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There are times to update Windows 10, and there are times NOT to: right now is the time for the latter.

In late May of 2020, Microsoft released their latest build of Windows 10, simply numbered 2004. While this update promised to bring many new features and fixes to Windows 10, it has also inadvertently brought as many, if not more, problems along with it to nearly all who have run the update. Everything from blue screens, data corruptions, slowing to the system overall, and even to deleting personal files. It’s not often at all that I raise the red flag warning folks not to update Windows, but this is one of those times, and I certainly hope you heed this warning.

If you’re running Windows 10 version 1903 or 1909, sooner or later you’ll see a Windows Update notice (Start > Settings > Update & Security) like the one in the screenshot below.

Windows 10 Build 2004 Update Screen

The notice will appear in Windows 10 1903 and 1909 Home and Windows 10 1903 and 1909 Pro.

If you want to avoid installing Windows 10 version 2004, don’t click the Download and install link. It’s that simple. If you avoid clicking the Download and install link, you’ll continue on using build 1909 (or 1903) forever — or until MS decides it needs to push you off, whichever comes first.

At some point, in the near future with any luck, Microsoft will issue corrections to this build OR simply replace it with a higher build number, at which time you can return to the screen shown above and press that Download and Install button. But for now, please, just resist updating to this particular version!

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With Windows 10, one of the most annoying features is the system’s ability to restart your computer to apply updates automatically when you’re actively using it, which could cause the loss of unsaved work and precious time when working on a deadline, not to mention an ill-timed update and reboot during realtime

Although there’s not an option in the Settings app to disable updates entirely, Windows 10 version 1903 has a new “active hours,” which is a feature meant to make updates less intrusive by letting you specify the time you’ll be working on your computer. This means that if an update is pending, the reboot will occur outside the active hours that you have specified. Also, starting with version 1903, Windows 10 introduces a new option that allows the system to configure active hours automatically based on your activities. Because the life of a court reporting professional (of any type) can be chaotic, I wouldn’t recommend this option. The active hours feature will work best for you by manually specifying a start and end period that best matches your work schedule.

To configure active hours manually on your device to prevent sudden restarts, use these steps:

(1) Open Settings.

(2) Click on Update & Security.

(3) Click on Windows Update.

(4) Click the Change active hours option.

Active Hours Setup Step 1

(5) Turn off the Automatically adjust active hours for this device based on the activity toggle switch.

(6) Click the Change option.

Active Hours Setup Step 2

(7) Specify the time range you usually use your device.

PRO TIP: The maximum amount of time you can set is 18 hours. If you specify a range that’s more than that, it’ll be marked as invalid.
Active Hours Setup Step 3

(8) Click the Save button.

After you complete the steps, if an update is pending, the computer will only restart outside the active hours you specified, preventing interruptions while you’re working.

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USB hubs increase the number of USB devices that can connect to a computer without having to add additional hardware. Additionally, USB hubs can be useful with devices like laptops that can’t physically add more USB ports. The difference between powered and non-powered USB hubs is that the former draws its power from an electrical outlet while the latter draws its power from the computer connection.


USB is the most commonly used external peripheral device connection standard for computers and other computer-like devices. Computers use USB ports to interface with devices like mice, keyboards, external hard drives, printers, scanners, gamepads, network adapters, flash drives, smartphones and cameras. The USB standard is backwards and forwards compatible, which means new devices and computers can take advantage of faster standards without sacrificing compatibility with older standards. In addition to data, USB is also a power source for devices which don’t always use a data connection. For example, a cell phone connected to a computer with a USB cable can both interface with the computer and charge its battery. A cell phone that’s connected to a wall outlet charger by USB is only using the connection as a power source.


USB hubs are devices that connect to a computer’s existing (native) USB port to add additional ports to increase the number of devices that can be connected to the computer. However, there’s a catch when using USB hubs: all the devices have to share bandwidth and a power supply from the computer’s native USB port. The bandwidth and power from the computer’s port is the same no matter how many devices are connected. Not all USB devices are created equal: some require more power than others, and some less. USB hubs work fine with low-powered devices like mice and keyboards, but they may not be able to operate high-powered devices like webcams and flash drives. Devices may fail to work or produce error messages if the hub doesn’t have sufficient power – which is where powered USB Hubs come into play.


Powered, or active, USB hubs use an external power source, typically through a wall outlet, to bring each hub port to the same energy level as an on-system port. While active USB hubs do not need to divide power consumption across all connected devices, the hub still splits data bandwidth across all connected devices, which is something that simply cannot be avoided when using a hub. Using a powered USB hub is especially useful when using laptops, which have a limited amount of power to go around, but are the preferred type of hub for ANY type of computer/device. Although less convenient than an unpowered hub due to the need to plug it into an outlet, devices connected to powered hubs function and perform better in every way, as well as produce less errors overall, than their unpowered counterparts.


