mail/Network card


  Portable Printer





 Windows XP/Vista

Microsoft Office Pro™ – word processing,  graphics, database, spreadsheets   
 HotDocs™ – document assembly software $49   $100
 LOIS™ – statutes and caselaw - Yearly subscription    $600
 Omnipro™  – OCR software $79   $100
 Adobe Professional(Create PDF files)
 TOTAL:   $2,720


Where is personal computer hardware technology headed? The power of the microprocessor is doubling every 18 months. Technology for the year 2003 has already been invented.  The chips for the computers and their capacity have been already been designed for the next decade.  The processor speed is important for playing full motion video on your computer and in assisting voice recognition software in reaching its full potential. The integration of the TV, radio, phone, and computer will provide a central mobile location for all of our communication needs. The key trends are faster, smaller, cheaper and more integration.


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