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So, you have a brand-new computer, but nothing nothing with which to view or print out your fine legal work. Today we’ll talk about two key peripheral items, the monitor and a printer, to handle the needs of a small or solo practice. Perhaps the most important component of your computer system is not your computer, but your monitor. In an earlier article about computer buying, I remarked that just about any computer being sold today will more than adequately operate the software needed for a law practice. While the same thing can be said about the monitor, it’s more important to find a monitor that suits your particular needs. Since you may be staring at it for long periods of time, you need to find one that is comfortable to your eyes. Some people believe that flat-screen or LCD monitors help prevent eyestrain. While not necessarily wrong, it is more marketing than fact. The more important item is the size of the screen and the consistency of the picture. These days, a 17-inch monitor is standard, although 15-inch monitors are still sold. Because Web sites are created with a 17-inch standard in mind, I would avoid anything smaller than that. A 19-inch monitor, however, may be better suited to your needs. By changing the monitor’s resolution, from 1024×768 resolution, (which is small type but a large amount of information on the screen), to the more common resolution of 800×600, through the large 640×480, your monitor should remain sharp. With a 19-inch monitor, you can also better adjust for a larger size type and not lose any space on the desktop. Scrolling from side to side can be annoying. A lot of numbers get thrown around when shopping for a monitor, but the main criteria is how it looks to you. One of the most important things is the stability of the picture. If it flickers, or is not crisp around the edges, avoid it. Are the colors bright? Can you turn them down if they are too bright? These are important issues to determine, and only you can do that. If possible, don’t just order a monitor from a catalog; check it out first. Monitors often outlast computers, and can be just as expensive, so you want to make sure you get the one that is comfortable to you. Everyone’s eyes are different — your partner’s monitor may not be the best for you. Flat-screen monitors are certainly trendy, and can save a lot of space on your desktop; however, they are more expensive, and an economy-model flat-screen may not give you the best picture over the standard CRT monitor. If price is not an issue, but desktop space is, go for the flat-screen. Otherwise, stick with the more traditional model. One other thing: Avoid purchasing a monitor with speakers built in. Save your money and buy separate speakers. If speakers are important to you, you’ll want good ones, so purchase them separately. If they aren’t, save money and use the ones that came with your computer. And if the computer you settle on still gives you eyestrain, try using amber sunglasses, also known as “shooting glasses” since they can be found in gun stores. These glasses cut down on the blue light that is most irritating to your eyes. PRINTING IT OUT Despite all the talk about the “paperless office” and digital filing, a law practice is inundated with paper. Briefs, court opinions and depositions all need to be put on paper at some time or another. When buying a printer, be aware that different printers are designed with different functions in mind, so purchase the one that is best for your situation. If color presentations are an important part of your practice , you will need to get a high-end color laser printer, but if you are mostly printing black and white (monochrome), you want to look more for speed than color accuracy. And if you are printing a lot of pictures, you need to get an ink jet printer, although ink jets don’t print color graphics that well. As with monitors, it is best to look at the printer’s output before you buy. Be wary of speed claims by manufacturers. What they claim to be the top speed may not be based on any criteria you may use in your office. Other than speed, the most important spec is dpi, or dots per inch. Most ink jet printers have a maximum color resolution of 2400×1200 dots per inch. But as with distortion ratings on stereo equipment, you probably won’t see a difference when you get above 1200×1200 dpi. Black and white or monochrome printers usually max out at the 600×600 dpi rate, but it is unlikely you would need to go that high, as a 300×300 resolution (which you can adjust on your printer software) usually looks great. But dpi should not be your sole criteria; many printers can compensate and correct printouts when problems arise, so the dpi rating can become pretty useless. Features such as the number of trays, size of paper, collation and similar traits can often be the key feature in making your purchase. Perhaps more useful to you when purchasing the printer is the cost per page. Find out how quickly you will go through ink, and how much the replacement cartridges sell for. With monochrome printers, you can usually get away with buying third-party cartridge refills, but for color printers, it is best to buy the ink made by the manufacturer of your printer. When purchasing a printer, it is a good idea to work with a vendor who also services the printer in-house as well. You don’t want to get ink all over your clothes and fingers an hour before that big court hearing or client meeting. In a future column, we’ll get more involved in more “frivolous” peripherals, things like sound cards, video cards, speakers, enhanced mice, external hard drives and the like. Most lawyers don’t need them, but for some they are essential. THE MAIL BAG Our last article had a negative recommendation regarding the Macintosh operating system. I received an e-mail from an attorney in New York who loves the Mac and pointed out that Microsoft’s Mac unit is committed to making Office v.X for the Mac fully functional with Mac’s powerful new line of servers. Another attorney from Austin, Texas, was more strident in his support for the Mac, claiming that most Mac users select their machine by choice, while those who use the Windows operating system are “stuck” with it. While I don’t disagree that Mac users are highly enthusiastic about their platform, and that the new Mac operating system is very stable, I still believe the focus of this column is directed to novice users who don’t want to search out other Mac attorneys, and that they are better suited to stick with the Microsoft platforms, flaws and all. Another reader had a question about backups of large documents and photos, and where to put them. Rather than using CDs or DVDs, I suggest using a large external hard drive. You get these drives with up to 250 gigs of space (several times larger than most hard drives). They hook up via the USB connection on your computer and can be moved from one machine to another as well. We’ll devote more time to backups at a later date. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail them to me at [email protected]. Brian R. Harris is the database administrator for the American Lawyer Media-Pennsylvania division and the former editor-in-chief of The Legal Intelligencer.

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