Non-powered, or passive, USB hubs do not have an external power source and only pull power from the computer’s USB port. Unpowered hubs typically have compatibility issues with devices that need more power to operate than the hub can provide. For example, a USB flash drive might work perfectly fine with the computer’s native USB port or an active hub, but it may not power on when connected to a passive hub – the same would hold true for a USB connected hard drive, or monitor. The USB 3.0 standard improves power management capabilities over the previous versions and may be able to use higher power devices that hubs running older standards can’t – but the safest bet is to always use an active hub where possible.


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It doesn’t matter where you live: the United States, Europe, Asia, south of the equator; wherever you go, Mother Nature will ALWAYS have her way with you at some point. Oddly enough, just last night we had a rash of severe storms. A tornado managed to form near our home and do significant damage, and we don’t live anywhere near tornado-prone areas like the Midwest! This perfectly illustrates how, no matter where we live, we must always be prepared. There are many other areas of disaster preparedness that are important, but in this article I’ll be covering your important files and your computers. I would encourage you to consider putting these few safeguards in place NOW so that when the time comes, you can worry about the most important things – your life and family.

In this article I’ll cover:

  • Power Protection

  • Securing Your Critical Data

    • Local Backup Storage

    • System Images Saved Locally

    • Critical File Backups Saved Locally

    • Cloud/Off-Site Storage

Power Protection

Author’s Note: Don’t want to read everything about power protection? Save time and pick up this CyberPower 1500VA model for $140 or less. It’s the one that I use here at my office; and while you can get something slightly cheaper if you shop around, you do get what you pay for, and the cost difference isn’t much.

We all know that lighting strikes are bad and can do lots of damage, but the standing electric coming into your home can do just as much, if not more, damage, and we never think twice about it – we just assume it is good, clean power…wrong. There are hundreds of factors that can affect electrical power on its trip from the source to its destination, and most of them are out of your control. So let’s try and focus on the small thing we CAN control, which is the point where you plug your devices into a wall.

Most of us USE some type of surge protector or what we HOPE is a surge protector, but I can tell you from experience that a simple surge protector isn’t enough. Most surge protectors are nothing more than outlet strips; and even if you have a nice (expensive) one, good luck trying to pry money out of the manufacturer against that “One Million Dollar Damage Policy” advertised on the box. Seriously, the fine print gives them so many ways to get out of that policy that I have only ever ONCE in my lifetime seen a company pay it out, and it took moving mountains to do it. The moral of this is not to place your trust, and future, in the hands of empty promises from others, but instead just do your best to educate yourself about the possibilities, and protect yourself from what you can.

The best place to start is not focusing directly on protecting against a SURGE, but to take a broader approach to protect against many different power issues at once. Even cheap power strips will do a decent enough job protecting against power surges, but they offer no protection against drops in line voltage, brownouts, blackouts, and other power supply issues – which is where a battery backup system (Uninterruptible Power Supply or UPS) comes into play.

In order to protect your computer and electronic equipment against power supply interruptions, you need a battery backup. UPS units are like more sophisticated power strips that contain a big battery inside, providing a buffer against power supply interruptions. This buffer can range from a few minutes to an hour or more depending on the size of the unit.

A simple way to think about the utility of a UPS unit is to think about working on a laptop. You’re at home, your laptop is plugged into an appropriate surge protection strip, and you’re busily finishing up some transcripts. A summer storm knocks the power out. Although the lights go out, your work on the notebook computer is uninterrupted because the notebook switched over to battery power seamlessly when the flow of electricity from the power cord vanished. You now have plenty of time to save your work and gracefully shut down your machine.

Desktop computers, however, don’t have batteries built in like laptops do. If you had been working on a desktop during that power outage, the system would come to an immediate halt. Not only would you lose your work, but the process imposes unnecessary stress on your machine. In all my years of working with computers, the vast majority of hardware failures can be directly attributed to the stress that hardware components experience during the startup and shut down process (especially if power surges or blackouts are involved).

A UPS unit would, at minimum, provide a window of time where your computer could be gracefully shut down and brought back online once the power outage or other power situation was resolved. If the situation is resolved while the UPS unit still has enough battery life remaining, then you can work right through the storm without interruption. Even if you’re not sitting right in front of the computer, most good UPS units come with software you can install that will detect when the unit switches to battery power, and shut down automatically (and properly) in your absence once the remaining battery power dips below a certain level.

