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Choosing a computer - appeal for updates

ABOUT ONCE every month, the Freelance editors get a call from a member asking what sort of laptop they should buy. We used to direct them to the Freelance’s own advice page on choosing a computer, complied specifically with journalists in mind.

Unfortunately, our once cutting-edge advice on choosing a computer, of 2002 vintage, is beginning to look embarrassingly outdated. So we are appealing to Freelance readers to share their top tips on which bits of computer kit to purchase.

Babbage Difference Engine No.1; © Matt Salusbury
The Babbage Difference Engine No. 1, circa 1830. Still a beautiful piece of computer kit: Photo © Matt Salusbury

Please send brief and up-to-date advice on the following, remembering that your audience possibly includes technophobe writers and photographers:

  • What flavour - Mac or PC? Are there still major differences between the Mac version and PC version of industry standard programmes like Indesign and Photoshop? And what about programs that lets you run stuff for Mac on a PC platform, like MacDrive? Do they work for you?
  • Macs are perceived - especially by writers - as being more durable and less likely to crash or get viruses, and the reading rooms of the British Library are certainly filled with wall-to-wall Mac users, but is this perception true? The only unsolicited advice we’ve got from members recently is that they instantly regretted buying the cheapest PC available and felt they should have forked out for something in a higher price range.
  • Desktop or portable? Is anybody still buying desktops?
  • How powerful does a computer need to be, to do what?
  • What extras and gizmos do I need?
  • Tips on the best value and most hassle-free hard drives, mp3 players and i-Pods that can be used to make quick back-ups, wireless cards, external wireless modems, dongles (wireless devices stuck into the side of your computer that allow you to use a subscription mobile phone network to get a wireless broadband signal), tips on deals on subscription broadband networks and the headaches that come with them, and not forgetting printers and scanners.

Don't bother recommending specific models - they'll be superseded before the ink is dry. This is about how to choose.

The Quality Street email list also gets periodic enquiries from people who need to decide very quickly what kind of voice recorder to buy, including mp3 players with various add-ons that turn them into recorders. User-friendliness and battery life seem to be the biggest issues. Your advice, please, in terms that someone grappling with a digital voice recorder for the very first time could follow.

Send your brief, and technophobe-friendly, comments to

Last modified: 07 Apr 2009 - © 2009 contributors
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