Solo Newsletter

Volume 11, no. 4

What Computer Should I Buy?

By Nerino Petro

One question I’m often asked is “What’s kind of computer should I buy?” It soon becomes apparent, though, that what they really want to know is what system specifications should they be shopping for in a new computer. My answer is always the same: It depends on what use you’ll make of the system. Today there are more options than ever from which to choose, requiring decisions to be made as to the type of central processing unit (CPU); the type of optical drive DVD, DVD + RW drive, or CD-RW; separate video card or onboard video; how much memory (RAM) is needed and what size hard drive to get; and what operating system (OS) to use. Here I’ll address only desktop computers; while notebooks are nice, you’d spend more matching these features of the desktop than you would buying the entire desktop system.

I’ve always focused on what software will be run and to what other uses the computer will be put in order to recommend a specific system. However, this isn’t always possible, so I’ve come up with general recommendations for a system with a usable life of about three years that will provide the basic services required of a small office.

In the past, the only serious consideration for a CPU was Intel; that’s no longer true. Within the past year, AMD has taken the technological lead in its chip design, giving the consumer more options when selecting a CPU. Although there are those who are loyal to only one brand, both companies offer CPUs that provide rock-solid performance suitable for the small law office. One caveat: both companies offer entry level CPUs, the Intel Celeron and the AMD Sempron. Avoid both of these CPUs as the costs savings are not enough to justify the performance loss you will experience.

The accompanying graph reflects specifications that I consider to be the minimum for a desktop computer that will be used in a typical solo or small law office. It is capable of handling word processing, Internet and email, PowerPoint, time and billing, practice management, and other typical non-graphic-intensive programs, as well as low level scanning. If you go with onboard video, then increase the amount of RAM you buy since it’s shared between the system and the onboard video. In total, such a system will cost between $900 and $1,500, depending on where you live and the vendor you choose.

Nerino Petro, Jr., is an attorney and CEO of CenCom Technologies in Loves Park, Illinois. He can be reached at

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