Beyond, and even sometimes more important than power outage protection, UPS units also protect against other power issues like drops in line voltage, brownouts, blackouts, surges, and spikes. These events are even more likely to damage your system, but are often grouped together with a power surge diagnosis even though they can’t be corrected by a surge protector alone. A UPS works by providing constant, clean power to the devices connected to it at all times by scrubbing, balancing and regulating the power coming from the wall. The end result is 100% clean, reliable power reaching every single device plugged into the UPS; so with a single device you will have now protected yourself from the entire range of power- related issues that you can actually control.

From a battery power perspective, a UPS is only designed to keep your computer running long enough to make it through a brief (10-20 minutes) power outage or long enough to save your work and shut the system down safely. The more equipment you connect to the battery backup outlets, the shorter the duration to computer can remain running – so plan out your power plugs and requirements carefully, or with the help of a technician. Important: don’t forget to install the software that comes with the UPS, and connect it to your computer with the supplied USB cable. This will allow you to not only monitor the status of your unit, but will also allow the unit to safely shutdown your system in the event of a power outage, and is a critical step that many people miss out on, IMO.

Securing Your Critical Data

This is a pretty broad topic, and I could spend DAYS (or the equivalent in hundreds of pages) detailing my thoughts and best practices on data management; but I will attempt to be as succinct as possible here. Technology (and data) is the last thing you need to think about during an emergency, which is why it is critical to take the time to deal with it when your head is clear. When it comes to data security and integrity, I have found (through a LOT of trial and error) that the best approach involves four different methods and best practices, which I will share in easy-to-manage sections below.

Author’s Note: Don’t want to read everything about securing your data and backups? Save time and pick up this 2TB USB 3.0 External Hard Drive from Seagate for just $69 or less, and then pick up a copy of Macrium Reflect Home Edition to manage your backups. Don’t forget to add a cloud backup account from the folks at iDrive for only $55 to make sure your files are secured offsite. Once set up to work with each other as I describe below, you’ll be one step closer to securing your data.

1: Local Backup Storage

The first part of your backup scheme should be some type of external hard drive, USB or otherwise. Flash drives are great for smaller, quick backups that you need to transport fast and easily, but the best option for both cost and long-term storage is going to be some type of external hard drive. If you need to purchase a new one, go with a USB 3.0 drive, even if your computer does not currently have a USB 3.0 (blue) port on it. All USB 3.0 drives are backwards compatible to work with USB 2.0 ports, and chances are high that your next computer WILL have at least a single USB 3.0 port you can use. As far as size goes; storage is relatively cheap these days and you don’t want to keep upgrading as you go. So if your budget allows for it, go big. I wouldn’t recommend getting anything smaller than a 2TB drive (they start at around $69) no matter how much you think you need. And if you are a data packrat, you may want to go with a 4-5TB drive minimum. If you don’t have enough USB Ports on your computer, use a good 4-Port or 7-Port USB Hub, but make certain it is a POWERED USB hub where possible as external hard drives. I just wrote a quick article on this very topic, so please click here to read more about choosing the correct type of USB hub for your needs.

2: System Images Saved Locally

There are MANY ways to back up, but the best backup schemes always start with a good System Image. A system image is digital snapshot of your system’s data, exactly as it stands at the time the backup is made. This includes Windows itself, ALL your programs, ALL your settings, and ALL your personal files on the ENTIRE computer. The idea here is that should your computer’s main hard drive fail, become infected with a virus, or get destroyed in a storm, you could easily restore it (using the system image backup) to the exact point in time when the last backup was made. No need to reinstall Windows or your programs – the computer will be restored with every single thing it contained when you made the backup. These backups are large, and must be stored on a separate drive that is begin backed up, so they are perfectly suited to store locally on your External (USB) Hard Drive. When possible you should set these backups to run automatically once per month or quarter depending on how often your computer’s programs change. Your best option would be an easy-to-use desktop icon that, when clicked, instantly runs your backup. For fast and easy system image backups made automatically or by a one-click shortcut icon, try a copy of Macrium Reflect Home Edition for just $69, which will also handle the critical files backups detailed in the next section.

3: Critical Files Backups Saved Locally

While a system image backup (described above) is a great way to back up an entire system all at once, it can take a significant amount of time and storage space, which is why we only run them on occasion. Between those system image backups you usually just need to back up your personal (critical) data files – like documents, pictures, music, jobs, notes, dictionaries, invoices, and so forth – and those need to be backed up more frequently. For these critical files you should set up a daily/weekly backup that only backs up files that have been created or changed since the last backup.

