Monday, September 13, 2004

Super Size My LCD Screen

Over at Blawg Wisdom a senior in college asks :


Hello all! I am a senior in college planning on attending law school in the fall of 2005. I have no computer and desperately need one NOW. My question is this: is there a certain kind of laptop that is recommended for law students by law schools? I want to get a laptop that I can use for the next four years. I know next to nothing about computers; all I know is that I want a PC that can play Sims.

Well, this may be one of the areas of law school where I actually do know what I'm talking about, having owned three desktops (a Packard Bell, and two dells) and three laptops (a HP, Toshiba, and now IBM). First, there is no specific recommendation for a laptop that is unique for law schools (or that is independent of the computer market in general). With that said, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES CONSIDER BUYING A MAC UNLESS YOU HAVE USED A MAC SINCE YOUR HACKING DAYS DURING INFANCY (Read: If it's going to be too difficult for you to adjust to the PC/Windows platform, it may not be worth your effort to switch, but even then, it's probably actually worth your effort to switch).

Second, there are some non-technical issues that you should consider when purchasing a computer for law school. (A) LIGHT WEIGHT. You will be carrying a shit load of books each weighing a shit load (approximately 5 lbs shit load). This should prehaps be your biggest priority when considering the computer. (B) Small is good (see A for explanation). (C) Durable. Your computer will take a beating in law school. You're going to be taking it in and out several times a day. You drink coffee around it 24/7. You can almost not eat without having your laptop in front of you.

Third, there are technical matters that relate to law schools which you should bear in mind. Actually there's only two. (A) Connectivity -- make sure the laptop has an Ethernet connection and a wireless connection (the wireless is not that critical as you can always purchase a wireless card and add it, but in general it's best to buy a computer with a wireless card already included). (B) Battery life -- depending on the law school, you may not have outlet access. If there's anyone out there who's thinking, "WTF (read: Double U, Tee, Efff) is he talking about? All law schools have outlets at each desk" then I say to you, "WTF are YOU talking about? Boalt just added outlets to their three main lecture halls THIS summer. Their seminar rooms still don't have jacko." Plus you may want to get away from the law school to study outside, etc. Always compare the battery life of computers. (C) Media Storage...see below.

Fourth, there are technical matters that are completely independent of one's decision to go to law school. As briefly as I can, I have described some of these in detail assuming someone knows next to nothing about computers (yet still plays SIMS).

(4a) Hard Drive -- (stores space for everything) On laptops these vary from 20 Gigabytes to 200 GB. A game like SIMS might take up at most 400 to 500 megabytes (or about 0.3-0.4 GB). I happen to have a lot of songs (legally obtained of course [roll]) so I need a good amount of storage space for those. However in law school you're not going to have any time for downloading songs or movies. You need enough space to store your papers (anything more than a calculator will be enough for that).

(4b) RAM -- This is the memory your compturer uses when a particular program is running. Windows nowadays drains quite a bit of RAM. Anything less 256 MB (really 512) is suicide. Laptops these days are fairly easily upgradable...may want to purchase a laptop that doesn't come preinstalled with RAM but is upgradeable (sites such as Slick Deals do a good job of pointing you to deals on comp components).

(4c) CPU -- Laptop chips are now more varied than their desktop counterparts for various reasons (but mostly because of Intel's labeling system flaw).

(4c.1) AMD -- Biggest competitor of Intel. Offer inexpensive chips (cost savings passed on to consumer) that perfor rather well. My first laptop ran the AMD K6-2 processor at 550 MHz. The computer still runs like the day I bought it.

(4c.2) Intel Celeron -- comparably priced to the AMD but works about as well as a gerbil on a wheel. When you run more than 3 programs at the same time you will feel the full power (or lack thereof) of the Celeron. I like to think of the Celeron as the American automobile of chips. (The Toshiba was a celeron at 2.4 GHz...ran slightly better than the AMD.)

(4c.3) Intel Pentium 4 -- Some laptops still have these. These are no different than P4s found on desktops. They run well (they are designed to run desktops) but they use a lot of power (battery life) and generate a great deal of heat (heat).