This is commonly called an incremental (or the differential alternative) backup, which creates a single backup of all the categories of files you deem “critical” on the first day, and then each day after that it will back up only new and changed files. These backups are typically very fast, taking only a few minutes to run, and give you the ability to not only restore a file should it go missing, but also the ability to “roll back” the file to a previous version – perhaps before a certain change was made or before it became corrupted. Once again, these files are stored locally on your External (USB) Hard Drive. When you don’t have the option to run it automatically, you can run it manually by using the same type of single-click icon employed by the system image backup.

For fast and easy critical files backups made automatically or by a one-click shortcut icon, try a copy of Macrium Reflect Home Edition for just $69, which will also handle the system image backups detailed in the previous section.

4: Off-Site/Cloud Storage

Local backups are great because they are convenient, fast, and you always have them around with you when you need them. But what happens if you forget to take your drive with you in an emergency, or if your backup drive gets damaged, or if you don’t have it set up to run automatically and you simply forget to run them? For these reasons and for hundreds more I won’t list, adding at least ONE type of cloud-based, off-site storage is a crucial part of your backup plan. There are many different options out there in terms of cloud storage, but the best ones allow you to choose files anywhere on your computer and back them up automatically, so long as you have an internet connection. You also need to make yourself aware of the differences between cloud backup, cloud storage, and cloud synchronization – with the first two being the most important for our needs right now.

Most people have heard of, and even use, cloud synchronization products like DropBox or OneDrive. These programs are great at what they do, which is synchronizing files/folders inside one specific folder on your computer, to several other computers and the cloud/internet – and they even let you share those files with other people. The key phrase in that sentence above is “inside one specific folder” – which would be great if ALL our files were kept in one place, but they are not. So in order for DropBox or OneDrive to be effective, you have to MOVE ALL YOUR DATA into the “DropBox” or “OneDrive” folders, which would require you to do quite a bit of folder remapping not only in Windows, but more importantly in your CAT Software. Beyond being a lot of work, and creating a potential nightmare when it comes to switching computers or upgrading software, CAT Software files don’t do particularly well when you try and sync them to the cloud WHILE they are open and being used, as in writing realtime or scoping a job. So again, these cloud sync programs do have their place, and they do work well, but in terms of securing (read backing up) your data in the cloud seamlessly in the background, they just aren’t for the reporting profession.

Now let’s talk about cloud backup programs; like SugarSync, Carbonite, or iDrive (my personal favorite choice), which allow you to back up and access your files online using your existing folder structures. The bold phrase is the key here, in that during the setup of these programs you can choose ANY folder(s) on your main hard drive to backup and secure online. No need to try and move your CAT Software jobs from their home to the DropBox or OneDrive folders, and no need to move and reroute your Documents and Pictures folders either. Just leave everything where it currently sits and tell the program what to back up/sync and when to do it. SugarSync works more like a hybrid of a backup AND sync program, while iDrive works better as an online backup repository, but both of them provide easy to use access and features of both a cloud sync platform AND a cloud backup platform for about the same price (or less) than you would pay for DropBox – all without rearranging your digital world. In fact, the iDrive service even can make a full image of your system AND store it online. If that wasn’t enough, should you ever need to download ALL your files, they will actually ship you a hard drive with all your files on it so you don’t have to wait days for them to download and restore to your system – all for less than $60 per year.

My top choice in this category is iDrive but even if you don’t choose one of the services I have mentioned above, you owe it to your digital security and peace of mind to make this small investment in your future. It is just as important to have secure, offsite backups (using the internet/cloud in this case) as it is to have convenient, fast, and secure onsite backups on a hard drive. If you do a lot of work with Microsoft Office documents, you might consider purchasing an Office 365 subscription for $9.99 per month (less if you pay annually) which also gives you 1TB of Cloud Storage through Microsoft One Drive. Although OneDrive isn’t ideal for backing up files, it is a great way to sync your files online, and it’s an awful lot of free storage space that shouldn’t be wasted if you need a copy of Microsoft Office for other reasons. If enough people are interested I would be happy to write an article on remapping Windows person folders to OneDrive so they are synchronized to the cloud – just let me know.

A quick footnote here – if you don’t like the idea of storing your data on the internet (in the cloud) or large online transfers are not possible because of your internet speed, you should still set up some kind of offsite file storage. The easiest way to do this would be to purchase a second external hard drive (identical to the one you have for your local backups where possible) along with a sturdy case, or small fire safe to keep it in – or for those that are truly serious about data integrity, check out this data fire safe unit. Then, at regular intervals, connect that second hard drive to your system and run the same backups you have setup for your local critical files and system images backups – only this time have the backups stored on this second hard drive. Once complete, simply put the drive back in its case and store it at a same location AWAY from your primary home or business – like a safe deposit box at the bank, or at the home of a family member, etc. Obviously this is nowhere near as convenient or easy as using the cloud, but it still allows those who are unable or unwilling to use the internet for storage a way to maintain an offsite backup routine so the data always remains secure.

Wrapping It Up

You can’t control the weather, the power grids, or the future – the best you can do is to try and be prepared for the most likely possibilities as best you can without breaking your budget. Making the investments in power and data protection I have listed above will cost you less than $300 – but should something happen without these in place, chances are you’d end up paying MUCH more. Typical insurance deductibles are at least $500 to $1,000, and that is IF they will even cover the damage. Most of them won’t pay for data recovery, which I’ve seen costing anywhere from $1,000 to as much as $30,000 or more. Make that small investment now to save not only a LOT of money in the future, but, more importantly, if you find yourself in a stormy situation, you can worry about the things that mean the most, like yourself and your family, instead of your equipment.

Thanks so much for reading!

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The two most frequent questions I get asked are easily “What’s wrong with my computer?” and “What new computer(s) do you recommend?” It’s curious that my answer to both of those questions has always been the same – It Depends. Now, my personal favorite system would have to be ANY model Lenovo ThinkPad T-Series laptop, but not because I spent over 10 years working for a company that specializes in them. Believe it or not, I was quite fond of ThinkPads well before I began working at eVerbatim, so to me it was just a perfect match that they were too. Now that said, just because they are MY personal favorite doesn’t mean that is what I would recommend for everyone.

Buying computers has changed drastically in the last 3 to 5 years, let alone the last 10 or 15, but my “it depends” answer has always remained relevant. I’d like to focus mostly on court reporters and CART Providers for the sake of this article. Broadcast captioners and scopists have different needs, which include using desktop computers instead of laptops, so that will be a different article all together. So, to start off, keep in mind that I whole-hardheartedly believe that there are mobile professionals, and then there are mobile court reporting professionals, with the difference I am emphasizing being the amount of time spent using their mobile technology. A typical reporting professional (which I am going to refer to as court reporters from here out, but I also mean CART providers, etc. as well) is on their laptop for between 8 and 12 hours per day, many times more. During that time, you are constantly working and using your computer, whether it is writing realtime, researching, emailing or editing jobs. Compare that to most other mobile professionals who might use their laptop 3 to 4 hours a day, at most, IF that. So for the sake of my comparison, that means that court reporters use their laptops a minimum of 2 to 3 times more than a standard mobile professional. That’s two to three times (minimum) more wear and tear on that technology than it was typically designed to handle. Keep that in mind as point one of my article.

When doing this, I like to divide things up into categories to make them easier to digest. Our first category are things we have to decide on up front that can’t be upgraded or changed later, or at least without extreme cost. With laptops there are always more of these things than with desktops, but when it comes down to it, only a few really matter to reporters.

Components We Cannot Change

  • Screen Size
    • This one is obvious, but still a big one. Replacing broken screens is pretty easy, and for the most part, fairly inexpensive, but we can’t make them bigger or smaller. Be sure to choose a screen size that you will be happy with for not only realtiming in the courtroom, but also editing at home. Most reporters choose between 14.1” and 15.6” systems, but many like the 12.1” to 13.5” systems for their portability.

  • Processor
    • Choosing the right processor is critical as it cannot be replaced without incurring extreme labor and part costs, IF the laptop manufacturer has even made it possible at all. It is best to always assume they have not, and pick something that exceeds your current needs. CAT Software itself doesn’t require the fastest system as they are just very advanced word processors, but you need to consider everything else you do too. Atom and Celeron processors are the slowest and should be avoided at all costs for professional systems as they can barely power Windows, let alone anything else. Even the lower grade Intel i3 (or equivalent) processors should be avoided for the same reason. Don’t go with anything less than a current generation Intel i5 (or equivalent) processor. If your budget allows, or if you are a voice reporter, go ahead and get the Intel i7 (or equivalent) processor based systems which will give you all the power you need for years to come. Also, don’t be worried when you see a processor labeled as “Low Voltage” or “Ultra Low Voltage” as this is simply a common practice of making processors use less power to extend battery life. As long as you are using an Intel i5 (or equivalent) processor or higher, you won’t experience any noticeable drop in performance.