(4c.4) Intel Centrino M -- These have slower clockspeeds than the Celerons and the Pentiums (clcok speed of a chip is the measured MHz or GHz, which roughly correlates to the speed with which a process is executed). I say roughly because although the Centrino's have slower clockspeeds they are a lot faster than the P4's or the Celeron's (at that clockspeed). The design of the chip is far more effecient such that at slower clockspeeds, the chip is able to outperform the others. In a sense, Apple has been doing this for quite some time with their chips but they could not convince the public of this (only their core users knew). Now Intel is suffering from the monster that it created (reliance on clockspeed rather than actual speed).

(4d) Media -- A burner or CD-RW drive is a must. Laptops do not come with floppy drives anymore, as such you need a burner to transfer files, create CD's whatever. You should also get a USB Key, which is basically a very small storage device that you can use to transfer files. Many law schools now lend out USB key drives during finals since laptops do not have floppys.

(4e) Screen size -- Consider that the weigh of your computer (important) increases with screen size. Something between 12 and 15 inches will do just fine.

Fifth, brands. I can only endorse IBM Notebooks because they are lightweight, durable, custom-built (important to me because I like specific options), and have no-frills. This is very much a personal preference with respect to computers. The Toshiba I had, for example, did not give me access to the power options through control panel. I had to use their stupid program...naturally the program did not work. This meant I could not customize the power settings. This is critical for me...I don't want my computer to go to standby after 30 seconds...and I don't want it to stay on forever if I forget to shut it down. I don't need AOLOL's latest software to connect to the internet, etc.

Sixth, there are some things that just cannot be quantified. There is a larger trend now towards using PDA's for notetaking purposes in the classroom. This definitely saves a great deal of space and weight. While you still need a computer in general, you may be able to get away with a far less expensive desktop, which would be a lot more powerful than a laptop. Some take notes using paper, and transcribe at night to Word. I don't recommend this since it takes too much time, but forces you to go over your notes on the day of...(conducive to actual learning). But of course all of this assumes that you will go to law school straight from undergrad...a big no no in my book.

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4 Comments:

Blogger divine angst said...

just out of curiousity, why the provision against macs? i can see, for someone who isn't particularly wedded to either that a PC is the better option if you're buying for the first time. but lots of students have been using macs through college and are pretty comfortable with them.

is it just because of the exam thing? just elaborate for me, here. because as i see, excepting the exam thing, using a mac in class to take notes, or in the library to do research, is EXACTLY the same as using a PC, especially when you take into account common browsers, like Firefox.

9/14/2004 5:47 AM  
Blogger Armen said...

Mac's have the windows platform available to them, so compatibility with respect to exams is not that much of an issue (especially since now you don't turn exams in on floppy's). Compatibility with the network is. I know of only one Ibook user and he's had a bit of trouble using the wireless connection. So far as I understand it, using the windows platform on Mac slows the computer down, which defeats the purpose of having a Mac in the first place. Factoring in cost, the lack of heavy graphics use during law school, I see no reason to purchase a mac given the PC alternative, unless as I said before you're just too accustomed to the Mac OS.

9/14/2004 7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say that it takes about a day to learn everything you need to about Mac OS, and since, as some have said, law school is not very graphics-intense, it'll probably take less time than that. I agree that since the system is completely unfair and ridiculous (ie, PC-only for final exams), we must go along with it without any protest whatsoever, and spend $2000 multiplied by thousands of law students on PCs since we can't deal with a week of discomfort. The fact is that these PC machines seem great until you use a Mac and see what it's all about. Just try one in the computer store. And, I resent the way that people try to scare others away from Mac. For a wireless connection, difficulties exist across all platforms, so I can't believe PC people are pretending that their laptops just worked. Again, go test out a Mac and you'll see. Secondly, that bullshit about not buy a Mac unless you've used one since infancy is absurd. The current OS had been araound about four years (compared to Windows Start-button-based OS, which has been around for nine), and it's simple to pick up, and it never crashes, and it's sexy as hell.

--Phil

9/14/2004 1:34 PM  
Blogger divine angst said...

See my response at Computers?

9/14/2004 1:34 PM  

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