  • Audio Systems (Speakers in Particular)
    • Audio is a tricky subject, but a big one, so it needs to go in both categories. In almost all laptops, audio is an after thought, especially the input (recording) aspect of audio. The only audio a laptop manufacturer is concerned with is close-up recording and playback for video conferencing and movie playback. As court reporters, we need rock-solid audio, mostly from the recording side of things, but strong playback helps too. IF you find a laptop with decent speakers, that’s a start, but don’t let that be the deciding factor because the recording aspect might not be worthy. There are NO specs anyone can give you to determine on paper if a laptop has a good microphone, or input jack, on it or not. And because every microphone, audio chipset and recording protocol combination sounds different, taking the advice of someone you know might not help you either. However, while we can’t replace the speakers, internal microphone OR microphone jack on a laptop, we can get new ones. This is precisely why I urge you NOT to worry about your laptop’s built-in audio quality. You can always plug-in new speakers, or use headphones, or an external microphone – all of which will sound better than almost anything you will find built into a laptop, especially if you use a USB Microphone or Audio Device.

  • Keyboards
    • This is an honorable mention for those who think that all laptop keyboard come with a back light in them, which they DO NOT. Back-lit keyboards are NOT standard, and they are not easy to add-on in the future, so if a back-lit keyboard is something critical to you, be sure to check for that up front.

  • Video Cards & Screen Resolution
    • While not as important to most reporters, a good video card goes a long way. There are 3 types of video cards out there; integrated, discrete, and hybrid. Integrated means that the video card shares processor power and RAM with your laptop, which means there is less to go around, resulting in a slightly slower system. Integrated graphics also mean that you will generally have the lowest resolution screen. Discrete means that the video card has its own processor and RAM, so it doesn’t need to borrow it from your laptop, and your system is faster accordingly. Discrete graphics also means you typically have the highest resolution screen. The third system, hybrid graphics, means that you have both, and that the system will typically detect and switch between the two accordingly. So when it detects that you need more power, or are doing something that is graphics intensive, it will use the discrete systems; and when it detects you are doing average, everyday work, it will use the integrated system. The hybrid systems are the best of both worlds and also have the highest resolution screens, but are often the most expensive, and hardest to find.

      The discrete graphics based system is the best overall choice, however I need to point out something about screen resolution for those that aren’t familiar with the term. I higher screen resolution means that you can fit more on your desktop/screen because everything appears smaller, and systems with higher resolutions will run faster because they have their own processors and memory. But one thing about higher resolution screens that most people don’t know is that they do not perform well when you force them to use a resolution LOWER than best. For example, if you have a high resolution screen, but can’t read it because everything is too small, so you reduce the resolution to make everything larger (so you can see it better) – the resulting display won’t look nearly as sharp or clear as it did at the higher resolution. So this may be one of those cases where having the best equipment isn’t really your best choice. If you like everything on your screen (icons, text, programs, emails, etc.) to appear larger, don’t purchase the discrete graphics based systems with higher resolutions – you’ll only end up lowering them and making your display fuzzy.

  • Ports
    • This is a pretty broad category, but you should pay close attention to what type of ports are on the laptops you are looking at, and just as importantly, how MANY. Your biggest concern should be what you need to work as efficiently as possible in the court room, followed by at home and then on the road traveling. While you CAN add-on various ports by way of hubs and docking stations, I caution against using them when possible. Every device or adapter you connect to your system is a potential layer of complication, meaning something that can break or be forgotten. A network (Ethernet) jack is a big help, especially if you plan on doing a lot of realtime for judges, attorneys and so forth, and may come to need one of those pocket routers. If you do any CART work, having both VGA and HDMI ports are handy, just in case you need to hook into a projector or external screen. If you can only have one, remember that it is easier to go from HDMI to VGA (downgrade the signal) than it is to go from VGA to HDMI (upgrade the signal), which can be problematic and require more complicated and expensive adapters. WiFi is always included in laptops these days, and we will talk about Bluetooth in the next section, but Mobile Broadband (sometimes referred to as WWAN) is available on some laptops and can be handy. If you use, or plan to use, a mobile hotspot from your wireless provider, it may be worth checking to see if the laptops you are looking at have the ability to build this in. Sometimes the signal isn’t as great as the portable hotspots, but having a mobile hotspot already built into your laptop could be a huge advantage for some reporters, and typically isn’t that expensive of an add-on these days. Wecams are a fairly common inclusion these days, but not always a given, so if that is important to you, be sure to check the tech specs or ask your sales person.

      With more and more writers & realtime going wireless, and CAT Software companies going keyless, the port requirement has gone down over the years, so finding a laptop that has enough USB Ports built-on shouldn’t be a problem, so that is your BIGGEST checklist item to look out for. Most laptops are coming with between 2 and 4 USB ports these days, and as long as you can get one with at least 2 or 3 USB ports of any kind you’ll be right where you should be. If you are still using a USB Key to protect your CAT Software, and don’t plan on going keyless anytime soon, you should shoot for at least 3 USB Ports, while keyless users should be safe with 2 port minimum. These are just estimates, but if you have 3 and use a key that is 1 for your key, 1 for your writer and 1 for a USB Microphone. Even if you go wireless with your writer, there is a 90% chance you’ll still need a USB port for the Bluetooth adapter that almost all writers REQUIRE you to use, even if you have built-in Bluetooth, so I always assume 1 for the writer no matter what. So that said, if you go keyless you drop to 2 USB ports minimum depending on your exact configuration. Remember that USB Flash Drives and Hard Drives don’t count here as you don’t NEED to have them plugged in during realtime – you can backup AFTER the job once you’ve disconnected something. Now yes, you can use a USB Hub to add more, but only if you HAVE to, and wherever possible try to use one that is powered – meaning you have to connect it to an outlet to power it. If you are forced to using a USB Hub during realtime, leave your most critical devices (USB Audio, Writer, Software Key – in that order) plugged into the built-in USB ports and move the others to the hub. All the CAT Software keys work fine on hubs, as do all the writers I’ve ever seen and tested, so the most important to keep on the laptop’s built-in (native) USB ports is your USB Microphone/Sound Card – if you use one, which you probably should be. After that, if you have another free native USB port, plug your writer into there followed by your Software Key. Having at least one USB 3.0 (blue colored) port is also extremely helpful while transferring files and backing up, so to me that is essential.

      Docking Stations are a great way to add ports, but are bulky and not a good option for traveling or using in court. Some laptops have connections for a true docking station, where the laptop physically drops into, locks and docks into it – these are the best, and most expensive, type to get. After that you have port replicators, which are typically universal, and connect into a USB Port on the system. Both docking stations and port replicators do a good job of giving you lots of extra ports in a small package, but be sure to check with your laptop manufacturer to see what options they may have. For example, some Lenovo laptops have a special port on them called a “OneLink” port which is specifically designed for connecting their port replicators as it can handle the extra speed and capacity they require. Some other manufacturers offer the same types of devices, so be sure to consult with them.

      Components We CAN Change

  • RAM (System Memory)
    • In almost all cases, RAM can be added or replaced at any time during a laptop’s lifecycle, although it is generally cheapest to do it up front. It should be noted that there are some ultrabooks and lightweight systems out there with soldered memory, so be certain to check ANY potential laptop for it’s installed and maximum RAM/Memory Amounts. You’ll want at least 8GB in anything you purchase these days, but going over 16GB is just overkill and you’ll likely never end up using that much RAM, even in voice with Dragon. If your budget won’t allow extra RAM at the time of purchase, don’t worry, it can be added later for relatively cheap. If the system you like already has 8GB of RAM, and that is also its maximum memory, you’ll likely be OK as long as you are using a newer version of Windows, like 10, which handles memory much better.

  • Hard Drives
    • While costly (mainly for the labor), replacing and upgrading hard drives is completely possible and a fairly common practice. The average size for a mechanical/traditional hard drive (HDD) is about 500GB, and for a solid state drive (SSD) the average size is about 240GB. While their costs are dropping, SSD’s are far more expensive per Gigabyte (GB) than their mechanically based HDD cousins. So while you can get more space for your money with a regular HDD, the smaller space you get with the SSD is many, many, many times faster. Larger capacity solid state drives (500GB and over) are typically ONLY available as third party add-ons, so if you want the best of both worlds you’ll need to upgrade after your purchase for sure. The general rule of thumb here is to go with a HDD if you are mostly concerned with space, go with a SSD if you are mostly concerned with speed, and flip a coin (or open your wallet wide) if you want both.

  • Bluetooth
    • Most steno writers on the market today require you to use not only a very specific type (and brand) of USB to Bluetooth adapter, but also a very specific Bluetooth Software to go along with them. The main reason for this is how Windows itself works with Bluetooth, specifically how Windows handles Bluetooth security and COM Port connections. The easiest way for the Writer Manufacturers to get around these issues was to force all their customers to use these external adapters and third party software INSTEAD of using your laptop’s built-in (internal) Bluetooth chips. This is why, as a court reporting professional, it makes absolutely no sense to worry about IF your laptop has internal Bluetooth or not. Sure, if you aren’t using a Bluetooth writer the laptop’s built-in Bluetooth would be handy for connecting external mice and keyboards, but chances are that you will either switch to using Bluetooth for your writer, or buy a new writer with Bluetooth, in the very near future. No matter what version of Windows you are running, you should NEVER have 2 Bluetooth radios turned on at the same time. Doing so could and routinely does create massive communication and signal issues, so even if you have built-in Bluetooth you’ll need to turn it off in favor of your writer manufacturer’s recommended USB Adapter. That said, you can use their USB to Bluetooth adapter to connect not only your writer, but also most mice and keyboards out there, so besides sacrificing a USB Port, it’s not that big of a deal.

  • Batteries
    • If you find a great deal on a laptop, but it doesn’t have the best battery life in the world, keep in mind that you can just replace it in most cases. Just a few years ago I would have told you that ALL laptops have replaceable batteries, but there are plenty of models out there that do have completely internal batteries that can’t be repaired or replaced. These irreplaceable batteries typically appear on systems 13” in screen size and smaller, so just be sure to check the specs to make sure you have a “removable” battery. When replacing batteries, or upgrading them, I generally let my warranty decide what course I should take. If the laptop is still in warranty, go with a manufacturer’s OEM battery. They are way more costly, but they won’t void your warranty. If you laptop is out of warranty, go ahead and try either a refurbished or third-party battery. I’ve had a lot of great experience with brand new, third party batteries that have given me flawless performance during the few times I actually needed to go off A/C power.
  • Memory Card Readers
    • Having a memory card reader can certainly come in handy from time to time, especially if your laptop fails in the middle of realtime and you need to read a job off your writer quickly. While having one built into your laptop is convenient, you can easily add them via a USB port, and almost all of the USB Memory Card readers are faster and read more cards than their internal counterparts.

      Components that Depend on the System

      We already went into detail on these above, but I just wanted to list them here for those that might not have read everything to this point.

RAM (Memory)
Audio Systems


Sorry for the length of this article – IF you made it this far, that is. The width of this page isn’t helping, so it isn’t as long as our site makes it appear, but this is a very important topic and worth taking extra time to get it right.

Buying the correct laptop is a very important decision for a court reporter as your income and livelihood are directly tied to it. There are always the occasional exceptions to every rule, but with technology in particular, you get what you pay for, so don’t skimp on something that directly controls your income. A fast, reliable computer means less time in the repair shop fixing it, and more time to do your work. Spending a little more upfront now will save you money, time and your reputation in the long run. Budget and save up for this purchase accordingly, and plan to spend at least $2,000 on a good system, warranty and accessories. If you don’t have that kind of money, or can’t come up with it time, don’t hesitate to look at financing options available for large software and hardware purchases. Companies like Bryn Mawr Equipment Financing, First Lease, Navitas and Executive Financial (just to name a few) work with court reporting professionals every day to make sure they have the equipment they need, because they know that this stuff is expensive, but reporters are a good investment.

Get a laptop with the right size screen for you, and don’t compromise on that or anything else you can’t change at all like your processor (get at least an i5 or better), video card, screen resolution, keyboard and number/type of built-in ports. Don’t worry about the audio quality, expect that it won’t be good enough and assume you’ll need to use a USB Soundcard/Microphone – you’ll get a better recording that way anyhow. Make sure you have enough USB Ports to do realtime without a USB Hub – at least 2 or preferably 3/4 if you can. To help, make a list of what you connect during realtime before you start shopping. Make sure you get at least 8GB of RAM, and check to see what your system’s max total memory is before purchasing. RAM is the cheapest way to make a system faster, so if you can afford to upgrade the RAM during the initial purchase, do it, but don’t sweat it if you can’t because it’s affordable to do it later. If you are a file (mainly audio/WAV file) pack rat, go with at least a 500GB traditional hard drive. If you archive and/or delete your audio files regularly (external drive, DVD, etc.), and you care more about speed than larger storage space, consider upgrading to a SSD if your budget allows. Your inner Speed Racer will thank you, trust me, they ARE that fast. All laptops have built-in WiFi, and most have built-in Bluetooth as well, but don’t worry if yours doesn’t. Chances are the built-in Bluetooth will only get in the way and end up being disabled anyhow, so don’t even bother with it. Don’t forget the backups either. Buying a new laptop is the perfect time to review your backup procedures, and put new ones in place where needed.

After the specs, ports, warranty and options, the most important part of purchasing a laptop that I haven’t mentioned is service after the sale. Whomever you ultimately purchase your system from, be sure they are going to be around for a while and are known for customer service too. If possible, familiarity with the profession is a HUGE plus as you’ll want a contact for assistance at some point in the future. Remember that you WILL get what you pay for, so paying a little more up front for a superior, well supported system will be worth its weight in gold.

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